#secondthoughts – Book Awards

I spotted a comment that recent Hugo awards were not such rich pickings for a particular reader as in the past. Not being a regular reader of science fiction or fantasy, I didn’t feel able to comment, as all I could offer was the fact one of my oft recommended reads To Say Nothing of the Dog was a past winner.

My own previous go-to book award as a reader was the Booker, but I started to fall out of love when it was opened up to writers from the USA, thus limiting the offerings from commonwealth countries – and as a child of the commonwealth, those are the types of books I am especially drawn to. I’ve cast about a bit for a replacement and – this year – thought I’d struck lucky when realising a number of the books I’d been earmarking on my “want to read” list were candidates for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. But, whilst a good read, I wasn’t blown away by the winner – An American Marriage. The only other shortlisted candidate I’ve read so far – My Sister the Serial Killer – was a decidedly enjoyable read, but I wasn’t blown away … and I’m generally blown away by Bookers. Indeed, I may judge Booker candidates more harshly than most for that very reason.

I’ve not found the Pulitzer a good hunting ground either. Donna Tartt’s first two books are among my favourite reads ever but The Goldfinch was a massive disappointment; I’ve hugely admired the works of Elizabeth Strout but Olive Kitteridge wasn’t amongst them. Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay were both enjoyable reads, but neither gained 4 stars from me – and without a 4th (or 5th) star, I remain in the not blown away camp.

So I empathised with the person making that comment, for I could see that it came from a place of loss. As a reader, it’s great finding an author you love, knowing that there’s years of joy to come from future works (or a backlist if you’re late to the party). It’s even better having a regular source of new books (and potentially new authors) that are right up your street – and book awards can be one such source. Until they change, that is …

When I last bemoaned the changes in the Booker, a blogging friend pointed out the dearth of awards for non-literary works – children’s literature in particular – and there is no doubt that literary fiction is better served. Still, I am left wondering about the value of book awards for the reader.

As a writer, there is no doubt that winning awards not only increases your profile, but also your sales. Increased sales can be measured from the moment a book appears on a longlist, and candidates progressing to a shortlist see a further uplift. Previously unknown authors, unsurprisingly, benefit the most. For more facts and figures on this subject, here’s a post I wrote elsewhere on the subject.

As a writer, who doesn’t dream of their first published work being considered for an award? Actually, who am I kidding, who doesn’t dream about any of their published works being considered for an award? We all do – and we’d be foolish not to.

But is it possible that readers are turning elsewhere for new sources of inspiration rather than book awards? Are celebrity book clubs such as Oprah, Richard & Judy and Reese Witherspoon proving a more fruitful hunting ground? Are the regular reading lists released by the likes of Barack Obama and Emma Watson finding growing audiences? Is reading to a theme another way to go?

In all honesty, does it matter? Despite a number of readers being drawn to book awards for their next reads, they’re surely not in the majority, for how often does a Booker or Hugo winner top the bestseller lists? I’ve long assumed that alongside the support and acknowledgement of authors, the important factor about book awards is to elevate the sales of non-bestseller type books?

Just so long as readers keep on reading, and loving what they read … eh? Personally, I have to admit this year’s Booker shortlist is calling me again.


© Debra Carey, 2019

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Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My primary blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics personal to me, including #ISWG reflections; I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching. My previous general blog was Bunny and the Bloke- now in mothballs.

6 thoughts on “#secondthoughts – Book Awards”

  1. I must confess that I rarely pay much attention to book awards (unless possibly in retrospect). Possibly I am a Philistine but largely it is because my opinion of the majority of the panel members is somewhat negative. With the exception of Libby Purves, who was a Booker judge many years ago and gave an entertaining account of her residency in ‘The Times’ a few weeks ago – an account which showed how many books the judges had to get through in a limited time, both long list and shortlist – it is my impression, possibly unfair, that few of the judges are actually selected for their understanding of the writing process and what makes ‘good’ writing. They get caught up in the idea of ‘literature’ and pretentiousness ensues.

    Your experiences of disappointment wold, I suggest, support my theory.

    But then maybe I am just a Philistine! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh that sounds like an interesting article (the Libby Purves), I’ll have to seek it out. I know from personal experience how hard it is to read the candidates from the time the lists are released so, unless they get a head start, it must be quite the chore.

    What didn’t come to mind till reading your comment is the potential parallel with the Oscars when we see an actor or director etc be nominated for less than their best work because “we” feel bad they’ve not won one yet.

    You, a Philistine? Ha! But your comment about literature and pretentiousness opens a whole other can of worms about literary awards …

    Liked by 2 people

  3. July 22nd English edition (didn’t apppear in the Scottish edition): might work. The article is entitled: ‘The best novels don’t win the Booker Prize. Let me know if you get trapped by the newspaper’s paywall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My passion for Booker winners pre-dated my use of Twitter. But since, it’s been all too easy to fill the (virtual) bookcases to overflowing via the #WritingCommunity.

      Liked by 1 person

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