Book judging

One of my favourite bits of the Guardian’s website is Rick Gekowski’s books blog. Often funny, always thoughtful, he’s usually a good read and clearly loves his subject. This week’s contribution is no exception.

Now I’m no stranger to a strong opinion and no stranger to a bull headed, firmly entrenched opinion either. (I get that in before you do…) And it just so happens that I’m currently involved in a book prize judging competition – the Guardian First Book Award 2011. It’s a small role, admittedly, I’m in a small group of people who must help to whittle the longlist of ten books down to a shortlist of 5. I’ve done it in previous years and am proud to say that we’ve always managed to correctly predict the winner.

But this year’s group met for the first time on Monday and asked the question we always ask: how do we judge these?

The GFBA is a little different to other awards – it pits books of different genres against each other. The main stipulation is, as you might expect from the name, that the book is a debut. But when faced with poetry, history, social studies and several novels it can be difficult to decide which is better.

Gekowksi here argues for that old fashioned value – tolerance for other people’s opinions and some evidence for your views. Not unreasonable and I’ve never sat in a reading group where anyone has been that unreasonable. But when examining a diverse range of genres, I think that opinion may count for more than in single genre prizes. It’s one thing to be encouraged to read novels you might not have picked yourself but to read a genre you wouldn’t normally read and to judge it as being good or bad can be difficult. Ultimately how do we decide if what we’re talking is sense?

I’m not complaining – I like the challenge, though I will admit I’m struggling with one of the titles already… (We’re not allowed to break embargo so I can’t discuss the list till next week.)

So the challenge to me will be not to hurl the book across the room and scowl at it and then judge it negatively because it’s not something I like. I have to find other reasons to dislike it. Or actually try and find something positive about it.

We’ll see. But I’m open to discussing this further…?

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