Carnegie Medal Finalists

May 17, 2012

Booklist and the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of ALA today announce the finalists for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Non-fiction, an award they jointly sponsor.   Here is a link to Booklists’ page, which includes a video of Nancy Pearl making the announcement.  By the way, the pronunciation is more car-NAY-ghee than CAR-nuh-ghee, though that’s how I’ll always say it in my mind.  (Apologies to Kay Runge who was the first to correct me quite adamantly).

This year’s finalists include two of my favorites for the past year, Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie and  Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks.  Catherine the Great was an 18th century German-born Russian empress who charmed her way into her adopted nation’s affections and deposed her own husband to seize power.  Massie’s biography chronicles her sexy and stormy personal life, political intrigues, and intellectual acumen, portraying a sympathetic idealist who in the end failed to enact many desired reforms or free the serfs because of the reality of her reliance on the nobility.  Lost Memory of Skin is an incredible read that does what great fiction should– get you into the mind of a misunderstood person whose life challenges you assume you’ll never encounter, without romanticism or self-righteous condescension.  The plot is keenly sad (iguana lovers beware).

Here’s the full list:


Enright, Anne. The Forgotten Waltz.

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 Summary: During a snowstorm, Gina Moynihan reminisces the string of events that brought her the love of her life, Sean Vallely, and recalls their affair.



Banks, Russell. Lost Memory of Skin.

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 Summary: This is a novel that illuminates the shadowed edges of contemporary American culture with startling and unforgettable results. Suspended in a strangely modern day version of limbo, the young man at the center of this morally complex new novel must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. Known in his new identity only as the Kid, and on probation after doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders. Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid, despite his crime, is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he himself struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies. A university sociologist of enormous size and intellect, he finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The two men forge a tentative partnership, the Kid remaining wary of the Professor’s motives even as he accepts the counsel and financial assistance of the older man. When the camp beneath the causeway is raided by the police, and later, when a hurricane all but destroys the settlement, the Professor tries to help the Kid in practical matters while trying to teach his young charge new ways of looking at, and understanding, what he has done. But when the Professor’s past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men’s relationship shifts. Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe, and choose what course of action to take when faced with a new kind of moral decision. In this novel the author examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. It probes the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassion, a society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.

Russell, Karen.  Swamplandia!

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 Summary: Twelve year old Ava must travel into the Underworld part of the smamp in order to save her family’s dynasty of Bigtree alligator wresting. This novel takes us to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine. The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator wrestling theme park, formerly no. 1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety eight gators as well as her own grief. Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, the author has written a novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking.  

Massie, Robert K.  Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman.

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 Summary: Presents a reconstruction of the eighteenth-century empress’s life that covers her efforts to engage Russia in the cultural life of Europe, her creation of the Hermitage, and her numerous scandal-free romantic affairs.


 Gleick, James.  The Information : A History, a Theory, a Flood.

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  Summary: From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long misunderstood “talking drums” of Africa, James Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He also provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information, including Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, and Claude Shannon.


Marable, Manning.  Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention

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 Summary: Draws on new research to trace the life of Malcolm X from his troubled youth through his involvement in the Nation of Islam, his activism in the   world of Black Nationalism, and his assassination.



Posted by Darren  




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