WHAT MAKES A BOOK AWARD-WORTHY?

With The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Awards for 2018 done and dusted, we chatted with some of our jury members and asked them what they think is an award-worthy book.

Here’s what a couple of them said:

Devika Rangachari

Devika Rangachari, on the jury for Best Book-Non-Fiction:

Several important features mark any work of well-written non-fiction, but the crucial ingredients are essentially two—accuracy and readability/accessibility. Facts should be conveyed in a manner that indicates the research undertaken but not so that it obscures the reader’s understanding through largely impenetrable prose. This is why Devika Cariapa’s India through Archaeology: Excavating History was such a joy to read and the jury’s unanimous choice for the Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award 2018 for Best Book: Non-Fiction.

Historical non-fiction that is engaging and interesting is a rarity, more so when directed at children. Much of it is written by those who aim to preach and are, therefore, insufferably didactic. The rest is penned by those who have a mere nodding acquaintance with the subject but feel equipped to write because of their school textbook memories. The unfortunate fact is that history is seen as everyone’s preserve and prerogative unlike, for instance, a subject like physics on which none but a physicist would dare to write.

Cariapa, though, is a student of history and her competence for the task of surveying India’s past through its archaeological record comes through distinctly. Historical accuracy underpins the entire narrative, corroborative sources are routinely cited and gaps in our collective historical knowledge are intelligently analysed—all in a manner that is at once friendly and informative, lucid and instructive. The visual component of this book greatly enhances its readability and general appeal. At a time when history has become more hotly contested than ever before, India through Archaeology: Excavating History shows the way forward for future contributions to this genre.

Anil Menon

Anil Menon, on the jury for Best Book-Fiction:

I have been on the juries for several book awards and story-writing competitions. It isn’t uncommon for jury members to email each other their philosophies on what makes a book award-worthy. Since email’s dukka is to generate more email, such intended clarifications breed misunderstandings, which necessitate more clarifications. I have come to the conclusion that the reasons we drum up to justify our decisions are just that: justifications. There is first the strong emotional reaction to a book. Then we come up with explanations to ourselves and others why this book deserves to be given an award. These explanations may sound very plausible. Indeed, the justifications may be justifiable on their account.

Here are some of my justifications: I think a book is award-worthy when it surprises me intellectually and moves me emotionally. The emotions needn’t be pleasurable; I take our rasa-based South Asian aesthetics seriously. A work may arouse terror, disgust, horror and sorrow. But it must be interesting. I prefer problematic and ambitious works over tame and non-threatening ones. Finally, I will sometimes champion a book because I hope it will inspire other authors to similar efforts; like their judge, to fail better.

This year’s winners, Mini Shrinivasan’s warm, sensitive and yet unsentimental novel (The Boy with Two Grandfathers, which describes a young boy handling the loss of a parent with the help of his two grandfathers) and Nandhika Nambi’s rare YA novel (Unbroken, which has a protagonist with a disability who is determined to be unlikeable from her wheelchair), were chosen mainly for their courage to raise subjects that used to be dismissed, at least until quite recently, as inappropriate for children.

Gayathri Bashi

Gayathri Bashi, on the jury for Best Picture Book-Story & Best Picture Book-Illustration

Within the world of books, the unassuming format of the picture book holds a rather unique place. The fact that it combines both the written and visual medium offers endless opportunities for different ways to ‘read’ books. And winners of picture book awards exemplify this creative storytelling in the best way possible.

To me, a successful picture book is one where the pictures and text inform each other and give the reader an altogether new perspective from their interaction. For the process of picking an award-winning book, I rely on finding this same balance, in addition to identifying what sets it apart from the other books in contention. I like to see a variety in subjects as far as the stories are concerned, which are well-written with a unique voice. For the pictures, I look for how the artist builds up the world to immerse the reader and goes beyond just depicting the words on the page; also, how creative their perspective and style is.

Since both illustration and story are the defining elements, this year’s jury had winners in both categories. Gone Grandmother was our pick for story because of how beautifully Chatura Rao wrote it and how it bravely yet poignantly addressed the difficult subject of loss, especially in an age-appropriate way. And Maharani the Cow won for illustration because of how imaginatively Nancy Raj brought the bovine’s world to life; her quirky style filled the story with humour and chaos that offers the reader so much more than just a linear narrative.

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