26 November 2006

The Press of Competition

Sheila Ruth's Wands and Worlds alerted me to a very interesting "what I read in 2006" essay by Newbery-winning author Linda Sue Park. What's so interesting is that Linda Sue was a judge for this year's National Book Awards (Young People's Literature category). Out of 280 books nominated by publishers, she and her colleagues had to assemble a shortlist of five.

Eliminating the first fifty was easy, she writes. But then there were many perfectly competent novels that caught her up as she read, but didn't last:

At this stage, I found that several titles I loved *while I was reading* faded from mind fairly quickly. I couldn't remember quite how the story developed, or I'd get a character from a book mixed up with one from a different book. As a panel, we were at this stage for several weeks, but we finally got the list down to around 20 books.
This addresses one of the questions I've had about awards like the NBAs and the Cybils: Does the judges' work of reading so many novels so quickly, with the prestige of the award on the line, affect how they read and evaluate?

To judge [!] by Linda Sue's experience, the answer is yes, and that's a good thing. The shortlist (or even what British book awards have taken to calling the "longlist") ends up with titles that have truly stood out from the crowd, even when that crowd is pushing and shoving in the worst way for readers' attention.

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