Helping pick a national award

I know my role will be minimal — and even that may be giving it too much credence. Still, I get a little bit of a kick out of the fact my membership in the National Book Critics Circle gives me a small voice in selecting its annual book awards. How small? Well…

NBCC voting members get to vote for up to five books of their choice in each of the following categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. While those votes are left entirely to the member’s discretion, a committee assigned each category and made up of members of the NBCC board has been working to come up with a list of about 10 books each. Those lists are given the voting members “merely as a starting point” and reference for our votes. Member voting began Monday and ends January 9. Any book named by 20 percent or more of the voting members automatically becomes a finalist.

Shortly thereafter, the committees meet to create a shortlist of four finalists in each category. Thus, how many finalists the members pick and how many the committees pick depends on how many, if any, of the books in a category are named by least 20 percent of the voting members. The ultimate winners are decided from amongst the four finalists by the NBCC board in March.

Thus, like any NBCC voting member, anywhere from none to four of the books I select could make the shortlist. I know I will not vote in the poetry category and likely will not in the criticism category. In addition, I may cast less than five votes in some or all of the remaining categories because the book must have been published in 2006. Still, this at least creates the chance that my analysis of the books of the year might actually be a productive mote in the awards universe, making it a bit more relevant this year than in the past.

In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through you — how many you can make your own.

Mortimer J. Adler, “How to Mark a Book”

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