Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Just how many books should you read to judge an award?"

Claire Armistead of the Guardian's book blog provides a picture that puts into perspective the task faced by those asked to be judges for book awards. Take a look at what she was faced with for the non-fiction Samuel John prize - 131 books plus another 31 books subsequently requested by the judges.

How in the world can anyone read that many non-fiction books in the time required? Should judges be expected to read all the candidates cover-to-cover? I find it hard to believe that's possible.

Claire's comments are interesting, as are some of the responses she's received.


  1. Whoa! How much time DO they have? This really makes me think twice about any books nominated for awards and wonder how many were read - even in part.

  2. Same here, Heather. I can't imagine how they convince anyone to serve as a judge in the much do they pay, I wonder?

  3. Sure makes me wonder, Jenclair. That picture puts it into a real perspective for could anyone read and absorb that much material in such a short time. That would be a full-time job, and we all know that's not the case for the judges.

  4. You can't get through it all, of course. And no one does. Just like no other reader would, nor any agent, editor, or otherwise publisher-- you can tell whether you'll like a book in the first ten pages. You can tell pretty much everything about a book, in fact, in the first five (there's even a book called The First Five Pages, I believe by agent Noah Lukeman)--style, writing quality, prosity, storytelling quality, etc.

    People give me crap for noting I don't like Zadie Smith's writing because I based my assessment on the fact that I've picked up both White Teeth and On Beauty and could make it through ten pages of neither.

    And really, why waste more than ten pages on books you don't like? That's just silly.

  5. Will, while what you say makes perfect sense, I guess I just never thought about the book judging process that way. I can certainly understand that it is impossible to read all the books that are entered in the major competitions but I do have to wonder if some slip through the crack because they give a poor first impression. Of course, what one judge tosses aside after ten pages might appeal to another judge, so I suppose it all evens out.

    "The First Five Pages" sounds interesting...gotta find that one. Thanks.