I’m a judge for the Royal Society’s Young People’s Science Book Prize
SUMMARY: how The Royal Society is helping me indulge my inner child and my passion for books
Today is World Book Day so it seems like the proper time to tell you that I have been chosen as one of the judges for the Royal Society's Young People's science book prize. As a judge, my job is to read all the nominated books and to help my fellow judges choose the shortlist. This shortlist -- six out of the more than 40 books nominated this year -- is sent out to panels of young people all across the UK, who then choose the winner. The books were posted to me today, so whilst I await their arrival, I thought I'd share some of my memories about books in the hope that I can help corrupt the nation's youth into loving books as much as I do.
Some of my best memories came from my love for books. Some memories were disorienting or embarrassing at the time, but are amusing to me now, such as when I ran into a parking meter in Portland, Oregon whilst being completely absorbed by The Handmaid's Tale, or when I magically traveled from a sunlit wood-paneled Seattle coffee shop to Florean Fortescue's ice cream shop in Diagon Alley, or when I was on a transPacific voyage to Polynesia and looked up from my book, Kon-Tiki, to discover I was actually sitting on a NYC subway going ... somewhere.
Like most kids, I habitually read books into the wee hours. It's true that reading books whilst hidden under the blankets with a flashlight is almost a childhood rite of passage, but the reason I started doing so may be unusual. Originally, I turned on my bedroom light after everyone was in bed so I could read books. This practice abruptly stopped after a visit by the local sheriff who was attracted by my bedroom light blazing like a lighthouse beacon across vast snow covered fields in the middle of the night. He banged loudly on the front door of the house, awakening everyone and causing panic and uproar. The motivation for this visit are lost to me now, but the lingering suspicion that book reading could be confused, even momentarily, with criminal activity made it even more appealing than it already was.
But books -- and the insights, education, experiences and memories that they provide -- are for everyone. And as a lifelong bookworm as well as a scientist, I think it is my duty to help introduce young adult readers to good books -- especially really good science books -- that may give them unique memories that they can muse over throughout their lives.
Although I am an adult, at least most of the time, I still love and appreciate young adult books. The lovely thing about young adult books is the similarities they share with my own playground -- the internet. Like the internet, young adult books are highly interactive and they often push the boundaries of literature. These books may be pop-up books or filled with flaps and tabs or with fun "kitchen science" experiments, as last year's shortlisted books were. And like the internet (and last year's shortlist), most of them are crammed with pictures, diagrammes and gorgeous graphics. But as lovely as these embellishments are, I am also looking for those universal themes that any curious mind loves most: a celebration of the joy of discovery combined with the love of learning -- timeless qualities that my inner child recognises immediately.
This video captures some of last year's panelists giving us a closer look at the 2012 shortlist:
After watching that video a dozen times, I am even more excited for this opportunity to immerse myself into this wonderful world of science books for young adults.
My first and greatest love is books. From that first deliciously mind-blowing moment when I realised that hey! I can read, books have been my constant companions and my truest friends. Through books, I've traveled through space and time, explored alternative worlds and futures, made fabulous scientific discoveries and lived a thousand different lives. I've met famous people, experienced different cultures and learned the most fascinating details about, well, everything imaginable. My goal is to help a new generation of eager minds discover and embrace this passion for themselves.
NOTE: This piece is slightly edited from the original, which was published on the Guardian.
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