Demi is the BookKids Marketing & Merchandising Manager, which is a lot of M’s. She just got a puppy named Beatrice, who has chewed the corners of all Demi’s books to cement her place in a reading family.
I moved to Austin (and started work at BookPeople) about eight months ago, at the end of summer. I packed all my stuff into a U-Haul trailer, hooked it up to my wheezy Mazda Tribute, and drove west–as symbolic and emotional a road trip as any such exodus. I left my home state, my parents, and my bookstore for an adventure of (so far) epic proportions.
The two days driving across the country were incredible. From Charlotte, NC, I drove through South Carolina and Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. We stopped in Clinton, MS, just outside of Jackson, and ate Applebees chicken tenders and macaroni in our hotel room before waking up to do it all over again. I crossed the Mississippi River and held up my phone in an ill-advised attempt to get a video to send to my dad. It was just steady enough–he could see the whole river as I drove across the bridge. In Louisiana I smelled marshland through my open window. Crossing into Texas I stopped at the first Whataburger sign I saw, to celebrate my new life In The West.
When I called my grandmother, she asked me what I thought of Austin. “It’s amazing,” I said. “The trees are shorter than I expected. But I love the sky.” She grew up in Kansas. She knows a thing or two about big sky. “Enjoy it,” she told me.
This year I was on the children’s reading committee for the Reading the West Book Awards, given by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association. I received 25 titles, and over the course of several months I read kids’ and YA books of all shapes and sizes. The idea of the award is to find exceptional books that truly understand what it is to live In The West–books that encompass that je ne sais quois I felt as soon as I crossed the great wide river.
I read about a 17-year-old boy from Arizona recruited by the US Army to fly reconnaissance drones, his only resume his high scores on an arcade game. I read about a young woman’s first questioning of her sexuality and the ramifications of living in a small, conservative town. I read a whimsical, charming story of a ranch owner avoiding a wedding and the hijinks that ensue. The stories were as varied and magical as the West itself, and they served as a stunning introduction to my new home.
Reading so many titles one after the other felt a little like my road trip out to Austin. Some books were like long stretches on an empty highway, beautiful and captivating at 75 miles an hour. Some books were like macaroni and cheese on a hotel duvet, a little comfort when the homesickness hits. And a few books were like crossing the Mississippi River–an experience so special that you have to slow down, so unique you have to share it with someone you love.
The MPIBA Reading the West awards are given to books which “exemplify the best in writing and/or illustrations whose subject matter is set in the region or invokes the spirit of the region: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.” The 2015 shortlist was announced March 31, 2015. The winners will be announced May 30, 2015.
A selection of this year’s shortlist: