The San Diego Magazine Book Awards


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This year’s San Diego Magazine Book Award winners represent some of the county’s—and the country’s—finest writers. Last year was a great one for fans of local authors, with the return of legendary writer Joseph Wambaugh, another breath-catching thriller by Alan Russell and a second novel by the talented Susan Vreeland. Our annual awards honor the best books by local authors reviewed in this column during the previous calendar year. It’s always tough to choose the winners, and this year’s task was no exception. Somehow, though, we’ve managed to define what’s “best.” Here are our picks for 2002:

Women authors took the prize for fiction last year. Patricia Santana’s first novel, Motorcycle Ride on the Sea of Tranquility (University of New Mexico Press, $19.95), is a moving tale about a Mexican-American family living near the Tijuana border in 1969. Santana, a professor at Cuyamaca College, has a quiet, powerful style. Her story centers on the Sahagun clan and what transpires when they are reunited with son Chuy after his return from Vietnam. The boy has been devastated by his experience, and inevitably his world and his family’s world collide.

Also exceptional was Carlsbad author Susan Carol McCarthy’s first novel, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands (Bantam Books, $23.95), based on the 1951 abduction and murder of a 19-year-old black citrus picker in central Florida. With a graceful style, McCarthy spins the tale of a murder that forever changes the tiny community in which it takes place.

For best nonfiction, Joseph Wambaugh’s Fire Lover (William Morrow, $25.95) and Suzan E. Hagstrom’s Sara’s Children: The Destruction of Chmielnik (Sergeant Kirkland’s, $29.95) rose above the rest. Fire Lover, Wambaugh’s first book in six years, was a departure from his usual subject matter—cops. The San Diego author turned his talents to firefighting and the story of John Orr, an arson investigator turned arsonist who wound up the most prolific American arsonist of the 20th century. Wambaugh draws a complex, fascinating psychological portrait of the man, while giving us a riveting account of his crimes.

Suzan Hagstrom, a former central Florida journalist now living here, has written the true story of Helen Garfinkel, liberated from a Nazi death camp in 1945. Although Hagstrom’s telling of the events spares us none of the brutal details, Sara’s Children is ultimately a story of hope and survival: Garfinkel, her three sisters and a brother all made it out of the camps alive.

little YauAmong books for children, esteemed children’s author and illustrator Janell Cannon had the most engaging and well-illustrated book of last year. Little Yau (Harcourt, $16) is the San Diego writer’s latest about a family of cat-like creatures introduced in Trupp. The book is part cautionary tale, part fantasy; its many messages include the importance of listening to elders. The fantasy involves a family of cats that can slip effortlessly into the world of humans simply by wearing the right clothes. The story focuses on Yau’s efforts to save Trupp after he is gravely injured.

And finally, in the psychology/self-help category—one disproportionately represented in San Diego—Think Like a Shrink: 100 Principles for Seeing Deeply into Yourself and Others (Fireside, $14) stands out. La Jolla psychiatrist Emanuel H. Rosen (with the help of writer Tershia D’Elgin) is witty and interesting as he muses about sex, marriage, family, parenting and communication. Rosen says “shrink-think” is an ability to see beyond people’s actions or words to the underlying defenses that trigger those actions and words.

These books topped our list, but several others deserve mention. Black Water (Hyperion, $23.95), from acclaimed Fallbrook mystery writer T. Jefferson Parker, is a page-turner centered on a murder involving the wife of an Orange County police detective. Parker has brought back Merci Rayborn, the smart-mouthed homicide detective last seen in his novel Red Light.

San Diego writer Sara Lewis’ fourth novel, Second Draft of My Life (Simon & Schuster, $24), is the sad and funny story of a novelist in her 40s who completely changes her life. And poet Ruth Rice-Sipila’s first book of poetry, The Wind Speaks Her Own Name (PoetWorks Press, $16.95), is sparse and beautiful.

Keep up with San Diego’s talented and diverse literary community by reading the books column, right here, every other month.

The Winners

Fiction
Motorcycle Ride on the Sea of Tranquility
Patricia Santana
Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands
Susan Carol McCarthy

Nonfiction

Fire Lover
Joseph Wambaugh
Sara’s Children: The Destruction of Chmielnik
Suzan E. Hagstrom

Psychology/Self-Help
Think Like a Shrink: 100 Principles for Seeing Deeply into Yourself and Others
Emanuel H. Rosen,
with Tershia D’Elgin

Children’s
Little Yau
Janell Cannon

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