Eugenija Valienė
www.kamane.lt , 2009 10 22

In brief: The election of the Book of the Year announced at the beginning of October, the ten and five books of different categories participating in the election became an unexpected piece of news for some people, like snow in the middle of the summer. Readers interested in Lithuanian cultural life should not be explained what this election organised by the Lithuanian Radio and Television, Ministry of Culture and National M.Mažvydas Library is. However, even though the action is organised for the fifth time already, it happens that people hear about it for the first time.

The topic of the election of the Book of the Year was touched in the humoristic TV show “Bicycle News”, in which two blondes regarded this election of a real joke – usually the most beautiful women are elected or ten biggest sins of famous people are presented. Nonetheless, the conversation of these two blondes reveals the essence: the main obscurities related with the election of the Book of the Year, what books and on basis of what criteria are elected.

One should start with the aims of the action. As it is stated on the website www.metuknygosrinkimai.skaitymometai.lt, “the aim is to encourage the interest of Lithuanian inhabitants in contemporary Lithuanian literature and to raise the prestige of reading in the society. The idea of the action is to present the best Lithuanian literature works published last year in three categories: literature for children, teenagers and grown-ups.” The candidates to the election are chosen by the competent committee. Only prose texts may become candidates to the nomination.

Still, the biggest number of questions is related with “how” books are elected rather than “who” they are elected by. The results of elections of previous years let one assert that names of some writers repeat themselves (S.Parulskis, K.Navakas, J.Melnikas, R.Šerelytė, L.S.Černiauskaitė, K.Kasparavičius, K.Saja): this fact proves that their works are actual today and that the “weight” of a writer is not a criterion to get to the best five. On another hand, the aforementioned names sometimes appear in the public sector – interviews with these writers are published, they make some bold statements, are awarded with prizes, etc. From this point of view the blondes are right: the personality of an author, his/her visibility is important for their popularity among readers.

S.Parulskis and L.S.Černiauskaitė are examples that prove that writers communicate with readers not only by their creation but also by public relations. Such communication is more typical for grown-ups. Meanwhile, writers creating for children speak with their addressees only by texts. Therefore, the criteria of selection of books for grown-ups and children/teenagers are different looking from the readers’ perspective.

The Book of the Year may be described as the best (in the opinion of the experts’ committee) and the most popular (in the readers’ opinion) one. When compiling the list of ten and later five best books, experts lean on their literature competence, knowledge of contemporary literature and pay attention to the content of a book. To tell the truth, the ten or five best books testify that these books are meant for readers of educated taste. An impression is made that the experts are guru for readers telling what literature should be read.

Then, after reading one or all books presented in the list, readers vote for the book they enjoyed the most. There could be many reasons to support one or another book: some people support the favourite author, others became interested in the text, still others – in depths hiding behind the text, novelty of form, ability to present it in an original manner, etc. It sometimes happens that the list formed by experts is replenished by a book offered by readers (e.g., the Book of the Year 2006 was G. Dauguvietytė’s “Post Scriptum” offered by readers); therefore, the committee’s list is not final and there is freedom for readers' opinion.

The election of the Book of this Year is only gathering momentum, and it is still hard to forecast the activity of readers. The organisers of the election encourage people to participate in the election by gifts. However, despite the good intentions and non-material aims of the action organisers, the initiative has another side: it is a good marketing trick, which costs nothing to a writer or publisher. Winning of the election becomes a trophy for a writer; he/she also receives a monetary prize. Publishers increase the sales and may later repeat the issue of the book (this happened with the novel of K.Sabaliauskaitė “Silva Rerum”, which was issued repeatedly). Election of the Book of the Year is a comfortable springboard for an unknown but talented writer as well (the case of K.Sabaliauskaitė could be mentioned again: “Silva Rerum” is her first novel). When an author appears among the ten or five best books, this fact grants more self-trust and highlights the value of his/her work.

One should only regret that the election of the Book of the Year is not very diverse from the genre point of view (only novels and essays may participate mostly). Like in previous years, novels and essays prevail in the category of grown-ups this year, while a short-story or a story is a rare guest. Of course, one may interpret it as certain revenge in the arena of genres: poetry has the Poetry Spring festival full of pathos, Poetic Autumns of Druskininkai. Meanwhile, the narrative genres will have to do with the prose competition, which will end in February. The head of the writer will not be decorated by a crown of laurels, and only a monetary prize will be granted on the last day of Vilnius Book Fair rather than under the shadow of trees.

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