I am not a movie buff. I have no interest in being one of the judges for the Academy Awards or the Cannes Film Festival or any of the other film awards. That’s not my thing. I am a book guy. I like to read. I’m a stay up til 3 am because I keep telling myself “just a few more pages” and then realize that I am finished the book and have to be up for work in 4 hours. And that is one of the reasons I am excited to be on the Stonewall Book Awards committee.
I was generally pleased with the books we selected as winners and honorees this year. Most of my favorite books were selected, but a couple were not. I don’t lose sleep over this because I think what we did select are excellent titles and they will do a lot of good for those that read them.
But not everyone is happy.
Abraham Lincoln (a movie which by the way, did not win an Academy Award for Best Picture this yea,r making some people angry) is quoted as saying
“You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time”
[this quotation is in dispute by some historians]
Boy was he right.
Between people tweeting, blogging and otherwise talking about the Stonewall Book Awards you would think they were either to the moon with the winners or thought the Zombie apocalypse had happened. The most common things I have heard and been told is that people are happy that some lesser known authors and publishers won while others are aghast that gay Pulitzer prize winning luminaries were passed over. One extreme or the other. You can’t make people happy and we don’t try.
The Stonewall Book Awards committee honors books for their exceptional merit relating to the GLBT experience. Period. It isn’t about providing a list of “good” books for GLBT (and Q) teens [if you want that you can try the Rainbow Book list, they provide a pretty comprehensive annotated list each year, some overlap with the Stonewalls, but not always]. It isn’t about telling the world that yes, author X is still a literary genius because he has won all these awards so now we are going to heap upon him one more. While we do look for literary quality and finesse, that isn’t the purpose of the award.
We are the oldest award given for GLBT books. We predate both the Lambda Literary Awards and the Pink Publishing Triangle Awards (both established in 1989, Stonewall was first awarded in 1971). We are a committee comprised of Librarians. We are not literary scholars or professors of English or other types. These awards do not always recognize the same works, sometimes there is overlap, but we are different. And it should be that way.
It is disappointing as a committee member to read peoples criticism of our selections. I try not to take it personally, but sometimes I do. During our award cycle I typically read 1 book a day. Yes, you read that correctly. I read about 350 pages a day. Then I write up my thoughts on each book and begin comparing them. I compare book A to book B. I contrast is with Book C. I go back and forth and for the months that we are considering the works eligible I generally have no social life.
This isn’t a complaint. Not at all. I enjoy it. I love getting boxes of books and seeing what treasures I will unearth. I love reading authors I haven’t ever read before (some I should have begun reading years ago, others I wish they had never even begin writing).
I then compare what I think with the 15 other people on the committee. We email, we post, we talk, we discuss, we complain and we rave. We disagree. All very politely mind you, but all respectfully, honestly and insightfully.
Then in the end we meet in person for a weekend, locked in a room and talk about the books that we have whittled down to our top 5. And talk we do. What we liked. What we hated. “Why did this book make it this far and book ABC not advance in our discussions? It was my favorite!?!?” We smile politely . Nod our head sagely. Clinch our eyes tightly. And in the end we have a winner. A book that not everyone agrees with 100%, but a book that we all agree is of exceptional merit relating to the GLBT experience.
Some authors are left by the wayside in this process. Others are elevated . And then the public outcry begins with the public doing what we spent months doing ourselves. Wondering and reading and weighing. And disagreeing.
You might not be happy with the choices. You might not agree that the winner deserves the award. You might think one of our honor books should have swapped places and been an award book.
But in the end, I hope that you are doing what we all did: and that is reading and discussing. And if you agree with us, great. If not, fine. You’re reading something and if our selections have made you pick up any book, winner or not, that makes me happy. But I would hope you’d try one of the ones we selected. I’m sure there is at least one that you’d enjoy.
The 2014 Stonewall Book Award committee is starting again. Know a book that was published since October 1, 2012 or will be published before September 30, 2013 and think it should get a Stonewall? Let us know here. Or, if you are interested in serving on the Committee, apply here.