The literary horses are hitting the home stretch in this year's On the Same Page reading promotion.
The winner among the four Manitoba books in the running won't be announced until sometime in October, but their authors will be hustling up votes beginning today at a series of group "read-offs."
"I take an antiquated gentlemanly view," says Jake MacDonald, whose 1997 young adult novel, Juliana and the Medicine Fish, is on the short list.
"I don't like squabbling with my fellow writers. I'd prefer to argue for one of the other books. But maybe I'll come armed with a few one-liners."
Also on the short list this year are Catherine Hunter's 2001 mystery The Dead of Midnight, Michael Van Rooy's 2005 thriller An Ordinary Decent Criminal and Melissa Steele's 2007 story collection Beautiful Girl Thumb.
"I'm honoured to be nominated in the company of these talented writers -- an interestingly diverse group," says Hunter, a University of Winnipeg English professor.
"I have read all three of the other books and love them all."
On the Same Page is a Manitoba version of the CBC's Canada Reads promotion, which selects one book each year all Canadians are encouraged to read.
Several Canadian jurisdictions have adopted the idea, including the Atlantic provinces and the cities of Vancouver and Hamilton.
The Winnipeg Foundation instituted the Manitoba spinoff in the fall of 2008, with the idea to encourage literacy among non-reading students.
The first title, picked after deliberation by a Manitoba Writers' Guild committee, was Beatrice Culleton Mosionier's classic 1983 novel, In Search of April Raintree.
Culleton made numerous appearances at libraries and schools throughout the province, talking to students and putting a human face on the sometimes forbidding reputation of an author.
Her Winnipeg publisher, Portage and Main Press, sold several thousand copies of the novel.
Last fall, the Winnipeg Foundation switched gears, dropping the literacy angle and asking the Winnipeg Public Library to step in as co-organizers.
They also decided to come up with a short list, chosen by committee (of which yours truly was a member), and have that list put to an American Idol-style online vote.
The winner was Winnipegger Joan Thomas's 2008 debut novel, Reading by Lightning (published by Goose Lane Editions of Fredericton). Thomas also jumped into the promotional fray.
It was an incredible winter," she said on her web page, where she enumerated all the ways the program improved the visibility of her novel.
"To all the book clubs and libraries that invited me to visit, I loved meeting you and was blown away by your warm and thoughtful responses to my novel."
For this forthcoming third version of the program -- operating on $32,000 from the Winnipeg Foundation and $6,000 from the library -- organizers opted to limit the short list to titles released by Manitoba publishers.
The Hunter, Van Rooy and Steele titles were all published by Turnstone Press, the MacDonald by Great Plains Publications.
Readers can vote online at www.onthesamepage.ca. Since the short list was announced in June, 600-plus votes have been cast.
Those having trouble making a decision are encouraged to come out to one of three public events attended by the four authors.
The first is today at McNally Robinson Booksellers. The second is Sept. 16 at Chapters Polo Park and the third is Sept 18 at Aqua Books.
"It's hard these days to draw attention to books, with so much flashy, noisy advertising always jabbering about shiny new electronic gadgets and junk food and cleaning products and Hollywood movies," Hunter says.
"On the Same Page is a creative program for letting people know about the good books that are written and published right here in our province."