Bookish Chatter | Prize Procurement

It snowed all day yesterday. It was beautiful, but heavy and wet. That means that it is compacted and dense, which makes it difficult to measure the total and clearing it is going to be a total beast. It was the kind of snow that brings down power lines. Here at our house, the power only blinked off for about 5 seconds, but my husband’s work was out for about three hours last night. He was only just getting home when I got out of bed at 4am. So you can expect a slow start from us today, but I am doing my best to get my brain in gear.

As the week went on, I felt like I was reading nothing. I occasionally have little freakouts in which you might hear me say something like, I’m never going to be able to finish a book again! Ridiculous, I know. But that wasn’t the case and I have a small stack of finished books to chat about today, as well as an update on some of my favorite prizes. My coffee has just finished brewing and my brain is starting to wake up, so let’s talk about books!

Finished This Week:

Granted has been our morning read aloud for quite a while! I’m not sure why it took us so long to get through it but it was a really fun book. Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a granter – she’s one of the lucky fairies who gets to grant wishes. Her first assignment seems like a simple one: Kasarah Quinn in Kettering, Ohio tossed a nickel into a fountain at the mall and wished for a bike. And make it purple. Ophelia’s job is to fly from The Haven to Kettering, get that nickel, say a few magical words, and Kasarah’s wish will be granted. Who knew it would be so hard?

This book shows perseverance at its finest. Ophelia faced so many obstacles and she never, ever gave up. It also shows what happens when you challenge the status quo and stand up for what you think is right. It spurred a lot of interesting conversations as we gathered around the table. And it was so fun to imagine life in The Haven, the fairy world in which Ophelia lived!

“The pleasure of this sort of life, bookish she supposed it might be called, a reading life, it made her isolation into a rich and even subversive thing.”

It’s really hard to say which Louise Erdrich book is my favorite, but I think The Master Butchers Singing Club has taken the lead. It’s set in Argus, North Dakota just after WWI and full of the most wonderful characters. As with every Erdrich novel, she has told us a story with her typical humor and reverence. I listened to this on audio and it’s absolutely worth revisiting on the page, which I hope to do in a few years.

I loved reading about Eva’s home: Eva’s household, which she strictly divided off from the butcher’s shop, was based on order, rich baking scents, cleanliness, and life. There were some of the coziest scenes nestled into this story, which are always a delight to find.

If you’ve wanted to try Louise Erdrich’s novel but have been unsure where to start, then this is the place!

Life: a constellation of vital phenomena – organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was not at all what I was expecting, but it was an incredible and unforgettable book. It is set in Chechnya with a moving timeline from 1996 through 2004: smack in the middle of the first and second Chechen wars. I wasn’t paying attention to world affairs during that time period and knew nothing about what was happening in Chechnya, so learning about these conflicts has been quite the education. And of course, it just adds to my understanding of Russian politics and conflicts as they are now. This is why I love historical fiction – the bare bones of the stories are true and I learn so much. It opens up a vast amount of world history to us.

Marra’s writing is beautiful. I reread and marked so many passages to be copied over to my reading journal, annotated simply as BP: beautiful passage. The characters he created will be with me for the rest of my life. They were all so deliciously human, lived in the most dire circumstances, and created homes and lives by making the best of what they had. I can see why so many people have loved this book.

(bookish serendipity: we happen to be reading about Catherine the Great in our little homeschool. The Chechen and Russian conflict goes all the way back to her time in the 1700s. I love it when my reading lives intersects like this.)

Bronwyn grabbed Ivy & Bean: What’s the Big Idea at the library a few weeks ago and we decided to take a break from the American Girl books and read this one. It was a lot of fun! Ivy and Bean are second graders and their assignment for the science fair is to find a solution for global warming. They and their classmates come up with some really incredible (and wacky) ideas. Finally they realize that if grown-ups cared about nature, then they would do all they could on a daily basis to take steps to minimize their own impact on the earth. And on the night of the science fair, they surprise everyone with their plan.

Slow & Steady:

I am still working on War & Peace. I’m just shy of 1000 pages and the end is in sight! There have been massive sections about the war that — full disclosure — I have skimmed. I have absolutely no interest in the chapters about Napoleon. I feel guilty about skimming but I keep reminding myself that I’m not writing a paper on this book and I’m meant to be reading it for my enjoyment. So its perfectly acceptable for me to skim ahead to the sections that I’m most interested in: Marya, Natasha, Sonya, Pierre, and Nikolai!

I’m at the part where the French army pushed into Russia and all of the wealthy people are abandoning Moscow. The drama! I’m rolling my eyes. This time last week I was feeling excited about this book and where it was going, but now I’m just ready to be done. I am hoping to finish it by next Wednesday!

I haven’t been as consistent with What Are People For? this week but I am still enjoying it. I’m about 80% through it and have gotten through the title essay. So far my takeaway is that the purpose of humans is to take care of the earth and our communities. Seems simple, but we know better. Wendell Berry was way ahead of his time in the 70s and 80s and must have seemed like such a radical out in Kentucky! I’m hoping to find time to read an essay or two every day from here on out. I love having his voice in my head.

Prize Angst:

Friends. The International Booker long list is out. The Women’s Prize for Fiction long list is out. Aspen Words has announced their short list. The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction is in its inaugural year. The Tournament of Books is in full swing. The next three books for the Fiction Matters Book Club has been announced. !!!

All of these announcements send my bookish heart into a frenzy! And yet – I’ve barely made a dent in my March TBR and my dance card is full for April. I knew as I built these TBRs that these prize lists were coming up and I said to myself, you can do this. You can stay focused!

I take it all back. I cannot stay focused. Last night I slashed a few things from my TBRs to make room for some of the prize books. And of course – that meant a Blackwell’s order because many of these books aren’t available in the US yet. Here are the books I’m hoping to tackle in the next few months:

Women’s Prize:
+ Cursed Bread by Sophie Makintosh (Blackwell’s order)
+ Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris (Blackwell’s order)
+ Homesick by Jennifer Croft (Amazon order)
+ Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow (Library waitlist; drama overlooked)
+ Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes (Audible credit)
+ Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (Blackwell’s order)

International Booker Prize:
+ Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel (Blackwell’s order)
+ The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier (Blackwell’s order)
+ Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (Blackwell’s order)
+ Whale by Cheon Myeog-kwan (available as a read now on Netgalley)

This list looks much longer when I see it typed out, so expect me to move into the Land of the Unrealistic in the coming months. Are you planning to procure for any of the prizes? I’d love to hear what has found its way onto your TBR.

Colton has been sick since the weekend and it seems like the illness has finally settled into me – I am not feeling my best this morning! Sore throat, cough, headache, unable to take a deep breath. I’m going to take a covid test later today but don’t worry: I’m not going anywhere in the meantime! Let’s hope that I shake this thing quicker than he did and that no one else starts feeling poorly. He’ll be staying home from school again today because he still has a cough and a fever and I’m hoping that we can keep the day fairly quiet and straightforward, for my own sake. And maybe I can squeeze in some extra reading time?

I hope to be back on Friday with an update of some sort. Until then – take good care.


15 thoughts on “Bookish Chatter | Prize Procurement

Add yours

  1. First, I hope what you have is just a garden-variety cold and not COVID, and I hope that you’re all feeling better soon!

    My advice to you for finishing W&P is to skip the second epilogue entirely. There’s nothing in it related to the storyline at all, and I don’t think you need to read it. If you feel guilty about that idea, just flip through and skim a bit. You’ll see what I mean.

    My daughter loved the Ivy + Bean books when she was younger, and I’m sure there are many more out now than were when she was reading, so enjoy them!

    I’m also excited about book prize season, but I’m waiting for short lists before I commit to reading. I have not read any of the Aspen finalists yet, so I’ll see what’s available from my library. I’ve already read several (3 or 4) of the Women’s Prize long list, and I have Memphis already in my Kindle library (but I wasn’t aware of the author’s bad behavior). I saw the Carol Shields Prize long list and had only heard of two books, one of which I’ve read and thought wasn’t very good. So we’ll see.


  2. I am echoing Sarah with hopes that it is not COVID and just a miserable cold! Rest as much as you can… which I know is practically impossible with small children! Sending you all my get well soon thoughts!

    Thank you for all the links to the Prize books! Wow… thats-a-lotta-reading! Whew! I will wait for the library to have them… and for the long lists to move to the short list stage! Happy Wednesday!


  3. Full disclosure: I skimmed some parts of Moby Dick. I did not need so many details about whales. I see nothing wrong with adjusting your book list. After all, the books you took off can be added sometime down the line. And if they never get added, well, that says something, too. I hope you all don’t have another bout of Covid. Keep us posted!


  4. Oh ugh. I hope you feel better soon. There are so many viruses out and about this year. I felt much the same about The Master Butchers Singing Club audio so I ordered a used copy to read later. I’m glad to know a little more about The Constellation book. I love your reading serendipity.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s Friday now and I see a new post from you … trust that means you’re feeling better (and Colton, too)! I’m all agog with your book procurement for the two prizes; we are going to have some fun buddy reads for the Women’s Prize (except for Memphis; I’m not going to overlook … unless she wins the prize!) and I haven’t really looked at the Booker Int’l yet. Your list might be a realistic place for me to start since I know nothing about ANY of the titles!


    1. Oh Mary. I am SO excited to get started on the prizes. I have been checking my mailbox everyday for the arrival of the Blackwell books. I think I’m most excited about Cursed Bread, but we’ll see.


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