So the lovely Ariel Bissett posted a video as part of #ManBookerVlogger Series discussing book awards in general and it sparked something inside me. If you watched my Bookish Beginnings Tag (with flawless Betwixt the Books partner Gretchen) you will know that I, more than she, do take into consideration awards when I pick up books. I don’t read exclusively award winners by any means, but if I am on the fence about a book and I see that it has been nominated for or won an award that may be the push I need in order to buy it. If the book sounds like something I will enjoy I will purchase it regardless of what a panel of industry people say about it, but there is something about an award that says, if you aren’t sure about this, it may just be worth it.
Ariel mentions that the aim of a literary prize is to find a good book, the best book some might argue. The Man Booker would be the best book published in the UK that year, the National Book Award is the same but for America. They read a heck of a lot of books, make a long list, reread and pare it down to a short list, and then after much deliberation a panel of experts say, definitively that this, this book right here, whatever it may be, is the best book this year. The argument that Ariel makes is that it can’t be definitive. They cannot have read every single book that came out that year. Which is true.
I don’t think that I would argue with them that the book they choose is the best out of the books they considered. I have faith in the industry people to choose the book that is most expertly crafted, most successful in its goals, the best manipulator of our feeble emotional states. However, I don’t think the best book, is always going to be the most popular book. It will definitely sell a lot more, it will be checked out of libraries more, but every single person who reads it has different tastes in books.
I have been following The Man Book Award for the past couple of years. Every year, what I would consider my favorite, or the book that appealed the most to me as a reader, the book that I would pick up off the shelf regardless of the sticker on the cover saying it was a finalist for an award was not the book that won. That isn’t to say that I can’t see why the book that won, won. I can and I do. I can even respect the book and the author as it is, as the best book of the bunch, but it isn’t a perfect book.
After the winner was announced (many congrats to Marlon James, from having listened to the first paragraph read aloud I know your book is both beautiful and poignant, thought provoking and important) Gretchen, fellow bibliomancer Taylor and I packed into Mitraillette (Taylor’s Prius) and went to Barnes and Noble. I bought two books (neither of which was A Brief History of Seven Killings however it will be my audio book choice of next month because I do want to hear it in its entirety). I picked up the book that had called out to me since the long list was announced, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler and the book that I became increasinly intrigued by during all of the events up until the winner was announced, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. (I am definitely not American Biased)
The thing we need to accept about literary prizes is that they bring some really great books and some really great authors into the hands of people. They elevate books and authors that one might not have ordinarily heard of. Now I have heard of Anne Tyler before, and A Little Life has been blasted all over the place here, but I had never heard of The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma, on top of being a debut author, they didn’t even have his book in the system at our Barnes and Noble. I would never have heard of that book. It sounds great and it is definitely a book I will either end up buying or pulling from the library to read. Prizes can boost readership.
Do I think that readers should read only the books the literati tells them to? No. Of course not. Do I think that it is important to at least see what they are saying is good literature and to dip your toes into it yes. Good discussion can be had about how there was only one white man on the short list. There were authors from three English speaker countries that aren’t the big English Speaking countries.
My English degree has definitely made me more of a book snob, I am pickier about what I choose to read, I will always pick up a good romance or a good horror book and I don’t think they will ever win a literary award. The literary awards are definitely picking from a certain genre of literature and it definitely weakens them, but there are awards for every flavor of book you can imagine, and it is a great place to find new and noteworthy reads.
When it comes to the future, Gretchen and I are planning on reading cumulatively five of the six short list books for this years #manbookerprize. We will do a joint review video for the winner, and each do two individual review of two of the short list books that called out to us. So look forward to that. In the mean time next week we will be starting a new feature called 30 seconds to disagree wherein we try and convince the other to read a particular book while being timed.