The finalists for the 2010 Whitney Awards were announced ten days ago. Congratulations to everyone! The Whitney Awards celebrate excellent writing by LDS authors, published both locally and nationally. Shelah and I will be reading and deciding on Segullah’s picks together–we will keep you posted. I have tried to read more fiction by LDS authors this year, and I think I’m coming into this year’s Whitneys with a better sense for what has been published nationally. Still working on keeping up with the local publishing, although I did better there than I have before.
You can click on the above link to see this year’s finalists. But, having read more fiction by LDS authors this year than I ever have before, I read the list and thought “That one’s great. So is this one. But what about… and what about…” I have a list of books that I think deserve to be Whitney finalists. As William Morris says here, in any awards process some titles are going to be left out. That doesn’t stop me from mentioning a few that I feel deserve some attention.
Two caveats: 1-I read a lot of youth fiction, so that’s where most of my recommendations come from. What this means, though, is that there are probably plenty of books in other categories that deserve to be in a “What about this one list” that I won’t mention. If you’re aware of any of them, please post away in the comments.
2-This list does not intend to disparage or take away at all from the 2010 Whitney finalists–congratulations to all of you! Rather, it seeks to highlight those who did not make it into the finals, because the field is so competitive.
Okay, with that in mind, why did we not see The Actor and The Housewife here? As Patricia Karamesines’ brilliant review points out, it is “a remarkably courageous work that chips away at the horns of social and spiritual dilemmas.” I confess that I didn’t love it in the way that I loved Austenland. It’s not a feel-happy romantic comedy, although it’s hilarious in places. But it made me think, and it’s an important work.
Historical fiction needs Annette Lyon’s Tower of Strength! I appreciate so much Annette’s writing ability to maintain character voice and integrate historical details without feeling contrived.
And now to youth fiction: Shannon Hale’s Forest Born, which I loved. It’s the latest in the Bayern series. I am particularly fond of tree magic, which feels very Mormon to me: Rin cannot find peace and healing through trees unless she is completely honest with herself. I likened it to going to the temple, or praying, or anytime I try to access God. It’s impossible unless I approach divinity with complete honesty.
Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia–the latest in his snarky series about the evil librarians who plot to take over the world. The voice gets a little old (old as in, more snark? really?) to me sometimes, but my son loves these.
Jeff Savage’s Farworld: Land Keep–The first Farworld book is looking a little bedraggled at our house, because my son has read it and reread it. He loved Land Keep too, and I liked Land Keep better than the first one.
James Dashner’s 13th Reality: The Hunt for Dark Infinity–again, my son loves these books. The first 13th Reality won the Whitney for youth fiction last year, so I’m very surprised that its sequel is not on the list.
Mette Ivie Harrison, The Princess and the Bear. I loved this sequel to The Princess and the Hound. It started out a little slow for me, but the taut, elegant writing made it worthwhile to keep going. And the ending was splendid.
Again, tell me your favorite books by LDS authors that didn’t make it to the Whitneys.
One final thought about the awards themselves. I was impressed with what Robison Wells, Whitney founder, said in this Mormon Artist interview:
My reasoning for starting the Whitney Awards was essentially a move from pessimism to optimism. When I first got published in the LDS market — even before the book was released — I immediately ran into a lot of the standard criticisms about LDS fiction. I’d tell someone that I’d written a book, and they’d be excited and ask about it, and the instant they realized it was an LDS book you could see the interest fade out of their eyes. After a while I became
almost embarrassed that my book was LDS fiction. So, I decided I was going to do
something about it. On my website I started something called the LDS Fiction Review Database, and my goal was to link to every single review of every LDS fiction book.
At its peak, I had several thousand links posted. My reasoning was this: in order to gain respect, LDS fiction needs to improve, and the best method to improve is more
critical evaluation. I maintained that database for about a year, but as I got more
involved in the LDS market I came to realize that, while, yes, there was a lot of lousy LDS fiction, there was an awful lot of great stuff too. My complaint all of this time
had been with the authors: they needed to write better books. And, I thought, having public, critical reviews would “encourage” them to do that. My big epiphany was that
I shouldn’t be targeting authors — I should be targeting readers. There are lots of great books available, but it’s hard to sift through the mediocre and find the amazing.
That was the ultimate genesis of the Whitney Awards — I was looking for a way for LDS fiction
to gain more respect. Now, when people claim that LDS books are lousy, we can point to the Whitney Award winners — to Coke Newell’s On the Road To Heaven or Sandra Grey’s Traitor, or many others — and hold these up as examples of LDS fiction that’s every bit as good as anything published nationally.
I’m excited to read all the finalists and decide with Shelah on what Segullah’s votes will be. And this year I will also be attending the awards banquet at the LDS Storymaker’s Conference. It looks like a great conference, with national and local editors attending, and plenty of inspiration and cool people.
So, tell me which books you feel deserved a Whitney finalist nod? Or which of the finalists you’ve already read and enjoyed? Any early winner predictions? As for me, I’ve got to get reading…