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Archive for Friday, January 26, 1990

LIBRARIAN HELPS PICK BEST BOOKS

January 26, 1990

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How many times do you have 15 people in the same room and everybody has read the same book?

Outside of a classroom, that situation isn't too common.

But Jane Liggett, a librarian at Lawrence High School, recently found herself in a room with 15 total strangers who had read not only the same book, but the same 209 books.

Liggett experienced that strange sensation earlier this month when she and 14 other members of an American Library Assn. committee met in Chicago.

The purpose of the five-day meeting was to choose the best 80 young-adult books of 1989. And to vote, every member had to have read all 209 books that had been nominated for the best-book list.

Liggett talked Thursday about her yearlong reading venture, the books that were selected and rejected and "the politics of best-booking."

LIGGETT SAID she first learned about the ALA committee several years ago when she worked with a librarian who was a member. She was so interested that she applied to be a member, and she was selected for the 1989 committee.

Liggett's work began early last year when she started receiving books, free of charge, from the publishers of titles that had been nominated for the list. Books could be nominated by anybody, but many of the books were nominated by committee members.

"It's a real serious decision when you decide to nominate a book because you're obligating 14 other people to read it," Liggett said.

In addition to the 209 books that were eventually nominated, Liggett read several books that she didn't nominate, so she estimates that she read about 300 young-adult books throughout the year.

LIGGETT definitely enjoys reading.

"But sometimes, even for me, it was a bit much," she said. "My husband has been real patient with my anti-social behavior."

Although Liggett had to read all the books, she did get some help from about 20 LHS students who also read the books and critiqued them.

"The young adults are the ones the books are for, so that's the most important thing, to get their opinions," she said.

Several LHS teachers also read the nominated titles and offered their opinions. Liggett said she especially appreciated the assistance toward the end of the year, when her reading became rather hurried.

"Traditionally, the heavy publication season is in the fall, and I must have received at least 75 books after November 1," she said.

AND WHAT were some of the best books of 1989?

Educators might be dismayed to learn that three of the books that the committee selected were picture books. But actually, said Liggett, the books deal with some very interesting topics, and the texts of those books are quite fascinating.

The list of best books includes three that are dominated by photography: "Why Are They Weeping? South Africa Under Apartheid" by David C. Turney; "I Dream a World" by Brian Lanker, a photographic essay on black women; and "Photographs That Changed the World" by Loraine Monk.

"It's basically a chronology of humankind, and the text is wonderful," Liggett said of Monk's book.

Liggett said the whole committee was moved by pictures, especially by pictures on the book jackets.

"You can't judge a book by its cover, but everyone has a tendency to do that," Liggett said. "We even suggested having awards for the best and worst covers.

ANOTHER book that made the list was "Weetzie Bat" by Francesa La Block.

"I don't know how to explain this one," Liggett said. "One of the members said it was like MTV."

"It's about these punked-out Californians finding love and happiness. It's a real different format. It's almost like a fable. It's unique."

Not all of the books were as far out as that one. Many of the books that Liggett read dealt with a topic traditionally popular among young adults: sports. And one of the books that made the list was about a basketball team.

"Coping with abusive parents, unfortunately, also seems to be a popular theme, probably because it's rather prominent," Liggett said.

One of the books the committee panned was "White Rabbit: A Doctor's Story of Addiction and Recovery" by Martha Morrison, M.D.

"It was her story of taking all these drugs and making it through medical school and even having a successful medical practice," Liggett said. "It almost seemed to be glamorizing drugs, and the vanity there was almost overwhelming. It was kind of narcissistic."

ANOTHER book, "Love Life" by Bobbie Ann Mason, was rejected because it didn'd seem geared toward young adults.

"It's suitable for someone who is 35, but I don't think kids would be able to relate to the experience in the book," Liggett said.

Librarians across the country will be basing many of their book purchases on the list, which the committee developed after meeting five hours a day for five days.

"You form a kind of special relationship because the meetings are so intense," Liggett said. "We had differences of opinion, but nobody ever got real mad. Some people did some lobbying efforts. It's interesting, the politics of best-booking."

Liggett says she expects eventually to get some feedback from librarians across the country, and she has already gotten some response from LHS students.

"A LOT OF my books are checked out right now," Liggett said. "It's kind of nice to have people looking at them instead of just having them lying around the shelves."

With the book selection process over, Liggett finally has had a chance to relax.

"This was one of the first weekends I sat down and watched TV, and I found that I'm not missing that much," she said. "I'd rather be reading my books."

Liggett certainly has ample reading ahead of her. Her appointment to the ALA board is for two years, and she already has received 20 new books to consider for this year's best-book list.

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