The Trouble With Cybils by William Polking

I should not be talking to you now—I should be reading. I should not be writing this now—I should be reading. I should not be watching this football game now—I should be reading. I have always battled the impossibility of reading everything that matters, and I thought I had a handle on this particular neurosis, but then I became a round one panelist/judge for the Cybils.


The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles in various genres. Many of you probably already knew this. Some of you probably nominated books. A few of you may have even written nominated books.


Here was my thinking as I stared at a tweet urging those eligible to apply to be a panelist/judge: I meet (minimally) the eligibility requirements, as I review a book a month for Guys Lit Wire; I should become more active in the book blogging social media junta (I often think of the word “junta” while staring at tweets); I think of myself as having discerning tastes; I read lots of books and conference with students over even more titles; I am always looking for more good titles for the classroom library; and I might even receive some free books for said classroom library.


So I applied and thought little of it until I received a message telling me that I had been selected as a panelist. The message ominously threatened me with brusque claims about how many books I would have to read in the next two months or so. I laughed in the face of such rhetoric. You can never read too many books, or have too many books to read. Then the nominations started rolling in and the database kept expanding. The books began to multiply. I am no longer laughing.


I am reading more than I ever have, but I no longer think I read a lot. My efforts thus far have been dwarfed by two of the other panelists, whom I firmly believe must be independently wealthy, Adderall-abusing insomniacs. Things were so bad last week that I considered taking a sick day from school just to lessen my to-be-read pile, whose current size blocks out the sun and affects the tides. And when I woke up on Friday with burst blood vessels in my eye? Clearly Cybils-related Stress Syndrome. Maybe my school would let me use my professional days to read?


How do I rationalize the enormous amount of time necessary to do this? I have talked more with our librarian than ever before about books (and she has been fantastic about finding and holding titles for me). Being a judge has given me access to a database of new YA fiction, increasing my title awareness exponentially. I can tell students that a certain title is on the list, and they are keener to read it because they feel a part of something bigger than our classroom reading community. And my reading street cred with my students has increased. Or not—below is an actual conversation:


Student: How did you get chosen to be a judge?

Me: I applied.

Student: And how many judges are there?

Me: Seven for this category.

Student: So seven people applied?


I am compelled to read books far outside my interest areas (for example: books with pastel color-themed covers), which helps me understand what it is we often ask students to do in school. I feel a responsibility, as the token male representative on the panel (I have a nagging feeling this is why I was chosen) to advocate for titles that will appeal more to boys without discounting titles that appeal more to girls. And I have discussed books online with smart, smart fellow panelist-readers whom I hope I can continue to use as professional resources—their insights humble me every day of this process.


Two things I have learned/relearned/discovered while being a Cybils panelist:


As Andre Maruois once wrote, “In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.”


Do not take home the book about teen prostitution and the book about incest and read them on the same night.


The Cybils are turning me into Sybil, and my personality is fracturing.

I am overwhelmed and enervated. I am energized and excited. I will never again apply to be a Cybils panelist. I look forward to applying again next year and hope I am selected.


I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

William Polking teaches high school reading and college composition. Because he feels guilty about destroying the economy with his lavish salary and benefit package, he also coaches large group speech and girls soccer. His students tell him that he reads like it is his job, to which he gently responds that it kind of is. Feel free to troll him on Twitter, where he can be found @Polking