On criteria, part II

When I first considered the battle criteria vs. actual awards committee criteria, I was really confused as to why awards committees even had specific criteria in place; reading to me was so clearly a personal experience that I didn’t understand how “style” and “setting” and “character” could be perceived as universal parameters. Someone wise on the subject of awards committees graciously told me that he sees criteria as guidelines – if everyone loves a book, a further breakdown may not be necessary, but a committee needs a vocabulary with which to disagree. And so they have judging criteria.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s specific to judging committees, I think. In reading, you can love two books equally, and for entirely different reasons, and they can coexist just fine on your bookshelf. Awards committees – and book battles – aren’t structured like that. Awards committees are required to pick the most distinguished novel each year. And committees are made up of individuals with different preferences, so it makes sense that some sort of guideline be developed.

I still stand by what I said in the original battle criteria post: even the official Newbery criteria – which sound so objective! – really aren’t objective on an individual level. Take people’s responses to prose: one person’s lyricism is another’s purple prose. One person’s supreme excellence in voice (Chime would be my default example) is another’s instant dislike. I think people tend to use official criteria to explain why they love books, because that’s become our shared vocabulary – but it starts with loving books. And that’s not always a quantifiable response.

Except you can’t love two books equally in a book battle. One book has to advance.

Something struck me when I had to figure out how to choose between The King of Attolia and The Road Home in my mock bracket. Those are two titles I really love. Suddenly I found that it helped to have criteria, to formulate a checklist of sorts – because how else was I supposed to choose between them?

(I ended up picking the more unique title in my mock bracket matchups; that’s not in any committee criteria, and it’s certainly subjective.)

However, checklists – and by extension, official criteria – are artificial, because they can’t quite capture the full reading experience. Sometimes I don’t want to nitpick. Sometimes I want to love a book for the sheer enjoyment of reading it that first time, literary excellence (however I might define that) aside. Breaking down a book to its literary elements doesn’t mimic reading, though it does seem necessary in a situation where a group of people are required to make a choice.

Book battles, with single judges making decisions, come closer to capturing the reading experience, because they validate the way we instinctively measure books. Which is probably why I’ve always been able to relate to book battles better.

I’m so happy with how the book battle worked out; as necessary as criteria may be for awards committees, I think the lack of criteria made the battle reflect readers and their personal responses more. Highlighting that subjectivity was something I wanted the battle to accomplish. The winner was almost beside the point for me. The point was always reading and discussion, and so we all win.


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