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