I don’t know if it was the dizzying prospect of having a part time job, or feeling flattered that someone I respect would suggest that I do it, or simply thriving on being over-committed, but I’m serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee 2013. Throughout my year of service, I’m going to try to provide a window into my experience sitting on the committee, showing you how the BFYA sausage gets made and hopefully interesting some of you in joining in the future.
When I was formally accepted as a member of BFYA2013, it started to really sink in what I’d gotten myself into. I hadn’t really read a book since the birth of my son in December, preferring to spend my time sleeping or staring at his fuzzy head. I’m used to reading 3-5 books over the course of Shabbat if I don’t have too many social commitments, and 1-2 during the week, so this steep decline was worrying. The email from the chair welcoming us all to BFYA2013 said we would read an average of a book a day for the year, and to see our friends now, because we wouldn’t have any time for them in the future. I pruned my RSS feed and YouTube subscriptions and pulled ARCs that fit in the brief (September 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012) off the shelf to start reading.
I also decided to go to ALA Midwinter and attend as many of the BFYA committee meetings as I could. I went to some of a meeting at Annual, but the decisions for BFYA really get made at Midwinter. Watching the BFYA2012 committee in action was intimidating to say the least. There were members who had been serving youth through libraries for as long as I’ve been alive, people who had worked in various youth service environments, and people who took copious, detailed notes about every title they discussed. The discussions were tightly run (with over 200 titles to discuss, there was no time for blathering), and salient points were made on all sides.
It was especially interesting to see the different perspectives different members of the committee had on the mission of the list. There is certainly room for interpretation within the committee brief provided by YALSA:
YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee selects significant fiction books (not including graphic novels) published for young adults and annotates the selected titles….The list is prepared for librarians to use with young adults and annotations will be written to attract the teen reader. It is a general list of fiction titles selected for their demonstrable or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult….“Best” is defined as: of the highest quality, excellence, or standing. As applied to teen fiction, this means that YALSA’s BFYA Committee looks for outstanding titles of fiction that are of interest and value to teenagers….In addition to the question of appeal, committee members should consider the following when assessing titles: language, plot, style, setting, dialog, characterization, and design.
So, is proven popularity a requirement for every title? How to judge books for younger/reluctant readers against titles aimed at college-bound 18-year-olds? Can we tell if a book is really for our age group, instead of for children/adults and simply marketed to the YA market?
So I listened, contributed to the discussion as a member of the public, and solicited advice from current members of the committee. Luckily, not all of them take as comprehensive notes as some of the members I observed, so that’s not a requirement. I was told although I was going to get titles sent to me by publishers, I should go and solicit ARCs as well, and I was shown how to use NetGalley to get even more pre-publication titles. I resolved to buy an iPad to use as an ereader and to take notes on, and set myself a strict reading schedule that I hope I’ll be able to hold.