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

Carolyn Offers Up her Fourth Annual “Noble” Prize
For Literature

Giving out awards is not as easy as I once thought!

      Do you know how many books one must read to find a single award-winner? Particularly an award-winner that fits within my guidelines of books that show excellence in use of the English language, present themes or premises that might help even one reader recognize and curtail bigotry and/or explore the human condition. Never mind. Don't try to answer the question. Try not to even think about it!

     I read a lot but I also like to have time to write and to promote. I have more sympathy for those who give out awards since I started this column four years ago. You know that old saying about walking in some other guy's shoes? That process of slopping around in shoes bigger than your feet is a humbling one.

     Originally I set up this award 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 Januarys' “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 and I did--primarily because I had years of reading to draw from.

     Then Oprah gave up on modern authors all together in favor of the classics. Now she--apparently--is back to considering living authors' works. That means the need for my little "Noble" is not as great. Still, there are so many good books and so little recognition going around. There is also so little time! Wail!

     Those of you who follow this column know that I asked my daughter-in-law to help me last year. She is a good judge of literary work, has a law degree from Stamford, and her input adds an extra dimension to my picks for she tells me she chooses books not from the bestseller lists but from reviews--even reviews in obscure journals. I, of course, glean mine from the books written by my UCLA students, books my editors assign me to review, and even a few that I pick up in second-hand book stores.

     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 wasn’t. These are books that I believe deserve your consideration. You might consider two heads better than one, even accept Leigh and me as your Noble committee of two!

Carolyn’s 2005 Noble List
for Reading in 2006

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

1. Christopher Meeks for his collection of previously published stories The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea published by White Whisker Books. If taken to heart, these are stories that may influence you to live your life differently. My review of this title can be found right here on You can learn more about the author at

2. Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of Never Let Me Go.

Leigh says "he also wrote The Remains of the Day which I also loved." Published by Knopf.

3. Leora Skolkin-Smith wrote Edges: O Israel, O Palestine. set in pre-1967 Israel. The author makes the reader feel--even smell--the foreign places she describes so well. It was published by Glad Day Books and edited by Grace Paley. The author's Website is .
4. Sean Wisley is the author of Oh, the Glory of it All. A first book, this is a memoir of growing up in wealthy, eccentric family. Leigh says it is "very funny and sad" and that her husband (my son) read it and enjoyed it, so it may be a consideration for Valentine's Day or Father's day in 2006. Published by Penguin Press.
5. Caroline Leavitt is the author of Girls in Trouble published by St. Martin's Griffin. In my review for MyShelf I say, "Certainly every woman has not lived the life of the protagonist Sarah Rothman…but every woman knows she might have." You can learn more at

6. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is also a memoir.

Leigh said, "I read it several months ago and still think about it." Published by Scribner.

7. Suzanne Lummis for In Danger, a book of poetry that reads like prose and smells of street grit.

Published by Roundhouse Press.

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' Tidbits: My book THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER. WON'T is now the winner of two awards. Last year it won USA Book News’ “Best Books 2004” award in the professional category and this year the Book Publicists of Southern California honored it for the frugal promotion campaign in waged for itself, using its own advice. I believe 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, take advantage of Amazon's free shipping with orders over $25 and get a book that should be on anyone's desk, be she author or letter-writer: Roget's Descriptive Wordfinder: A Dictionary/Thesaurus of Adjectives by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D, a Writer's Digest Book, ISBN:1582971706.

Readers' Tip: Find lots of good reading lists at Amazon. Anyone can share their reading preferences with a Listmania. It's fun to make them to share with others and it's a good way for readers to get reading ideas on a particular theme. I now have 75 Listmanias published at Amazon (no kidding--I've been doing them for some time)! Many of my lists are on the craft of writing or the art of promoting books but I also have lists of biographies, lists on books about politics and even a list of family sagas. Some of them are books I read--and liked--but didn't find their way to this Noble list. Find them at:

2006 Past Columns

Carolyn Offers Up her Fourth Annual “Noble” Prize For Literature
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