I’ve enjoyed following along with literary awards and book prizes since I first ventured into young adult fiction and learned about the Printz Award. I’d read a few books that had either won or been honored, like LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green and ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, and I enjoyed those so I sought out more Printz-recognized reads. I read I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson and ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, which remain my two favorite young adult books to this day. Even the few young adult books I’ve read as a college student have been Printz honorees, like WE ARE OKAY by Nina LaCour and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. That’s not to say I haven’t read my fair share of YA books unrelated to the Printz, but I always viewed the award as providing me a great list of novels to choose from. Today, as a nineteen year old who doesn’t read much YA anymore, I view the Printz winner as the young adult book that I absolutely must read this year- if I’m only going to read one, it should be that one.
As I started to move into reading adult fiction, I noticed that almost all of the books recommended to me had been recognized by a different set of awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction. Naturally, I started to follow along with these awards, and the longer I followed them, the more I thought about them: their importance, their meaning, etc. I generally love literary awards, because they’re fun and they’re a great way to discover new books, but, like anything else, they certainly have their con’s.
I love the excitement, the conversation, and the discovery.
It sounds cheesy, but awards are exciting. Most awards release a longlist and a shortlist before announcing the winner, so it’s fun to follow along with the “countdown” and see if my favorite makes it to the “next round.” Awards create a lot of buzz and get everyone talking about the books they feature. I see a lot of bloggers and YouTubers reading the entire longlist/shortlist and sharing reviews on each one, and a lot of them like to share their predictions as well, either predictions for who will make it on the longlist, or their prediction for who will win. In this sense, they are also a great way to discover books, especially through awards for specific categories like PEN America’s Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. I love to watch for the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35, which showcases five exceptional debut novelists under the age of 35. I’ve found a lot of my favorite books through awards. There’s nothing better than a list!
I hate the subjectivity and the lack of diversity.
Though I only have two dislikes regarding book prizes, they’re big ones. The first, that they are very subjective as there are different judges every year, so the winner could be different depending on that year’s judging panel. Not only that, but the judges could have ulterior motives, like picking a winner that benefits a friend/publisher/agent other than picking the best book. I think I would appreciate the validity of an award-winner more if I knew the same people were picking it year after year. My second issue is that literary prizes, like most awards, lack diversity, in this case diversity between race, sex, and class. Historically, wealthy white men have won or been longlisted for more awards than any other group, especially with the Man Booker, and though this has started to change in the past few years, it’s still a huge issue. (This is part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the Women’s Prize, which was founded in direct opposition of the sexist Man Booker, and only honors writers who identify as women.)
What do you think about literary awards? What do you like/dislike about them? What are your favorites to follow along with?