Like most librarians I love to speculate about book awards. I happily participate in the discussion at Someday My Printz Will Come, and I’m a big fan of Cross Referencing’s What Should’ve Won series. Both manage to talk intelligently about contenders and the merits of winners while still being respectful of the work the Printz committees both current and past put in to choosing a winner.
Today I’d like to discuss a few of the major differences between serving on the actual committee, as I did for the 2012 award, and participating in informal Printz discussion. I would imagine this goes for other awards too, but as I haven’t served on any of those committees I can’t guarantee it. Of course, since one of the differences that doesn’t need lots of explanation is confidentiality I won’t be getting into specifics.
1. Multiple Readings
This is one of the biggest differences, and yet it was absolutely essential near the end of the Actual Printz process. When the process gets down to the end committee members will often re-read a book or parts of a book several times. With really excellent books often details of plot, structure, and characterization become clearer and more impressive with multiple readings. On the other hand, some books just don’t stand up to this intense scrutiny. Sometimes titles with a lot of buzz from people with excellent taste don’t end up recognized by the committee and I suspect that often it’s because the committee are the only readers who gave them a second reading.
2.Breadth of Reading
Faux Printz discussions are almost always based of someone’s list; a blogger, the books that got a lot of stars, Twitter consensus, whatever. Influential Reader #1 finds a book they think is good, they mention it and suddenly it’s on the to read list of Influential Readers #2-#8. A couple of them read it and like it and now it is a must read. It inevitably goes on a list and now it’s a contender. At some point during the year it will be declared a “weak year”, because the big books aren’t “putting out” so to speak. It happens nearly every year.
The Actual Printz, on the other hand, is looking a lot broader. Books that are even remotely possible contenders are divided up for a first read or partial read depending on how close to Printzy-ness they come. Committee members are sent hundreds of books and somebody on the committee takes a look at most of them. Committee members are also watching other sources to find gems that might not arrive on their doorstep. I promise that the committee has read books you’ve barely even heard of and unless one of those titles is chosen they might not ever hit your radar.
3. 100% Finish Rate
One of the obstacles even in a good informal Printz discussion is that it’s rare that everyone participating has actually read all the books under discussion. Not surprisingly this generally leads to people arguing passionately and voting for the books they have read, which skews the results quite a bit to the books with wider distribution, known authors, and overall bigger buzz.
Of course the Actual Printz is decided by people who have read all of the nominated books. In Faux Printz discussions we often give up on reading books that don’t work for us personally. In Actual Printz discussion not only must you finish the book, but it’s essential to determine whether the problem finishing is with the book or with the reader. Additionally, having nine opinions about a dark horse book instead of two or three makes for a very different type of discussion.
4. Criteria, Criteria, Criteria
The Actual Printz award has criteria, starting with the charge “To select from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book (“best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit).” Now, SMPWC does a truly excellent job at trying to focus discussion on criteria, but I’ve seen enough discussion and enough certainty about mediocre books by very popular authors to know that not all discussions hit those marks.
The Printz is not for being inspiring or being socially important. The winner might be one or both of those things but that is by coincidence, not design. “POPULARITY is not the criterion for this award. Nor is MESSAGE.” Amen to that. The Printz is in the committee’s opinion the best book by literary standards, period. The Actual Printz committee comes back to the criteria over and over during the course of the year.