Best of the Best
In the spring of 2012, the board and jury who choose the Pulitzer Prizes surprised
everyone by not awarding a prize in fiction. “Bah,” said the publishers. “Oh no,”
said the authors. In addition to the fame and glory of it all, considerable money
flows from such prizes. Many people decried this non-award, although the
Pulitzer folks have certainly done it before. Shortly after the announcement, The New
York Times Magazine sought to help the Pulitzer people by providing annotated listings
of really good fiction that the Prize must have somehow overlooked. Curious about
the contestants, I decided on a different route – I decided to count.
By this, I mean, count the number of times a book landed on a “Best of” list. In the
end, the book with the most hits would be the best book. This is a very library-thing to
do. Of course I reckoned without the obvious fact – there are a lot of lists! After
wading through a number of these, I ended up selecting approximately 11 lists from
which to count. These included the well-known prize lists, the library press lists, the
newspaper, broadcast and online media lists. Surprisingly (to me), I ended up with
three winners: Fiction – The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht; Poetry – Life on Mars, by Tracy
K. Smith; and Non-fiction – The Swerve, How the World Became Modern, by Stephen
Greenblatt. These books were the Best of the Best.
All of which is just to say to the people at Pulitzer – hey, want to know how to make a
decision? Ask a librarian. In fact, ask the LMLS librarians because, even though our
two largest libraries were closed for most of 2012, we circulated just under 1 million
items, welcomed 540,000 visitors, and answered 33,000 reference questions. A good
record for a year of constant disruption – and truly the kind of year we’ve come to
expect from a Best of the Best Library System. Thanks and warm regards to staff,
public, and the supportive boards who keep it all going.
Warm regards also to the Pulitzer Prize Board for high standards in a tough world.
Director of Libraries