Monday, January 28, 2013

In Which My Librarian Cred Is Seriously Jeopardized

The Newbery and Caldecott and all those other nebulous book awards were announced today.  Here's the list if you're interested.  Me, I took one hard, long and intense look at the list... and I didn't recognize a-one of those titles.  Recognized a few authors, but I had never seen any of those titles in my life.  And bear in mind - I work for the library. I read books for fun.  Not only have I never heard of these books before today, I've never even seen the covers!  And I work at the library!

I have a love/hate relationship with these national book awards (there are so many different medals and so many categories it's hard to keep track of all of them).  My first real exposure to a Newbery winner was in fourth grade when my teacher read "The Giver" by Lois Lowry to the class.  To this day, that book is on my personal list of Greatest Books In All Of Our Lifetimes and Beyond (along with "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Pride and Prejudice" - it's a short list so far).  But after "The Giver"... there were never any other books with shiny medals on them that I wanted to read of my own free will and choice.  Even when "Holes" came out, I only read that one because they made a movie of it.  And I only read "The Graveyard Book" because Neil Gaiman wrote it.  Didn't give a crap that it had a big medal on the cover.  Same with Caldecott.  I read "The Polar Express" because my aunt gave me the book for Christmas, but I was never that impressed by what the American Library Association thought I ought to be impressed by.

You want my honest-to-goodness assessment of national book awards?  This has been in place since I was ten and I haven't seen any real reason to change my opinion since (with very, very, very few exceptions) - these awards are given by this nameless, faceless committee based out of New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or New Orleans or some other exotic city I've only seen on TV.  None of these people give a steaming pile of cow manure what some little farm girl from the Utah sticks likes to read.

I'm not the only one who sees this, either.  The "Death By Newbery Medal" trope wouldn't exist if regular people flocked to these books (I find the quotes section of that page particularly damning).

I'm not here to whine that nobody ever pays attention to me and why am I ignored and there should be a special medal for books about kids like me (thus creating a shortage of gold-leafing to print medal stickers on).  I am certainly capable of finding books that appeal to me and my situation.  I just wonder if these awards are more for the people giving them out and less for the people that the books are intended for.  If I - with all my bookish tendencies and voracious appetite for reading - rarely give a fig for the winners of these awards, what about the kid who hates reading, period?  The same thing happens with the Oscars and all those other "fictitious" award shows - they aren't for the larger audiences, they're more for the select few that get to pick them and then pat themselves on the back for selecting things that the so-called "great unwashed" will never understand (to which I ask, if these are things that normal people won't understand, why must we promote this stuff?)

(Larry Correia has a nice takedown of these literati elites that I quite loved.  Yes, he's talking about the Hugos, but these awards are all the same when you get right down to it).

Another thing: Teachers often give assignments to read Newbery winners and write book reports on them.  And I've had moms haul their ten-year-old boys who love video games and running around outside into the library and ask me for a Newbery book that has action and adventure and none of that touchy-feely-girly crap (this was an actual reader's advisory request I had posed to me by an actual mother and her son - except the mom asked a bit nicer than that). Thank goodness "The Graveyard Book" won that one year or there wouldn't be a darn thing to give to kids like that (and even then, there's a chance that the kid won't like the fantasy aspect of it).  Personally, I'd rather a kid choose to read "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and love it than have to read "Dead End in Norvelt" and completely hate it.

Speaking of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," the first time I read that book I remember thinking "If Mo Willems can win a Caldecott Honor for 'Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,' why can't a book about a snarky middle-schooler drawing comics of his family and friends in his diary JOURNAL get a nod?" Of course, Greg snarking on the Newbery Medal itself probably doesn't endear him to the nominating committee (probably for the best, now that I think of it.  Would probably ruin a perfectly good book series).

And that brings me to the Honor awards.  Honestly, I think the Honor books are better than the books are actually win the medals.  "Princess Academy" comes to mind, as does "Charlotte's Web."  I've heard tell (from second- and third-hand sources, so who knows how reliable this is, but it sounds legit) that the Honor books are the ones that individual committee members really, really, really LOVE, but they can't get the rest of the committee to agree, so the actual winner is really a compromise (the committee has to be unanimous on the winner or it doesn't become the winner).  So, really, the Honor books are the best and the Winner is a cheap compromise.

Look, I don't want to dog on these award winners.  Earning any kind of recognition like this takes talent and hard work and I don't want to take that away from anyone.  But I do have issues with the book becoming the focus rather than the reader.  I became a librarian because I love to read and I want to help kids and adults love reading as well.  I do have a make judgments about the books I read - everyone does, not just librarians even though that's a large part of our jobs.  But those judgments are in the interest of helping people find something they'll love to read (and if I enjoy something along the way, that's just icing on the cake).  If I ever become overly-focused on the book rather than the reader who may or may not love the book, feel free to drum me out of the service.

(I am so going to Library Hell for this).

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