In our first bracket of BoB judges, Kenneth Oppel selects Bomb over Wonder, and Margarita Engle chooses Code Name Verity over Titanic. The fact that I agree with both of these decisions counts for nothing in my little meta-battle; what we are evaluating here is the ability of each judge to come to a clear decision.
Engle begins badly: “Judging is inherently biased.” Tell it to the, er, judge. Bias means that the person judging has a pre-determined and frequently unspoken stake in the outcome of something. We don’t even need to get into the weeds of subjectivity and objectivity to allow that a judge can render a decision free of bias. But bias isn’t the problem with her and Oppel’s arguments for their choices; where they both go astray is in their refusal to actually compare the merits and flaws of their assigned contestants. Of course it is apples and oranges (and lets drop that particular image for the duration, shall we?), but that’s the nature of the contest. Engle writes beautifully of the strengths of Titanic and Verity, but she never engages the books with each other nor finds any faults (not even the cheap-assed paper Titanic is printed on) in either, thus making her choice of Code Name Verity simply an implied declaration of personal taste. That’s not judging, that’s choosing.
While Oppel never compares his two books except to say that “you would be hard-pressed to find two books with less in common” he does find one, Wonder, to be flawed: “My only general quibble is that Wonder’s characters are all perhaps a little too wise and noble, and exude so much emotion that I felt relatively little of my own.” In the generally genteel environs of the BoB, this is harsh, although kindly put. With “quibble” and “perhaps a little too . . .” he uses weaselly phrases familiar to over-polite reviewers everywhere, but at least he’s making a criticism. I wonder if he found any fault with Bomb–as the Battle goes on, it will be instructive to see if any of the judges can dispense praise and criticism to both books in their bracket while still naming one the winner. I mean, while we know the BoB brackets contain no ringers, it’s not like they’re all masterpieces, either.
So Oppel for the win, by a hair but decisively. Next!