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ON THE SHELVES: NL Reads 2019: four books; four opinions; one winner.

The four contenders in NL Reads.
The four contenders in NL Reads. - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

At Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries (NLPL) we love our local authors, and what’s not to love?  In a province known for storytelling, whether in traditional yarns, recitations, ballads or, in more recent years, the written word, local writers and publishers are contributing to what must be recognized as a remarkable literary landscape. Along with important nonfiction works that preserve knowledge of our local history and heritage, or social and cultural studies that provide insight into life in contemporary Newfoundland & Labrador, our local authors and publishers are giving readers abundant choice when it comes to works of fiction. Each year the amount and diversity of local writing grows. Whether you are a fan of mysteries and detective fiction, thrillers, romance and erotica, literary works, fantasy or science fiction, there is a locally published book well-suited to your reading tastes. 

In 2016 NLPL launched a province-wide campaign called Love Our Local Authors (LOLA), a month-long celebration of our Newfoundland and Labrador writers and publishers. Held each year in February, LOLA is recognized in public libraries throughout the province with displays of local books, author visits, contests, and by giving a Newfoundland and Labrador twist to regular programming such as book clubs and storytimes. Last year, inspired by CBC’s annual Canada Reads feature, NLPL (in partnership with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador) organized the first NL Reads as part of LOLA.

NL Reads features four works, selected by NLPL librarians from the pool of excellent fiction and nonfiction titles published by local authors in the previous or current year, with the reading public deciding which book deserves the title of top Newfoundland and Labrador read. Each book has a reader-advocate, all four of whom come together to debate which title deserves to be crowned winner at the NL Reads closing gala in St. John’s. The winning book is the one that receives the most votes, combining in-house audience ballots with votes collected from readers throughout all of Newfoundland and Labrador, using the online NL Reads survey found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NLREADS2019. The link to this survey, along with information about this year’s nominated books and reader-advocates, can be found through the NL Reads feature our NLPL home page (https://nlpl.ca/).

Contending for the NL Reads 2019 title are books by four of our most talented local authors, and each has an enthusiastic reader-advocate.

“Most Anything You Please” by Trudy Morgan-Cole (Breakwater) tells a multi-generational story of one St. John’s storekeeping family, the Holloways, focusing on the experiences of three women, Ellen, Audrey and Rachel, and the changing face of their Rabbitown neighbourhood over the course of the 20th century.

The reader-advocate for “Most Anything You Please” is Stephanie Tobin, of CBC. 

Jamie Fitzpatrick’s “The End of Music” (Breakwater) is also nominated, with NLPL’s Leigha Chiasson-Locke as reader-advocate. With the town of Gander and its aviation history as setting and context, “The End of Music” weaves together the stories of Joyce, who left rural Newfoundland in the 1950s to find work at the new airport, and her son, Carter, who is dealing with the end of his career as an aspiring 1980s rock star.  

A third nominee, “The Boat People” by Sharon Bala (McClelland & Stewart), is set in both Sri Lanka and Vancouver, bringing together the lives and perspectives of Mahindan and his six-year-old son Sellian, refugees from the Sri Lankan civil war, along with Priya, a young lawyer defending their claim for asylum, and Joyce, the adjudicator who will decide Mahindan’s fate. Its reader-advocate is NLPL patron Hasan Hai.

Rounding out the contending books for NL Reads 2019 is Lisa Moore’s short-story collection “Something for Everyone” (House of Anansi). Moore’s sensual and insightful writing shines in stories with settings that range from Orlando to the Fjord of Eternity, the streets of St. John’s to the north shore of Conception Bay. The reader-advocate for “Something for Everyone” is Maggie Burton, St. John’s city councilor.

Interest and enthusiasm for NL Reads has been so great that NLPL decided it could not be contained in one month alone.

Since November, with the help of our CBC NL partners, we have been promoting the nominated books, one each month, including arranging enhanced (and in some cases unlimited) access to the titles through our digital library.

Titles have also been available through CELA for readers who may need help with printed text. Online polling has been open since November, and we encourage as many readers as possible to vote for their favorite book before noon on February 28th, when the survey will close and the counting of ballots begins.  At 6:30 that evening, at the A.C. Hunter Public Library in St. John’s, authors and reader-advocates will come together in front of a live audience for the NL Reads Gala evening, hosted by CBC Morning Show co-host Fred Hutton.

At the Gala, each reader-advocate will argue why their book should be chosen as winning title and the in-house audience will cast their votes. These results will be added to the provincial survey numbers and the winner of NL Reads 2019 proclaimed.

This fun literary evening will include displays from local publishers, prize draws, and, thanks to a generous donation from a community partner, the announcing of a new NL book award, the Margaret Duley Award, which will have its inaugural presentation that evening.

Attendance at the NL Reads Gala on Feb. 28 is open to the public, but space is limited. To avoid disappointment, please call the A.C. Hunter Library at 737-3950 in order to reserve a seat.  Some public libraries outside St. John’s will be live-streaming the event, so please check with your local branch about this option.

In the meantime, keep loving our local authors, whether NL Reads nominees or not. While we give them a bit of extra love during LOLA, we all know that books by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are worth celebrating all year long.

Bonnie Morgan is Newfoundland and Labrador Collections and Reference Services Librarian with Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries.

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