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My Experience with the Notable Books Council

Post by Victoria Caplinger
Posted February 07, 2014 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be on ALA’s Notable Books Council, and wanted to share my experience -- it's been wild ride! Since 1944, this ALA group has sponsored a list comprised of the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published during the previous year. It was somewhat daunting to join a tradition with such a long lineage, and I was very grateful for the opportunity.

There are several criteria for choosing a book to be a part of this list, and the Council manual encourages selections based on more than one of these if possible: possessing exceptional literary merit, expanding human knowledge, making specialized material available to the general reader, solving a contemporary problem, or presenting a unique concept.

There’s definitely something bittersweet about turning over one’s personal reading for a full year -- when I got the email to join, I’d just gotten started on an old copy of the collected Flannery O’Connor found at a thrift store, and realized that my immersion in Southern Gothic fiction would need to wait a while longer. The reading throughout the year is fairly intense, but things really ramped up in December (just in time for the holidays!), as Council members turned in their final nominations. As I settled in for the post-holiday season, I had to decline almost all social invitations ("No, I really do have to stay home and read!"), and listen to comments from my 15-year-old son along the lines of, "Sure, I see, you don’t have any time for your family" and "Explain to me how reading all the time is better for you than video games?"

My personal reading ranges from genre fiction to classics to literary fiction, but for the Council I added a substantial amount of nonfiction, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. In many ways, however, my favorite part of the year was that manic rush at the end -- finally reading all of the books that my talented and dedicated co-Council members had been talking about.

My personal favorites from the 2014 list? For fiction, probably Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (a sort of kinder, gentler Murakami), for nonfiction quite possibly Margalit Fox’s tribute to cryptolinguist Alice Kober in The Riddle of the Labyrinth, and for poetry Jamaal May’s gorgeous Hum. But really, the whole list is great -- go check it out!

Victoria Caplinger is the Adult Cataloging Supervisor at NoveList.