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For our December meeting, my book club had the theme ‘Best of 2020’ and voted on an award-winning book to read. We ended up choosing Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams which won the British Book Award – I loved it and you can read my review here!
However, the time I spent trawling through different book award shortlists to put our poll together got me thinking – do book awards really matter?
The Issues: Pros of Book Awards
- Boosting authors
Let’s be honest, writing and publishing is hard – really hard. It always makes me happy to see an author, even one I’m not familiar with, be recognised for their efforts and catch a break that can change their career.
- Introduction to new genres
I find book awards a great introduction for those looking to broaden their reading horizons. For example, I’m interested in reading more books by women in translation and have found the Booker International Prize and Warwick Women in Translation prize valuable starting points.
- Can bring marginalised voices to the fore
Most of the traditional, mainstream book awards have a serious diversity problem (see below). However, there are some awards that are at the fore of promoting diversity and inclusion – here are a few of my favourites!
Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT+)
Stonewall Book Awards (LGBT+)
The Wellcome Book Prize (Mental and physical illness representation)
Jhalak Prize (Writers of colour)
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The Issues: Cons of Book Awards
- Diversity problem
It has to be said that there is a major diversity problem in book awards, especially the most traditional and mainstream ones. All too often, such awards only take steps towards improving representation when the public demand (and negative press) becomes too loud to ignore, and not as a matter of improving their values.
- Critical taste vs popular taste
My family have a tongue-in-cheek code for deciphering the vocabulary used by literary critics to describe book award winners:
‘Beautifully written’ = long-winded
‘Experimental’ = weird
‘Epic’ = too many pages
Ooh, controversial I know! The point is, what a critic thinks is a ground-breaking piece of writing may not be your thing at all, and that’s okay. I believe everyone’s opinion of a book is valid, no matter how unqualified!
- Sucker for trash?
Sometimes a book isn’t world-changing literature but it entertains us, cheers us up, or provides guilty pleasure escapism when it’s needed most. Do these types of “non-literary” books deserve more recognition?
The Verdict: I think book awards are a valuable way for authors to get recognition, plus they’re always an exciting event in reading communities! But it’s important to focus on awards that challenge and widen our reading habits rather than reinforcing traditional ideas of what makes great literature.
Now it’s over to you! Are you more likely to read a book if it’s won an award? What are your favourite book awards? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments, I would love to hear from you!