So Many Books [BTBA 2019]

Today’s BTBA post is from Keaton Patterson of Brazos Bookstore

As a first-time judge for the BTBA or any literary award for that matter, the question that pops into my mind as the books come flooding in is this—where to start? I’ve been the buyer for an Brazos for over six year now. I’m no stranger to sifting through vast quantities of titles from every conceivable genre in search of the best books to present to readers, but this is not quite the same. Of course, I’m not here to fill a bookstore. I’m looking for one single novel or story collection translated into English for the first time that rises above all others. And this fact, where what I am reading is in competition and not in concert with one another, has made it necessary for me to think about books in entirely new ways that have already amounted to an education and an adventure for this reader.

But back to the original question, where to start? Trying to give each of the hundreds of submissions for this year equal time is just not possible. There are not enough hours in the day. So a bit of strategy comes into play. Do I begin by plowing through a 1100-plus page tome like the sixth and final volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autofictional saga, My Struggle? Do I tear through multiple short novels of just a hundred or so pages, such as Anne Serre’s The Governesses or the two(!) Wolfgang Hilbig titles nominated this time around. Do I filter through what the other judges are excited about, or do I just read what intrigues me personally? I’ve thought about questions like these constantly since the judging commenced, and it will only consume me more in the coming months. So far I only have one answer, and luckily it is what I do best—just keep reading. Sure, this is the literary equivalent to the grip it and rip it sports philosophy. But, if I just keep digging, eventually the true contenders will rise to the top of the ever-growing stack that is quickly overtaking my office.

It can all be a bit overwhelming. Still, ultimately as the BTBA judging wears on, I know I’ll look back at this early period as the easy times for the simple reason that there are just so many good books in translation this year. I’ve already come across a dozen titles that could be considered frontrunner, if only the next book I picked up wasn’t at least as good. So, eventually there will be darlings killed out of necessity. There will be hard-nosed debates over prose style, pacing, and originality. Many days lie ahead full of great reading and hard choices. I look forward to it all.

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