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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Why That Book?

It’s that wonderful time of the year.

YALSA 300x213 Why That Book?

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.

So.

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?

 

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. evan roskos says:

    well said — I always get tense when discussions of awards and lists come up. It’s not something authors can control at all, so we’re naturally the worst people to take part in such conversations! But I also prefer the “favorite” book descriptor over “best.” I didn’t always think that — when I was a college student and I wanted to carve out an identity based on my tastes I had all sorts of ideas about what made a book “classic” or “best” and what made a book “overrated” etc.

    Thankfully i realized there’s so many books in the world, that hating books is a waste of time and energy. Better to bring attention to books than to try and rip one apart.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      sometimes I’m so, so glad the Internet wasn’t around for my high school / college days so that I don’t have a reminder of when I was judgy about things like what people read, and that I’ve been allowed to grow without my past opinions being written in stone.

      I’ll admit that there are some books that I do hate. Luckily, though, they are few and far between. And I barely have time for the posts I want to write, and to read the books I want to read, and then to blog about them, that I rarely blog about those books. And, when I do, I try to phrase it in a way that voices my concerns.

  2. I couldn’t have said it better than Evan. We all have favorite books that have never ended up on any “best” lists or won any awards. It doesn’t make us love them any less.

    • Debbie Reese says:

      Okay… I disagree with Evan. If we didn’t object to the all white world of children’s books, do you think it would have changed? If someone didn’t invest time and energy into analyzing books that had derogatory depictions of someone of what we now call underrepresented groups, would things have changed? Some might think I ripped LOCOMOTIVE in my review, but it was–and is–an effort to move all of us forward in thinking about diversity and inclusivity. For those interested in my review, here’s the link. Floca responded to it. http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2014/01/about-diverse-books-and-inclusivity-in.html

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Favorite books being on best lists: I think as a reader we like our tastes being validated; and we also know that these lists will bring attention to books and keep those books in print. So it is nice to see those books on lists!

      But, as Leslie says — being on a list or not being on a list doesn’t mean that we change our minds about what we love, and enjoy, and will recommend.

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