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Category: LA Times Book Prize

A few words with Beverly Cleary on her 95th birthday

BeverlyclearyBeverly Cleary, author of the Beezus, Ramona and Henry Huggins books -- in all, more than 30 books for young adults and children -- celebrates her 95th birthday today. Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Cleary will receive the Robert Kirsch Award at the L.A. Times book prizes on April 29. It's the first time the honor has gone to an author of books for children.

L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin visited Cleary at her home near Carmel and interviewed her for a feature that will appear in Sunday's Calendar section. These outtakes from her conversation include stories about her inspiration, Los Angeles in the 1930s and her experiences with the iconic television show "Leave It to Beaver."

Jacket Copy: What were some of the early books that inspired you?

Beverly Cleary: I had a bad time in school in the first grade. Because I had been a rather lonely child on a farm, but I was free and wild and to be shut up in a classroom -- there were 40 children on those days in the classroom, and it was quite a shock. The reader was incredibly stupid -- about Ruth and John and Rover. But my mother always kept library books in the house, and one rainy Sunday afternoon -- this was before television, and we didn’t even have a radio -- I picked up a book to look at the pictures and discovered I was reading and enjoying what I read. It was "The Dutch Twins" by Lucy Fitch Perkins, who did a series of books about twins in different countries. Maybe that’s why I had twins. (laughs) Something happened in "The Dutch Twins." They fell into the Zuider Zee. They were lively stories, with a simple vocabulary, so then I took off with this and I’ve been a reader ever since.

JC: Henry Huggins was a real departure as a character. He was a boy like I knew boys.

BC: Yes. And I’ve had some very moving letters from young men in the last year or so saying that Henry Huggins gave them hope, that there were better neighborhoods to live in than wherever they lived. I didn’t start out writing to give children hope, but I’m glad some of them found it.

JC: You’ve also written a memoir, and in the early 1960s, you did three "Leave It to Beaver" tie-in books. Can you talk about that?

BC: Oh, that (she giggles). Bringing up little things is very tiring. And I just felt I didn’t have two thoughts to rub together. And one morning, the telephone rang and it was this man in New York saying would I consider turning "Leave It to Beaver" scripts into fiction, and in my exhaustion, "Well yes, I’ll consider it." And he said, "Good, I’ll fly out and see you." That rather stunned me. But I met him. The plane was late and somehow he had me paged and I got a message: Don’t go away, that he would get there. And he did. He said he had taken a room, and I had gotten in touch with my husband and I said, "Well, I’m meeting this man in a hotel room," and my husand just laughed. So we stepped into an  elevator and as we faced out, there was one of my neighbors and she gave me a big wink.

What happened after Beverly Cleary and the man got upstairs is after the jump.

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2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists announced


Contrarian social critic Christopher Hitchens, rocker Patti Smith and novelist Jonathan Franzen are among the finalists for the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, it was announced Tuesday. The 31st annual prizes will be awarded at a ceremony at The Times on April 29.

There are five finalists competing in 10 categories — current interest, fiction, first fiction, biography, history, mystery-thriller, science and technology, graphic novel, poetry and young adult literature.

The Robert Kirsch Award, for significant contribution to American letters, will be presented to Beverly Cleary, the first time it has been awarded to a children's book author. Cleary is the author of "Beezus and Ramona" and dozens of other books.

Books about presidents have been named finalists in three categories: "Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow is a finalist in history, Edmund Morris' "Colonel Roosevelt" is a biography finalist and Jonathan Alter's "The Promise: President Obama, Year One" is a finalist in current interest.

Current interest, the category in which the National Book Award-winning memoir by Smith is nominated, also includes two books about the financial crisis: "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis and "All the Devils Are Here" by Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean. Sebastian Junger's "War" rounds out the category.

Finalists competing against Franzen in fiction are the novels “Nashville Chrome” by Rick Bass, Frederick Reiken's “Day for Night,” Jennifer Egan's “A Visit From the Goon Squad” and Richard Bausch's story collection “Something Is Out There.”

In biography, Hitchens' skepticism will do battle with Laura Hillenbrand's “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption,” about Southern California Olympian and former prisoner of war Louis Zamperini. Other finalists, along with “Colonel Roosevelt” are “George, Nicholas and Wilhelm” by Miranda Carter and “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham” by Selina Hastings.

In the science and technology category, medicine takes a key role with Rebecca Skloot's “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee facing off against Oren Harman's “The Price of Altruism,” “Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie” by Lauren Redniss and “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

Veteran mystery-thriller finalist Tana French will go up against Stuart Neville, who won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the category in 2009. Their competitors are Laura Lippman, Kelli Stanley and Tom Franklin.

Now in its second year, the graphic-novel category includes veteran Jim Woodring, graphic memoirists Karl Stevens and C. Tyler, newcomer Adam Hines and Dash Shaw.

Poetry finalists include a Pulitzer Prize winner, Maxine Kumin, and a poet with his first collection, Yehoshua November.

The L.A. Times Book Prizes are awarded the night before the weekend's Festival of Books, which will take place in 2011 at its new home, the campus of USC. The complete list of finalists is after the jump.

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L.A. Times Book Prizes: Dave Eggers takes two

Book AwardsBook PrizesBrenda Hillman Kevin StarrDave EggersDavid MazzuchelliElizabeth PartridgeEvan S. ConnellLA TimesPhilipp MeyerRafael Yglesias Linda GordonStuart Neville

Author Dave Eggers was the surprise big winner Friday night at the L.A. Times Book Prizes when he was awarded the current interest prize for his book "Zeitoun" before being presented with the inaugural Innovator's Award, which had been previously announced.

"I don't have anything written at all," Eggers said. "I didn't think I had a prayer in the world." Eggers said the other finalists were some of his heroes, and he said he shared the award with them. He thanked his staff at McSweeney's and the Zeitoun family.

Rafael Yglesias was awarded the fiction prize for his novel "A Happy Marriage," and Philipp Meyer battled microphone problems to accept the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for his novel "American Rust."

The first-ever award for graphic novel went to David Mazzuchelli for "Asterios Polyp." One of the longest-standing prizes, the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement, was presented to Evan S. Connell.

Veteran winner Kevin Starr was in the audience to accept the book prize in history for "Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance 1950-1963," the latest installment in his acclaimed California history series. Stuart Neville, whose travel plans were almost scuttled by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, made it after all to accept his first L.A. Times book prize -- his novel "The Ghosts of Belfast" won the mystery/thriller category.

Other winners were Linda Gordon in biography, for "Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits," Brenda Hillman for her book of poetry "Practical Water," Elizabeth Partridge's "Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary" in young adult literature and Graham Farmelo's "The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom" in science and technology.

The complete list of winners of the 2009 L.A. Times Book Prizes is after the jump.

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Music on the mind of poetry book prize finalist Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Gabrielle Calvocoressi's poetry collection, "Apocalyptic Swing," has been nominated for a 2009 LA Times book prize. The poet spoke to Memorious, an online journal of poetry and literature, about what was on her mind: Alexander McQueen, queer culture, New York's meatpacking district before its gentrification, and the song above, by Regina Spektor.

"I’ve been listening to Regina Spektor’s “Dance Anthem of the 80’s.” I keep playing the section from 2:03 till the end, which is something I do. I find the spot in the song that has all the tension and contradiction and sometimes just explosive beauty of what I want to make. So I’ve been playing that over and over and dreaming of all of us. Listen. It gets so quiet and she’s just looking at you and the boys and girls stop for a second and then it opens and opens and we’re dancing and laughing."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

LA Times announces 2009 Book Prize finalists

2009Art Seidenbaum AwardbiographyBook Prizebookscurrent interestDave Eggersfictionfirst fictiongraphic novelhistoryInnovators AwardLA Timesmysterypoetryscience/technologythrilleryoung adult
The Los Angeles Times has announced the finalists for its 2009 Book Prizes: for the first time, graphic novels will be in competition for an LA Times Book Prize of their own. There are now 10 competitive categories: biography, current interest, fiction, graphic novel, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science/technology, young adult literature and the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. The complete list of finalists for the 30th annual LA Times Book Prizes, to be awarded April 23, are below.

In addition to adding the new graphic novel category, the LA Times will present its first Innovators Award to author and publisher Dave Eggers for his multifaceted, spirited commitment to literature. Eggers leads the trend-bucking independent publishing house McSweeney's, which offers books, magazines and a form-shifting quarterly journal. He also founded the 826 literacy centers -- now operating in Los Angeles and six other cites -- which help at-risk young people engage with the written word. A bestselling author, his work continues to garner critical acclaim; his book "Zeitoun" is a 2009 LA Times book prize finalist in current interest.

The Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement for writers connected to the American West will go to Evan S. Connell, best known for his paired novels "Mrs. Bridge" and "Mr. Bridge."

Nominees in the new Graphic Novel category, by Gilbert Hernandez, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Taiyo Matsumoto, David Mazzucchelli and Joe Sacco, are a diverse selection of works that include the Gen-Y favorite Scott Pilgrim, a new take on the classic Love & Rockets series, and an illustrated journalistic account of the Gaza strip.

The current interest nominees reflect an interest in how America intersects with the world. Both Eggers' book and Tracy Kidder's "Strength in What Remains" trace the unexpected paths of immigrants, while T.R. Reid's "The Healing of America" looks at healthcare ideas and systems of other industrialized nations in relation to our own.

Four women and one man are vying for the top prize in fiction. Local author Michelle Huneven, who is also in the running for a National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel "Blame," is nominated with Kate Walbert, Jane Gardam, Jill Ciment and Rafael Yglesias, who returns to fiction after a 13-year hiatus.

Announcing the first-ever LA Times book prizes in 1980, then-book editor Art Seidenbaum wrote, "This is not so much a competition as a recognition." Nevertheless, a winner will be declared for each category on April 23. The prizes will be awarded in an invitation-only ceremony in connection with the 15th annual LA Times Festival of Books, which takes place April 24-25. Last year, more than 130,000 people attended the festival, which is held at UCLA; many of the book prize finalists will participate in panels, discussions and book signings.

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Terry Pratchett's L.A. Times Book Prize speech -- with cat

NationTerry Pratchett

Many people at the L.A. Times Book Prizes on Friday night were dressed up, even nervous -- but Terry Pratchett, who won for his young adult novel "Nation," filmed his acceptance speech at home in England wearing casual pants and a black t-shirt. And he was accompanied by his cat, who stood on his desk -- although not on ceremony -- determined to be part of the goings-on.

So many in attendance were charmed by Terry Pratchett and his cat that we just had to put the video online.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

L.A. Times awards 2008 book prizes

book prizesLA TimesLos Angeles Times Book Prizes


In a scaled-down awards ceremony on the fifth floor of the L.A. Times building, the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were awarded Friday night with as much enthusiasm and humor as any of the more grandly produced affairs of recent years. 

Leading for humor was Terry Pratchett, who accepted his prize for young adult novel by video. The tape showed Pratchett leaning back in a chair, books to one side and a stiff, somewhat cranky cat on the other. Pratchett occasionally directed his remarks to the cat, which perched on Pratchett's desk, eventually turning to face the camera as if the award were its own. The audience's laughter prompted master of ceremonies David L. Ulin to quip, "I wish I had a cat."

Everyone enthused. Zoe Ferraris -- pictured above, with Ulin and Ron Carlson, after winning for first fiction for her novel "Finding Nouf" -- spoke glowingly of Saudi Arabia, a place she's "been obsessed with" since she moved away 18 years ago. Poet Frank Bidart noted that there is no real competition between writers, "no need to choose between ... Colette and Faulkner." Mark Mazower, whose book "Hitler's Empire" won the history prize, gave thanks for the tolerance of his wife, who "put up with the Nazis for longer than the French." And Michael Koryta, the twentysomething winner of the mystery/thriller prize, said he'd been nervous about the possibility of having to speak before the crowd, but as he arrived he "had the opportunity to meet a lifetime hero, James Ellroy -- and now you all don't seem so scary."

Many of the nominees and winners will be at the Festival of Books this weekend. The winners are below, and all nominees are after the jump.

Winner, Biography: Paula J. Giddings, "Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching"

Winner, Current Interest: Barton Gellman, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency"

Winner, Fiction: Marilynne Robinson, "Home"

Winner, Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Zoe Ferraris, "Finding Nouf"

Winner, History: Mark Mazower, "Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe"

Winner, Mystery/Thriller: Michael Koryta, "Envy the Night"

Winner, Poetry: Frank Bidart, "Watching the Spring Festival: Poems"

Winner, Science & Technology: Leonard Susskind, "The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics"

Winner, Young Adult Literature: Terry Pratchett, "Nation"

Robert Kirsch Award Winner: Robert Alter

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L.A. Times book prizes: current interest nominees

Anglercurrent interestLos Angeles Times Book PrizesMy Stroke of InsightThe Bin LadensThe Dark SideThe Forever War


The L.A. Times Book Prizes Current Interest category is dominated by issues of war. There is one book about Afghanistan and Iraq, one about Dick Cheney and Iraq, one about the Bin Laden family, and one about the American response to terrorism. And then there's a book about the brain. Here is more about each of the nominees.

"The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century," which our review described as "stunningly researched and grippingly told," is by Steve Coll, head of the New America Foundation. In this clip from the 92nd Street Y, he explains how Osama bin Laden ended up with 53 half-siblings. 

Dexter Filkins' book "The Forever War" was described by our reviewer as "likely to be regarded as the definitive account of how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were experienced by those who actually waged them." Filkins moves between photos, the text from his book and a casual discussion in this appearance at Google books.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, explains that one morning, she woke up and "could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life." She recovered, obviously, because she went on to write "My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey." In this TED talk, she not only discusses the content of her book but also brings out a real human brain, and the audience squirms. 

Barton Gellman appears on MSNBC to talk about "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," which, our reviewer writes, has created a narrative of Cheney's tenure that provides "immensely valuable clarity and perspective." In this clip, Keith Olbermann asks about Cheney selecting himself as vice president after chairing the search committee and more.

In "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals," Jane Mayer "does a superb job of describing how the trauma of 9/11 all but unhinged Bush and Cheney and predisposed the chief executive to embrace the ready-made unitary executive theory of presidential power," our reviewer writes. In this clip, she does her best to answer some very long questions from Charlie Rose (Philip Gourevitch pitches in with some answers).

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Barnett (right) from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, leads his team up a ridge line during a dismounted patrol near Forward Operation Base Lane in Zabul province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 26, 2009. Credit: Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini / U.S. Army, released via Flickr.

L.A. Times Book Prize: Poetry nominees


There are four women and just one man among the five acclaimed poets in the running for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. In his book "Watching the Spring Festival: Poems," Frank Bidart departs from long-form poetry for shorter pieces like "If See No End In Is," a sestina, which you can hear him read on this page. He'll appear March 12 on Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm on KCRW. 

Poet Cole Swensen, nominated for her book "Ours," has talked about the power of reading to a live audience. Readings, she says, are "part of the conversation about poetics that I find absolutely vital. There’s something about the atmosphere of a reading and its immediate afterward that opens a space for people to talk about meaning and meaning-making that doesn’t often come up."

How people talk is of some importance to Marie Howe, whose nominated book is  "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems." In an interview with Agni in 2004, she admitted, "This week I have no faith in language. I must tell you I don’t, but that’s my own failing, not language’s. I feel like it’s the last outpost for us humans. I take it very seriously. I feel language has been utterly cut off by this culture and used in the service of consumerism and that poetry insists on the integrity of words, of a word.… I feel like poets and writers are the monks writing illuminated manuscripts, in the sense of trying to preserve the integrity of language, just to expand the possibilities for expression, because the culture is trying to push us into the same  20 words over and over again."

Connie Voisine, author of "Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream," has a kind of faith in art. She now teaches at New Mexico State University. She grew up in Maine and after college moved to New York City. She writes, "My immersion in the avant-garde art world of the 1980s allowed me to understand the benefits of a vibrant art community and the role of an artist within one."

Jorie Graham, whose "Sea Change: Poems" is informed by a passionate environmentalism, has a different kind of faith in — or hope for — art. "We are so collapsed-down now into a buzzing noisy here-and-now, an era of instant gratification, decimated attention span, that it is going to take some work to help people 'see' in their mind’s 'eye' that far-off horizon many generations beyond their own time," she said in an interview last year. "But I wouldn’t be making the effort to … write such a book if I did not believe we still had that chance. A real chance. And that art could be in service of that goal."

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo by David McKelvey via Flickr

L.A. Times book prizes: fiction nominees


Marisa Silver's "The God of War" is set at Salton Sea, a Southern California desert lake that was abandoned as a resort after evaporation and increased salinization. "Squalor and beauty, corruption and purity, human pettiness and elemental grandeur — the drama that unfolds in 'The God of War,' as befits its setting, offers a stark intermingling of forces irreconcilably at odds with one another," wrote James Gibbons in our pages last April. In 2005, Silver talked about intermingling her creative forces; she left a career directing film and television so she could write fiction.

as much as I enjoy a great film, I enjoy a great book more. There is nothing like being swept away in a reading experience, nothing like the wonderful collaboration between a writer and a reader, the two imaginations pairing up on this journey through a story. There is nothing so wonderful to me as finishing the last pages of a book with that tingling, mysterious experience of having been transported both outside yourself into the world of a book and inside some deep part of your soul.

Above all, I like silence. The silence of writing. The silence of reading. Where the only noise is the noise inside my head.

In this video, Sebastian Barry talks about hearing the noise of a narrative voice and the inspiration for "The Secret Scripture," shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker prize.

Reviewing "The Size of the World," Susan Salter Reynolds wrote, "Following Silber’s threads as they reach across time and space can feel somewhat precarious. But it’s worth it. When you look down, you can see how far there is to fall and how tiny everything looks when your mind is in orbit." In 2008, Silber talked to The Millions about her dueling narrative strategies.

I have two somewhat contradictory impulses at this point in my life. I'm a miniaturist by nature — I love the small moment seen intensely. And I love the sweep of time passing. (In real life too, it moves me to see how people surprise themselves by where they end up.) It was a nice discovery for me to see that summary could be written as if it were scene, drawn with details. And this allowed me to get the intimacy of close narration into stories with a broader scope.

I do like life-stories.  The deepest ironies are in those lurching shifts people make, bit by bit.

In this very short video, shot at the L.A. Public Library's ALOUD series, Marilynne Robinson reads from her nominated book "Home." Our reviewer Emily Barton writes, "Robinson's dignified prose delineates wonderfully vibrant, complex characters.... If I cannot do 'Home' justice in describing it, I can, at least, commend it to you with my whole heart." Marilynne Robinson's complete appearance at ALOUD, including her discussion with Michael Silverblatt, is available as a podcast from the LAPL.

Robinson's pacing is very different from Richard Price's; "Lush Life," David Ulin writes, "is a rocket of a book that, unfolding over the course of little more than a week, never lets up, whether Price is writing about the changing neighborhood or tracing the odyssey of Ike’s father, Billy, whose behavior grows increasingly erratic as his son’s killing remains unsolved.... But it’s in the nuances that Price really shines, especially his account of how Ike’s contemporaries deal with the murder." In this Authors@Goole appearance, Price reads from the book, showcasing his gift for dialogue (and various New York accents) before taking questions.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo of the Salton Sea by Florian Boyd via Flickr


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