A V-formation flock of geese seems to have one member of the group as the leader, but each member takes its turn at the point of the V, leading the way as the others in the formation honk in encouragement. The geese stay together, even when one becomes sick or injured; the group stays with it until it is well enough to continue the journey at its regular pace.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
PICKING THE BEST
What makes a novel a good book?There are as many answers to that question as
there are readers, but with this being the time once again when winners are
selected for the Whitney Awards, I think it's a good question for each of us to
I'll be honest and admit I'm not sure how some of the
finalists got published, leave alone selected as finalists.On the other hand there are some
exceptionally fine books on the list that will leave those voting with a
struggle to decide which outstanding book to choose as the best in its
Those eligible to vote include both published and
want-to-be-published writers who belong to the sponsoring organization,
LDStorymakers.Also eligible to vote are
industry specialists such as a select number of publishers, editors, book store
employees, critics, bloggers, and any published LDS writer whether in the LDS
or general market.No set criteria is
given to these people; each must answer for him/herself what makes one book
better than another. Sometimes this is hard because the LDS writing community
is fairly small and most of us know each other on a personal level. It's only
natural to want a good friend or someone in your critique group to win. There's
a temptation too when voting to give more weight to a favorite genre than to
one that is usually avoided.
Whether or not I enjoy reading the book is my first
criteria. Second is, did I gain some insight from the story?Other questions I ask, and these are in no
particular order:Can I identify with
the characters? Does the plot develop well and hold my attention? Is it well
researched?Is the vocabulary
appropriate for the expected audience?Does the author intrude on the story or insult his/her audience? Does
the setting feel right?Does it start
and end well? I can forgive a few typos and most punctuation errors, but have a
harder time overlooking repeated misspellings and poor grammar.
One more is: Is the story believable? All fiction requires
the reader to suspend belief to some extent, but there is a limit to how far
most of us can stretch our sense of credibility.I don't like patronizing political
correctness, but I don't like crass rudeness either.Another no no for me is cheesy sentimentality
or an over abundance of cutesy.
Every year since the Whitneys began I have plodded from
beginning to end through every finalist-- and enjoyed most of them. There have
been a few notable exceptions I considered a waste of my time, just plain
boring, not up to what I consider LDS standards, and some that just didn't
appeal to my taste.This year I won't be
reading all of the categories, but I will vote in those categories that
interest me most, primarily the genres I read for my review column on Meridian.
Admittedly there are a few books in the areas I won't be voting in that I've
read or plan to read at some time, but I don't have time now, or in some cases,
the desire to read all of the books in those categories.
Sometimes I wish there were a way to choose the top books of
the year strictly by the readers, no writers or reviewers allowed.Some suggest that sales numbers are more
indicative of how good a book is than a vote by the author's peers, but even
this method doesn't always denote quality since the fad factor enters in, as
does the effectiveness of the publisher's advertising strategy and the depth of
marketing given the book.The huge
number of books, many self-published, appearing on electronic sites now also
confuse any means of measuring what is the best.
year many people volunteer their time to read all of the nominees in a
category, then whittle the nominees down to five finalists. I applaud them.
Their task isn't easy. I also applaud Heather Moore and all who are working
with her to manage a very large time intensive awards program. Your efforts are
if you've stuck with this blog this far, please accept this challenge. If you
were voting and hadn't been given a list of finalists, which one, two, or three
books which you read in 2012 would you choose as the "best"? Please
set aside all other factors and just tell me which books you most enjoyed
One more thing, this is a
short month so there are only two more weeks to enter to win a copy of my new
book, Where the River Once Flowed. All comments (tasteful) on any of my
February blogs or Meridian reviews count as an entry. Multiple entries