This is a transcription of The Gotham Book Prize & Two New Books — 17 March 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a murder mystery set in Canada’s historical archive.
David: A literary page-turner about a podcast.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
David: Hello! We are just back from Scotland, where we had a wonderful time. We returned with a suitcase full of books, and a belly full of scones, and a slight head cold — which you can probably hear now. We are going to talk a little more about Scotland next week. And whenever any small door for conversation about Scotland presents itself. But, for now, thanks for your patience.
Melissa: This week, I’m very excited to read Speak for the Dead by Amy Tector. It’s a murder mystery set in Canada’s Dominion Archives, that’s the division of the archive related to Canadian history. The story opens on a stormy day in Ottawa. The coroner Dr. Cate Spencer is called to examine a dead body found inside a vault at the Archive. The police pressure her to rule the death a suicide. But she’s not so sure. Her investigation takes her into a world of military secrets and indigenous protests — while she battles her own grief and her desire to drink it away.
Melissa: This is the follow-up to the book The Foulest Things. But you do not need to read them in order! I get the author Amy Tector’s newsletter, and she said this, ‘Weirdly, none of the characters from book 1 are in book 2. But don’t worry, eventually all the characters will reunite in one book and it will be amazing.’
Melissa: There are a few other things I need to mention about Amy: First, she’s been an archivist for more than 20 years. She currently works at Canada’s national archives. In the past, she also worked in the Hague as an archivist for the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
Melissa: Second, she grew up in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. That’s where Louise Penny sets her Inspector Gamache mystery novels — in the fictional town of Three Pines. Amy wrote the first essay in that essay project - Notes from Three Pines - that I was part of recently.
Melissa: Third, she met her husband at the Canadian archive. I’m just going to read her words, because they’re so good: ‘A couple of weeks into landing the job, I was photocopying contact cards of the Yukon Gold Rush and a tall, bespectacled nerd in a sweater vest came along and started flirting. I married him five years later.’
Melissa: I’m thrilled to announce that Amy will be joining us for our session at the Newburyport Literary Festival at the end of April. I’ll put all the relevant info in show notes.
David: Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Great Believers, a 2018 novel about the AIDS epidemic. That book was a finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, and won a whole bunch of other stuff. If that book wore all its awards, it would look like a Prussian general.
David: Makkai’s next book just came out. It is, in part, a murder mystery. It’s called I Have Some Questions For You. The lead is a woman, Bodie Kane. She’s a podcaster and film professor. She returns to the boarding school where she grew up. It was a traumatic and challenging time for her back then. But maybe the worst of it was the murder of her former roommate in the spring of their senior year. She has returned to the school to teach a couple of courses for two weeks. And then, of course, one of her students decides to do a podcast about that murder, and we’re off to the races.
David: Reviews say that the book combines a whodunit, a coming-of-age novel, and a critique of our social media age. NPR called it ‘almost impossible to put down.’ It’s I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
Melissa: I recently learned about a literary award that makes me very happy. It’s called the Gotham Book Prize and it honors the best books about New York City. What makes it so special is that it’s awarded by a bookstore. P&T Knitwear is an independent bookstore on the Lower East Side that also features a state-of-the-art podcast recording studio that’s free for anyone in the community to use.
Melissa: It gets even better. During the early days of the pandemic, the store’s founders created the Gotham Book Prize to award $50,000 to encourage writers and to recognize the creative culture that makes New York City so badass.
Melissa: One of the founders of the prize is Bradley Tusk. He said that there are almost two versions of New York. The one for people who live there, and the one the rest of the world experiences through books, movies, TV shows, songs, art, podcasts, and more. He said, ‘as long as New York maintains its mystique through the arts… it will always attract the best and brightest from across the globe and our city would always survive.’
Melissa: Fiction and nonfiction are considered for the prize, so long as they feature New York as a setting and were published within the calendar year. The 2023 winner will be awarded this spring at an event at the store. The 11 finalists all look really good and include a few books I already had on my TBR.
Melissa: There’s Trust by Hernan Diaz. That’s the story of a high-flying Wall Street tycoon and his wife, leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. I mentioned that in a previous episode of The Library of Lost Time. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez is a novel about a wedding planner who can’t find love. Ron Charles of The Washington Post is my favorite book journalist, and he loved it. An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy is a noir mystery written by the editor-in-chief of the Crime Reads website.
Melissa: If those titles are any indication of the quality of the finalists, I’ll be adding eight more books to my TBR. Here’s a fun thing. You can buy all of the finalists from P&T Knitwear, and if you buy the whole shebang — all 11 books — you get a $25 gift card to the store. I love the idea of supporting a bookshop that gives a $50,000 prize to an author.
Melissa: P&T Knitwear sounds like a really great neighborhood bookstore. Besides being a hub for the community, the store provides full benefits for free to every employee, whether they’re full time or hourly. And this part tugged at my heart strings: The store’s founder Bradley Tusk named the shop P&T Knitwear in honor of the 1950s garment shop run by his grandfather Hyman Tusk. He emigrated to New York City after surviving the Holocaust and started a sweater store with a friend he met in a refugee camp in Germany. They called their shop P&T Knitwear.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more about the books we discussed and all the info you need about the Gotham Book Prize.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
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