Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Years of Greatness Awards

A year ago, I posted a review of the Goodreads Choice Awards. This year, I looked at the awards as they were being voted on. I tried to find my favorite books from the past year, and what I found instead was disturbing. I hadn't read any of the nominees. There were a lot of nominated books that I'd marked "to-read", but none that I'd actually gotten around to reading. I felt like I'd missed everything good from this year in publishing.

It was a disturbing realization, yet, when I thought about it, I didn't have a bad reading year. I had read my normal quota of books, lived a reading life as well as I could, and had enjoyed the books that I had read. The only thing I hadn't done was read any books that were brand-spankin' new. Those books just weren't at the top of my list. Other books had been waiting to be read, and when I got my hands on them, I devoured those instead.

It brought me to the conclusion that maybe a lot of good readers might not be able to participate in the Goodreads Choice Awards for the same reason. They simply didn't have time to read the books that they were hoping to get to, or maybe they needed a couple extra years to get all the necessary reading done in order to make an informed voting decision about this year's batch of new books. Normally, I admit that I am essentially "shooting from the hip" in my posts. I don't normally use research to back up my opinions, but in this case, I looked up some statistics about annual reading habits of Americans, and I can now say with relative certainty that most people haven't read enough each year to really decide what's the best of the best. I saw a couple of polls and though the numbers varied slightly, ten books a year was as lofty as the averages got. That's not much fodder to make an informed decision with.

So where does that leave me? Well, a little disappointed, but not entirely surprised. Also, it makes me want to rethink the idea of book awards. If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that I've never been particularly enamored with any particular award. I often encourage second guessing any book's award-worthy status. Maybe a book deserved its accolades and maybe it didn't, but that's really for each reader to decide. There is no authority on the matter and there doesn't need to be, though some people might want to argue that point.

But I have a vision for a series of awards that might do a little better job of representing the annual catalog of books. I call it the Years of Greatness Awards, or the YOGA for short. This is the award that should give those slower readers like me a chance to really know what they're voting for. I propose a few denominations of the award: a five year category dubbed the 5YOGA, a ten year category known forever after as the 10YOGA, and a twenty year category henceforth called the 20YOGA. Essentially, the idea isn't that revolutionary. What I'm proposing is, in essence, a rematch. All the books that are up for an award this year go head to head with each other again after year five, ten, and twenty years. If we were to have an inaugural award dedication this year, the books eligible for the 5YOGA would have to have been published between the years of 2008 and 2009; to be eligible for the 10YOGA a book would have been published between 2003 and 2004; and eligibility for the 20YOGA would be limited to books published between 1993 and 1994.

Of course, nothing is set in stone here, but here are some rules that I've been hashing out as I write this. To be eligible, the book would have to still be in print, or at least it would have be widely available to readers/voters in some way. I'm not sure exactly how to define that rule. Secondly, the book should be available in the United States. That's my way of saying that we're not concerned with whether the book is by an American or not as long as we Americans can get our hands on a copy (I'm not on board with exclusion of the J.K. Rowlings and Cornelia Funkes of the world). Third rule is, the books you vote on should be books you've actually read and enjoyed enough to remember. I don't know how to enforce that one either, but by my thinking, voting for a book that you've heard is good but haven't bothered to read first is pointless. That's the whole reason for making an award for books that have waited five, ten, or twenty years to become eligible. Other rules...I haven't thought of any yet, but I think the three I mentioned would be a good start. I'd like to make a couple categories to separate children's books and books for adults at least. As I mentioned, it's all up in the air still.

So there it is. A non-fan of book awards made up his own batch of book awards. Seems a bit hypocritical, but I think the idea is a good one. I don't know how to make it a reality, but if it's going to actually happen, this is the best way I thought I could start. If anyone has any ideas that could improve what I've started, speak up. Also, if anyone knows what the award could look like, that would be good too. As you'll probably notice, there are no pictures of the proposed award right now, only words describing it. So, start pouring on the comments. Let's see where this takes us!

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