A set criteria. Or not.

Following the recent announcement of the National Book Award nominees, literary critics and bloggers voiced their frustration and dissatisfaction with the nominees primarily in the fiction category. Most of the nominees were books that few have heard of, while other well-known and respectable books were left off the list. The question remains as to what kind of book this award is meant for. The criteria for choosing a winner is very vague. According to the National Book Foundation website (nationalbook.org), judges consider only books by American authors published in the United States. Their goal is to find the best book written within a particular year. According to the award rules, judges must choose nominees “using whatever criteria they deem appropriate, as long as they do not conflict with the official Award guidelines.” Clearly, the disapproval of literary critics is based on the fact that the criteria for the award changes yearly with the judges, and not all judges use the same criteria to determine the best book.

Though the problem of the National Book Award is large-scale, the question of criteria when judging a book is something that both the masses and literary critics encounter often. Think about where you go to look at book reviews. The New York Times? Your favorite blog site? Amazon? No matter where you go, or which reviewer you read, the question of criteria is a dominant one. As all humans are created with differing thoughts and opinions, it’s only natural that we judge books differently. As a reader recently turned reviewer, finding criteria to abide by is perhaps the hardest part of writing a review. I’ve come across and written reviews that describe plots and characters as relateable, but is that necessary for good books? I’ve read books that are extraordinarily imaginative and different than any other before them. Does that make for a good book?

With answers to these questions up in the air, I figured it was about time that someone make a standard set of criteria to judge all books by. I may not be the best person for the job, but I’m going to try.

Here it is:


Ok, actually, I’m not even going to try; it would change just as quickly as I formed it, in the same way that the changing criteria of the changing judges of the National Book Awards change every few years. Popular culture dictates ingoing and outgoing trends and, furthermore, it sways the opinion of the general public that will read the new books yet to be published. Additionally, it will change the views of the people that will be judging the books that may one day be nominees for the National Book Award. With all of this being said, it’s obvious that we can’t establish a set criteria for what kinds of books will be considered the best by both the masses and literary critics.

As long as we’re a culture that has changing opinions and trends, popular opinion will change as quickly as it was decided upon and, in the end, we’ll all still be in disagreement.

-Jessica Clark


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