Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Do You Read That Book?

In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.

How Do You Read That Book?

This past year [2008], I read a lot of Young Adult books. How many? I lost count. Any number would be a bit meaningless, because I read many of those books multiple times.

This wasn't just any reading; I was on the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. The Printz Award is awarded annually by the American Library Association; it is for "a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."

I read fabulous books and worked with brilliant librarians; and this past January [2009], we met in Denver during the ALA Midwinter Conference and discussed books in person and ended up picking one Award Winner, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, and four Honor Books, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson; The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart; Nation by Terry Pratchett; and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. After the Awards were announced, I returned home, took a deep breath, and – didn't read a thing for two weeks.

Being on the Printz Committee was awesome. A dream come true. But it was reading unlike any reading I've ever done before. The first and most important thing, it wasn't about me and what I liked or didn't like. The Printz is about literary excellence, not "Liz's Favorite Books". Now, a year later, I have the award criteria memorized; but at first, I didn't. So in addition to printing out the criteria, I had post-it notes with short reminders of what to look for when I read the books. Now? I have those paragraphs memorized.

Second, the book mattered. Yes, upon occasion I read an Advance Reader's Copy. Sometimes I just couldn't resist and didn't want to wait months for the final book! ARCs are not the final books; spelling and grammar may be corrected, passages rewritten or changed. The copy that was read and reread, with marked pages and highlighted passages? That was the final copy, not the ARC.

Third, my time was not my own. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of YA books published last year. Every time I wasn't reading one of these books, I felt guilty. I ignored the new Nora Roberts; my issues of Vanity Fair piled up, without even a glance at the photographs. "Do I dust, or read a book?" The answer was – read a book.

Fourth, rereading is important. Luckily, I've never been the type of reader where knowing the ending "spoils" the book for me. I've been known to read the first chapter of a book, and then the last, and then the rest of the book. On the other hand, I don't usually reread books. Oh, sometimes I'll revisit a childhood favorite to see if it holds up; or see if a book I read in high school or college is different from an older perspective. Other than that, I'm not one of those people who will read Pride & Prejudice every year. This past year, that all changed. I'd read once for me. I'd read again for the criteria. I'd read again, using fellow committee members' input. And again, and again.

Finally, all books and no breaks makes Liz a tired reader. Don't get me wrong; I love YA books. The first book I read after my two week break? YA. But, given how intense my reading was, I found that I needed something to give my mind a break so that I could jump into each book, fresh and ready to appreciate the new story and writer. So what did I use? TV. Not just any TV; reality TV. Watching a little America's Next Top Model or House Hunters was the perfect minivacation for my brain.

Now I'm back to reading for me. Not for a committee. Not for an Award. I can read whatever I want, including adult literature or books written 20 years ago. As I read my first book, I realized that my Printz reading habits were still with me. I noticed how the book met the Printz criteria, marked passages to share, wondered how a reread would be. I thought that being on the committee would end after a year; but instead, the deeper reading experience continues.

So how was being on the committee? Tiring. Exhausting. Time consuming. And awesome.

This was originally posted in April 2009 at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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