The National Book Awards f-up

October 13th, 2011 • Kate

shineAs you may have heard, the finalists for the National Book Award were announced yesterday, and for the first time, six finalists were announced as contenders for the Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. That is, FIVE titles were announced during the press conference, with a sixth added later. Why? What happened?

Well, according to Harold Augebraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, sponsor of the prestigious National Book Awards, it was a “miscommunication.” More fully:

For security reasons, we do everything by phone, and we don’t write things down when [the judges] transmit the titles to our staff. And someone wrote it down wrong.

I’m sure I’m not the first to call bullshit on this, right? Not even getting into the ridiculousness of a quote about not writing things down that ends with “someone wrote it down wrong,” are you telling me that the phone line was so static-y that someone misheard “Lauren Myracle” instead of “Franny Billingsley”? Because you can pretend that this is just about similarly sounding titles, but you’re effing kidding me that they didn’t say the author’s name too. And Lauren is quoted as having received the call from the NBF days before informing her Shine was a finalist, so this wasn’t something that just happened in the spur of the moment. You’re telling me that in the days since the judges called in the list to the NBF, the NBF called the authors, and then announced the finalists yesterday, no one double-checked the list?

This just stinks. It taints the honor, and I feel bad for all the finalists.

And them to compound the insult to the field of “Young Person’s Literature” — let’s not get into the patronizing tone of that category name, shall we? — Laura Miller of Salon goes and calls the awards themselves irrevelant. Sure, she’s speaking mostly about the finalists in the field of (Adult) Fiction, but then there’s this zinger:

Like the Newbery Medal for children’s literature, awarded by librarians, the NBA has come to indicate a book that somebody else thinks you ought to read, whether you like it or not.

Wait, what? So Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is just something you “ought to read”, with the assumption it’s not going to appeal? I gotta say it again — bullshit.

Feel like joining me in my rant? Spew forth in the comments!

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11 Responses to “The National Book Awards f-up”

  1. Lindsay F Says:

    This. This just enrages me. The last thing I want is qualified people, like librarians, telling me what I might like to read. Am I right? Just. I just can't even.

  2. MarcyKate Says:

    Did you see the faux pas in Publisher's Lunch today about this? They said:

    "It turns out that Wednesday's announcement of the National Book Awards was not entirely error-free, as in the early afternoon a sixth nominee in the Young People's Literature category – SHINE by Fanny Billingsley, published by Dial – was added to the list."


  3. DaphneUn Says:

    Gah. Why is this so hard, people?

  4. Becky Mahoney Says:

    Okay, the original kerfuffle was bad enough, but this makes me want to flip tables. Proofreading, people!

  5. Chelsey Says:

    Good grief.

    After a few class exercises designed to teach us the pitfalls of awards, and being forced to read award winners from thirty years ago that aren't exactly popular these days, I do think too much store is set in them. However, writing off a book because it won an award, or not believing in the validity of the award itself is absolutely ridiculous.

  6. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    There was a lot of talk about the relevance of the Newbery a year or two ago. Here's a good article by the very smart Anita Silvey:
    I think a general conclusion was that for a while, if a book was commercially successful, it wasn't award worthy. Post-debate, there was a definite shift–a good one!– that saw titles like THE GRAVEYARD BOOK "make the cut." Commercial success is not a dirty word! (Or even two dirty words. 🙂 I'm glad more award panels are acknowledging that.

    As to this year's business, why is it so hard for people to admit they screwed up, apologize and move on? We all KNOW they screwed up, and it just makes us more furious for them to pretend otherwise–as if we're stupid. Bluh.

  7. Anna Says:

    I felt horrible for the accidental honoree, too. A miserable excuse is not an apology.

  8. Becky Mahoney Says:

    I feel terrible for the nominees, too. Even if there was some sort of weird miscommunication, they could say something like "There were so many great books this year, we couldn't narrow it down to five."

    Also, was Laura Miller from Salon the one who was sneering about NaNoWriMo and saying that there are too many writers in the world?

  9. Bess Says:

    Oh, that is too bad. So one of the finalists, but not Franny Billingsley, was put on the list by mistake. What a blow to your ego, and that's putting it lightly. I can understand the need to keep the information secret, but in this day, you would think there would be another means of transmitting the names that's less error-prone.

  10. Michael G-G Says:

    I think I, and my silent partner Don Vito, need to be in charge of the awards from now on. Any more of this miscommunicating, and someone's sleepin' with da fishes.

  11. @ellievlogs Says:

    I could maybe forgive this incident if it wasn't for the fact the finalists were contacted days in advance of the announcement to the public. How does that happen and get screwed up?