In case you haven’t heard, the finalists for the 2012 Whitney Awards were announced last Friday. Over at Segullah, Emily has already posted some of her thoughts about the finalists, so I thought I’d post a few of my initial thoughts and impressions here. Hopefully I’ll follow this up with another post or two as I read finalists, and probably write a post reflecting on the contest after the winners are announced. I’ve been aware of the Whitneys for a few years and have read quite a few of the finalists and winners from earlier years, but I only started actively reading and voting last year. It seems like every year I don’t get around to reading much LDS fiction until the Whitneys are announced. I tend to do the same thing with the Academy Awards; it often takes me a year or two to get through the nominees and winners after the awards ceremony. After spending the first three months of last year binging on LDS literature I wondered if I should revise my strategy and read more throughout the year, but with nearly 400 books by LDS author being published each year it just doesn’t seem possible to anticipate what the finalists will be. I also found that it was easier to compare finalists with each other when all of them had been read recently rather than trying to compare a freshly-read book with my recollections from six months ago.
One of the most obvious changes to this year’s field of nominees is the division of Novel of the Year into Best Adult Novel and Best Youth Novel. I like this change; while I read some YA fiction, youth fiction is not my preferred genre and not having to read any of it will streamline my reading process. I did enjoy the General Youth Fiction books that I read last year, but would rather concentrate my reading on adult fiction. Last year I didn’t read the speculative books from either category (again, not my preferred genre) and wasn’t able to vote on Novel of the Year. I hope to be able to vote on it this year, at least for the adult fiction.
General Fiction: I’m much more excited about this year’s General Fiction nominees than I was last year. The field is more varied as far as topic and publisher goes and seems to have avoided the inspirational fiction takeover that many people feared was happening after last year’s finalists were announced. Last year I thought it might be best to declare no winner in the general fiction category but this year’s nominees have redeemed by faith in the ability of LDS writers to produce thoughtful, nuanced fiction about contemporary life. We’ll see how I feel after I read them.
Historical: I am happy to see a variety of writing styles, publishers, and subjects in this category as well. I thought it was interesting that Carla Kelly’s most recent book was placed in historical rather than romance, because I have read it and found it similar to Borrowed Light, which won the award for romance last year. I have not yet read the other four books in the category yet, but Kelly is a strong contender. We may have to have some kind of arm wrestling contest between her and James Goldberg to determine the winner.
Romance: Melanie Jacobson has two finalists again, although I thought Twitterpated was one of her weakest books yet. I’m in the middle of Smart Move and really enjoying it, so I think she has a fighting chance this year. She is one of my favorite new LDS authors (as I wrote about in this post). Edenbrooke felt a little flat to me and I have yet to read the other two finalists.
Mystery/Suspense: This category always feels like the weakest to me. First of all, there are many types of mystery or suspense books out there and the finalists tend to be all over the map. Last year I had a hard time judging when I had to compare two romantic suspense books, a conspiracy thriller, a nationally published book that was part of a series of historical mysteries, and a military thriller that was also part of a series. This year in addition to the usual suspects we do get two of Josi Kilpack’s culinary mysteries, and I’ve been looking forward to reading them. I’ve wanted to read them for years and for some reason they’ve been shoved to the bottom of the pile. This is when reading for the Whitneys is good because it forces me to read stuff I’ve been meaning to get to.
Speculative: As I mentioned, speculative fiction is not my favorite genre and I didn’t read any of it last year. So I don’t have a lot to say about this category at the moment. Look for more comments in the future.
And of course there are always the books that didn’t get nominated. Many of the more well-known authors that have been finalists in the past didn’t make it this year: Dean Hughes (I thought his newest book wasn’t one of his best, actually), Carol Lynch Williams, Gerald Lund, Anne Perry, and Richard Paul Evans. Sometimes this can be a good thing when it provides an opportunity for newer or lesser-known authors to get more of an audience. However, it was disappointing not to see some newer authors not make it, like Courtney Miller Santo, Sarah Dunster, or Stephen Peck. Sometimes, however, I think the fact that a book doesn’t make it to the Whitney finalist list can benefit the author simply because the book still gets to have its merits discussed by its defenders among the reading faithful.
What surprised you about this year’s Whitney finalists? Didn’t surprise you? Are you reading and voting?