From Salon.com 1996 (the first year of the award_):
These are the books we'd wholeheartedly recommend to our friends, books we'd clear our social calendar to finish, books we returned to eagerly even when we could barely focus our eyes on a page. They remind us of why we fell in love with reading and why we keep at it in a world that's simultaneously cluttered with mediocre books and increasingly indifferent to the written word.
This, ultimately, was our criterion -- despite the fact that, like most list-makers and award-givers, we felt vague, ambient pressures to make "representative" choices and tip our hats to titles that seemed eminently worthy, if not much fun. As online journalists, we're just a click away from our readers' feedback, a fact which gave us even more impetus to choose what we truly loved, rather than to cover our butts ideologically.