Books, books, books

I’m immersed in reading contest books at this point, with the wind blowing like a mofo, still, and the windchill in the negative numbers. I’m hoping for better days and using these to get ahead on this project in case one (or both!) of two things happen. We get snow and/or the wind dies down. At this point I’ll be happy with a die-down of wind. Windchills are at -20 F/C. Not fun. Not the -40 C of northern climes, but still. No one’s idea of a good time. Not even Bear’s.

Reading through more books in a couple of other categories I realized that the idea of an objective standard for a good book is pretty impossible. Not just for this contest, but in general. In real life it boils down to personal taste and what is available in the market place.

The contest brings a lot of different worlds into my field of view and ZAP! Jolts me out of my little state of personal biases and interests into a larger world. It’s good, for the most part.The most beautiful book I have (so far) is also clearly written by a person who is a true authority on the subject. It’s also a book I don’t want to own and would never encounter in my “real” life. But it’s so lovely and so well done, I feel privileged to have encountered it.

There are challenges, too. I know the “rules” of effective fiction writing include a compelling “hook” at the beginning of a book. Yesterday I picked up a novel that had a very offensive sentence as its “hook.” It was so offensive it was difficult to ignore and it haunted me for a while afterwards — still now, apparently. As I read through the book, nothing redeemed it. I hated it. I wanted to shake the author and yell, “You have NO idea!” The thing is, I’m not that author’s writing teacher, editor, classmate or critic. I’m a judge. Overall, the book is beautifully designed; the prose is lively and engaging; it’s not rife with errors. Many readers would enjoy this book, and that’s how I have to judge it. That’s a relief to me. I’m not the whole world, not every book-buyer, not every reader. A strong negative reaction to a book that’s well-done doesn’t speak ill of the book as a product.

Last year the winner was absolutely clear. It stood up and proclaimed itself, not just to me but the judges in every category in which it was entered. If you’re curious about that book, it’s Anonymous is a Woman. Don’t be daunted by the subtitle. The book is visually stunning, very well written and carries a very interesting and important message.

Ultimately, I must judge a book against the other entries in each category because there has to be a winner, and it can happen — as a friend of mine likes to say — “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” That’s OK. This is the best job I’ve ever had. ā¤

7 thoughts on “Books, books, books

  1. Yeah, when I was reviewing books I found it challenging to stay objective about such a subjective activity. But the good reviewers know how to hold themselves to the proper standard. I don’t review books anymore. It became a thankless task. I did enjoy making every one of the 800 words count. Learned a lot.

  2. Are these books all of one particular genre? Yes, our own tastes and expectations are bound to influence our choices. Hard to put yourself in the mind of another reader.

    I just finished a book last night about a senior spinster who helps the local police solve crimes –a la Miss Marple — and today I was wondering how Christie made Miss Marple stories so interesting and why this one’s just okay, IMO. I gave it 3 stars where a lot of readers gave it 5. (I love reading reviews. The variety you see!)

    One of my personal dislikes is when authors have their characters going over and over and over the points/clues — which this one does. And some of the characters aren’t credible as who they’re supposed to be — astute businessmen. Again, given my mental image of savvy businessmen. And I detest artificial drama.

    Anyway, wish you much success as you sort it all out and pick a winner. Do you get to compare notes with other judges and compare notes, or is this to be totally independent?

    • No I don’t compare notes with other judges. The rubric is excellent and the people who run the contest are very helpful. I think my life as a writing teacher and having had to read exit tests for graduating seniors was a huge help (training?) for this. The books are separated into content/theme categories, but within a category can be several genres. Personal taste is the reason we choose a book, but I have to keep that out of this equation as much as I can. I like this a lot. It’s a challenge and so far I’ve found two books I REALLY like that I’d never have heard of!

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