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Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Offers Up her Third Annual “Noble” Prize For Literature and an Apology

     This year an apology is in order. First some background, then the apology.


     When I set up this award three years ago, I did it in a bit of a pique because Oprah had abandoned her calling to find fine literary books by unlauded authors and had resorted to a faded reprint of choices made by Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Times Bestseller List. It seemed the real Nobel Prize had been making choices that “neglected” Americans and women (see past January “Back to Literature” columns in the MyShelf archives for more on these subjects). All the while, I was in the throes of trying to get This is the Place reviewed and had a taste of how hard it is for fiction writers to get any recognition, let alone any respect. I was sure I would be able to find at least a dozen fantastic books.


     The first year it was easy. I had been reading for years and many of my favorites had never been given their due. I drew from books--great books--that the media hadn’t mentioned in say, oh, a decade or two. My guidelines were to choose literary voices that sing a song with their stories and their words, authors who make the world a better place by examining the human condition. That has not changed, but Oh!! It is so much harder for me to find these books now that my time for finding them is reduced to a year. I, unlike Oprah, do not have a staff to read and recommend. I do get suggestions from readers and authors and that certainly helps. This year, I have added a kind of “staff” of my own. Granted it is limited to only two readers who browse widely, readers whose taste I trust explicitly, readers who understand what I am looking for. That has helped but when one’s search is for only exceptional literature, it is still tough. So here is the apology:


Dear Oprah: I can only say that I am sorry. I now understand the enormity of the task you took upon yourself with you Book Club and why you may have chosen to discontinue it. I know how easy it would be to resort to the beautiful books that everyone already knows and how difficult it is to find readers who not only share one’s  passion but also one’s taste. May your work with the classics encourage people to read more literary material than they did before and may you forgive me my hubris and my petulance.




     One of those helping me with this year’s “Noble Prize” is my daughter-in-law, Leigh Johnson. She has always been an avid reader and holds a law degree from Stamford. No matter what you, my gentle reader may think of attorneys, we must all admit that law students must have developed fine reading and analytical skills to even get through those grueling years that lead to a degree.


   The other is a young woman I met on a cruise in the Baltic, Karen Fisher. She was with her grandmother and I was immediately attracted to her sensitivity. She spent her days at sea buried in books and offered to help me with her favorites. She teaches at Montverde Academy, a boarding school in Clermont, Florida, and I am grateful to her for her suggestions.


   So here are my choices for “Carolyn’s Noble Prize for Literature. That’s “Noble,” not “Nobel,” though at least one of these should have been considered for the Nobel but probably wasn’t. These are books that I believe deserve your consideration. This year I have added a secondary list. of a few books that may not meet my requirements for the “Noble” but are viable choices for some darn, good entertaining reading.


Carolyn’s 2004 Noble List for Readingin 2005

These are numbered for ease of reading but are in no particular order.


1. Leora G. Krygier, author of When She Sleeps, published by Toby Press. You can read my review of this book on MyShelf. Sleeps is like a brocade woven and embroidered in silk. It’s about half sisters who find one another when one borrows the experiences of her Vietnamese mother and the other suffers from insomnia her physician-father cannot cure. It explores the power of intangibles like dreams and love that can make a difference in our lives if we remain sensitive to their messages.


2. Elizabeth Frank is the author of Cheat and Charmer . Leigh says, “The story is set in California during the time of the Hollywood blacklist. I found it to be not only a great story, but also very interesting in terms of the morality of those who testified and those who refused - a very gray area.”


3. To Jean Nathan for her creative biography of Dare Wright, the child-woman who wrote The Lonely Doll in the 1950s. The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright is a poignant story of a girl who tried desperately to please her mother. It is an important book about the difficulty past generations (and present?) of women have encountered in finding their own identity.


4. To Rolf Gompertz for The Messiah of Midtown Park. This is a screenplay. It is as entertaining to read it as it would be to spend an afternoon at the movies. It is about mankind’s, greed and delusions, our inability to assign proper value to the events and nonevents in our lives.


5. To Molly Friedrich, author of the children’s book You’re Not My REAL Mother. This children’s book examines the little things that count in life. The scope is small for the wee ones but very large in the real world. It is illustrated by Christy Hall and published by Little Brown and Company.


6. To Mark Haddon for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This novel has not gone unrecognized but it is a first and the humor and subject matter (the protagonist is an autistic child), makes it essential reading.


(Note: This year the Nobel did choose a woman to honor: She is Austrian Author Elfriede Jelinek. The Swedish commended the author "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power.")

Other Recommended Books

Romantic Suspense: Snap Me a Future by Connie Gotsch is available as an e-book at The characters and setting add dimensions to this book that make it a very special read, indeed.

Historical: The time seems right to read Dunnotar by Janet Elaine Smith. It explores the madness of war. Set in a time different from our own, it may shed light on some of what we are living with today.

Mystery: A Rare & Deadly Issue by Marlena Thompson is the answer to Miss Jane Marple. Mystery lovers will find it a fun read and they won’t find it on one of the biggie bestseller lists--at least not yet. Watch for my MyShelf interview of this author in February.

Mystery: Shadow of Doubt by Linda Morelli is another fun read that hasn’t gotten near enough play in your paper’s book review section.

Cookbook: Christmas Cookies Are for Giving: Recipes, Stories and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts by Kristin Johnson and Mimi Cummins is a reissue in 2004. I’m listing it because it so much more than a cookbook.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: I have two tidbits for writers this month:

My new book THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T won USA Book News’ “Best Books 2004” award in the professional category. I mention that because I believe so strongly that reading it would be the best thing for any author--published or about to publish--could read. Find it as an e-book at or as a paperback at

As long as you are ordering books that will aid your writing, add Jenna Glatzer’s new book, OUTWITTING WRITERS’ BLOCK to your list.  If you order both from Amazon, the shipping is free. (-:

Readers' Tip: Find lots of good reading at Amazon. No, I’m not talking about their books. I referring to their essay feature called “So You’d Like to…..”  You find three listed on each page of a book you’re researching or about to buy.  Each of the SYLTs listed relates in some way to the book’s page they’re on.  They are by people of all walks of life; some are fun reading but all list other related books.  It’s a perfect way to learn more and surf more.  Here is a list of mine to get you started:

2005 Past Columns

Carolyn Offers Up her Third Annual “Noble” Prize For Literature and an Apology
A Simple Good-bye to Robert Creeley

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