February 3, 2020
At the end of January, I attended the ALA Midwinter conference in Philadelphia. Although I arrived on a Thursday, I didn’t step foot in the convention center until Sunday afternoon. I promise I wasn’t gallivanting around Philly blowing off the conference. Rather, I spent two days in a hotel meeting room with eleven other librarians hashing out which genre books were the best of the year.
This was my second year as a committee member of ALA’s RUSA CODES Reading List Council, where we select the top picks of the year in eight different genres: Adrenaline, Fantasy, Historical fiction, Horror, Mystery, Relationship fiction, Romance, and Science fiction. This year we considered more than 550 titles and narrowed it down to 94 to discuss at the Midwinter conference. Throughout the year, committee members read madly to uncover hidden gems and compelling titles that exemplify what makes each genre unique and nominate at least one title (and up to two) in each category.
That’s when the fun begins. On Friday and Saturday of the conference, we gather first thing in the morning and spend all day discussing each nomination that has been moved forward as a finalist. Although I go into the discussions with a general sense of how I feel about each book and what they bring to the genre, I never make a final decision until after the discussion. As anyone who has even been part of a book club can tell you – hearing other people’s perspectives and impressions can really change the way you perceive a book. We talk about the merits of each book as well as the audience – we try to select a variety of books that would suit both newbies to the genre as well as long-time fans.
Once we have fully discussed every nominated book in the genre, it’s time to vote! We use a tiered voting system, so the top votes carry more weight than the bottom votes. Sometimes more than one round of voting is necessary to find a clear-cut winner, and then there is a shortlist of the top four following titles. Though we do deem one title as the “winner,” I recommend looking at the entire shortlist as standout examples, providing different flavors of the genre.
You can find this year’s Reading List here, and all the winners from this year and previous years can be found in NoveList by searching "reading list" and going to the Lists & Articles tab. There is plenty of fodder there to keep you and your patrons busy reading for a long time to come. As for me, I’ll be feverishly reading in anticipation of the 2021 List.
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Halle Eisenman is a Content Development Manager for NoveList. She is currently reading A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and listening to Royally Yours by Emma Chase.