It’s that wonderful time of the year.
Winners and honors have been announced for the Youth Media Awards, so librarians ask themselves and their colleagues:
What the hell was that committee thinking? I could barely get through fifty pages. Other books were so much better!!
Here’s the thing. Whether it’s an award or a list, it’s an award or list that has a specific, unique charge.
And the charge is not “the books that Liz really likes.”
While I often say I hope to have read the books that get awards and honors and are on lists, the truth is, it’s often easier to not have read the books. Because when I read books, I tend to have only two judging criteria in my head: “do I like this book” and “who can I recommend this book to.”
Reading for a committee is different because you’re reading for another reason — the reasons set out in the charge for that committee.
So, when a book I haven’t read gets a nod, it’s easier for me. I get to read that book thinking, as I read, “how does this book meet the charge?” Not, “does it” — not reading to agree or disagree. But reading from the perspective that the committee has spoken, and the book does meet the criteria, and as a reader I want to understand why the committee made that decision. I may not “like” the book, but so far I’ve always understood why.
It can be a bit tougher when a book I already read gets the nod. Sometimes, it’s easy because it’s a book I did like. And, much as I intellectually know that the awards are not about the books I like or love —
It’s a great feeling, as a reader, when I book I adore gets that nod.
It’s also a great feeling, as a reader, when I can look back, months after I read a book, and see the “why”. I admit, this doesn’t always happen. For as much as I can say, “I can see this book being recognized” or “I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a nod,” sometimes I don’t get it. I think, “oh, I’ll have to reread it to see what the committee saw.”
Because, here’s the thing.
The committee, from the moment they opened each of the books they read during their time on the committee, for each page they read, they read it against the backdrop of those criteria.
They read and reread, thinking about that criteria. They discussed the books, talking about that criteria.
And they did all that for a year.
What the hell were they thinking? They were thinking about the charge and how that book met that charge.
And to do so, they read beyond the first fifty pages. They may not have, at first. They may have begun and stopped until another committee member said, “give this another look.” Or, because a book is the sum of its parts, the first fifty pages weren’t enough to judge it. For whether you like it or not? Absolutely. I have a pile of books abandoned at that fifty page mark. But for the committee? They read past that, and view the book as a whole, and at 75 pages, or when the book is done, they see something different from when they first began. Or, they understand it differently than when they first begun. (I also have books that I began to read, abandoned, then reread based on people I respect saying give it a second chance — and that second chance changed my mind about the book. It happens.)
Are other books “better”? Well, there’s a reason I call my list of favorite books my favorites. Because that’s all about what I did or didn’t like. For awards, there is never an obvious, won’t miss book. There are always a bunch of books that could be contenders. The committee goes into that final, in person meeting with a stack of books. Some of those books you think are “better” may have been in that stack. And the truth, at that moment, is that it does depend on a committee and those committee members. About how persuasive committee members can be; about how open to other’s opinions committee members are.
There are other books that met the criteria: but this list, these award and honor books, are the ones that the committee read and reread and voted for. These are the books that got the votes. And those other books? Didn’t.
What are your thoughts on the books that got awards and honors and got on lists?
And are there any “broke your heart” books? Books that you adored that didn’t get an award or honor or list?