My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards

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 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?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah

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Hannah and Her Books

Book person.

27 thoughts on “My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards”

  1. Really I just see book prizes as a way of discovering interesting authors. I do like predicting the winner but that is secondary. Almost all my fave books of all time were discovered via a longlist.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like keeping up with the awards related news, but I’ve never read along with any shortlists. My local library doesn’t usually have the latest, shortlisted Man Booker/Women’s Prize etc. books, and they’re waayy too expensive for me to buy new! I’m looking forward to seeing how the different awards change in accordance with the debate around the lack of diversity though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never read along with any of them either, but I’d like to at some point! Luckily my library normally has the majority of the longlisters (unless they’re not out in the U.S. yet). Either way, I’m super hyped for the Man Booker longlist later this month! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post!!! I mean, it’s no secret that I enjoy literary prizes with all my Women’s Prize mania this year, but I’m definitely more conflicted about them than I let on. My favorite things about literary prizes are discovering new authors, and also the community aspect of it – it’s almost like an unofficial book club, because on booktube and WordPress you get a bunch of different reactions to the same books over a very short period of time, and it makes for some really lively discussions. As much as I enjoy reading reviews of books that I read years ago or books I haven’t read yet, it’s just so much more exciting when the book is fresh in your mind. I know some people on booktube hate literary prizes for this reason, they get tired of seeing people talk about the same books over and over, but I love all the different perspectives!

    But, yes, the cons you mentioned are very real. I especially hated how that subjectivity played into the Golden Man Booker – since each judge was assigned a different decade, there was literally no discussion involved in that selection process, which I think really goes against the spirit of literary prizes, which are meant to be a result of a panel’s consensus. Another problem for me is that oftentimes the winning novels are more reflective of trends than they are the ‘best book of the year.’ I mean, even though the judges change each year literary prizes don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s obviously impossible not to let cultural context creep in. Things like ‘Can we have two black women winners in a row? or ‘can we have two dystopian novels win back to back?’ I think this definitely played into Home Fire winning this year – that it was undeniably the most topical of the shortlisted titles. I mean, I did really love Home Fire, but had these same exact books been published pre-Brexit, the themes in Home Fire wouldn’t have seemed quite so urgent and I have a feeling When I Hit You would have won. But of course, that line of thinking is a bit silly because the book was specifically written in a post-Brexit context, so in a way cultural context SHOULD play a role…. it’s just hard to draw that line sometimes; is this book winning because it’s the best, or is it winning because it best fills out a bingo scorecard (most topical book of the year; a genre that didn’t win the year before; a demographic of author that didn’t win the year before; etc)

    I don’t even know. Whenever I think too hard about literary prizes I come up with more and more questions and even fewer answers. Sorry about the novel!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t be sorry- I love the novel!! I’m so glad you liked this post so much! I loved your Women’s Prize “mania” this year, and I saw a few other bloggers reading the shortlist too, so it kind of inspired to try and do the same thing, but I lost track of time this year… maybe next year! I’ve normally a read a few longlistees before they are announced, but I’d love to read the entirety. And watching YouTube predictions/discussions/reviews is one of my faves, it always gets me so excited about future announcements. Very excited for this year’s!

    You make some really good points about the con’s too! I really don’t like how the Golden Man Booker was done, mostly because of the restrictions- what if one decade had two books that were phenomenal, and another decade didn’t have one, but the judges had to pick one anyways so they could say there was one book from each decade? (I didn’t word that well but I hope it makes sense.) It’s also interesting to see how the cultural aspect plays into it as well. Like, I can’t imagine an American winning the Booker this year, because the past two winners have been American: George Saunders (2017) and Paul Beatty (2016). But I also don’t want the judges to explicitly choose a non-American winner just for that reason? If that’s the best book in the line-up, it should win, regardless of who the author is… It also bothers me that awards seem to favor the same authors- will Ali or Zadie Smith ever not make a Women’s Prize longlist? I doubt it!! And when it comes down to HOME FIRE, I haven’t read it yet, but really need to, but I totally agree with you, I don’t think it would have won had it been written, say ten, even five, years ago. I’m not sure the story would’ve even existed ten years ago, because it seems that timely…

    I don’t know either! You’ve got me thinking even more now!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t quite manage the entire longlist this year but I did come close, and I definitely think I want to do it again next year (provided the longlist is interesting enough). You should definitely join me if you have time!! And I am SO excited for the Man Booker announcement next week, I doubt I’ll read that entire longlist but I’m looking forward to getting some great books on my radar!

      And I agree 100% about the Golden Man Booker format not working out at all. They knew the 50th anniversary was coming up so they had plenty of time to plan this – they should have just had a panel of judges spend a year reading every Man Booker winner and narrowing it down to 5, decade notwithstanding. Obviously it’s still subjective, but at least there would have been discussion and a sense that we were really getting the best of the best, not just one book plucked arbitrarily from each bracket. The combination of panel selection and popular vote was also a bit of a mess – something like Moon Tiger stood literally zero chance because no one has even heard of it, so in a way I was a bit annoyed that judge didn’t just pick Midnight’s Children or The Remains of the Day so the 80s book would have had a fighting chance.

      That’s a good example about two Americans winning the Booker back to back – like you I would be VERY surprised if an American won this year, and I almost don’t want an American to win because that will undoubtedly lead to a lot of dumb discussions about whether Americans should be allowed to be eligible since they’re taking over a British prize blah blah blah, but then again, if the ‘best’ book is by an American author, their nationality shouldn’t play a factor?? VERY good point as well about the Smith ladies being guaranteed a spot on every longlist – they’re like the Meryl Streep of the book world, all they have to do is show up. I thought last year’s MB longlist fell victim to that, there were just so many popular names that it really made me question whether these were really the best books published that year.

      Also, I’m watching Eric at Lonesome Reader’s Man Booker prediction video right now and he mentioned that publishers who’ve had a winning book in the past are allowed to submit more books for consideration than publishers who’ve never had a book win the Booker, and I had NO IDEA about this restriction but that’s just yet another maddening factor to consider!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would LOVE to join you in reading the Women’s Prize list next year! If not the longlist, then definitely the shortlist! I wanted to this year, but unfortunately the shortlist is always announced right around the time when I should start working on final papers and studying, yikes, but I’ll try to be better at planning for next year!

        That’s a great idea about the Golden Man Booker, more discussion would’ve been nice. I hadn’t heard of MOON TIGER, so I was a bit shocked by that choice, and I would’ve loved for THE REMAINS OF THE DAY to have made it instead! I’d love for a woman to win the Booker this year, since there hasn’t been a female winner since 2013 (Eleanor Catton with THE LUMINARIES), but it also feels wrong to say that because I just want the best book to win. Ugh, it’s so tricky. There’s no “politically correct” answer here!

        I love watching prediction videos, so I’ll definitely check out Eric’s tonight… I knew that drama about the publishers, but when I first heard it I thought it was CRAZY! I remembering looking at the rules and trying to find which dates the eligible books had to be published between, and I saw something about “entry quotas”… so publishers with a lot of longlisted books last year, like Faber & Faber and Hamish Hamilton, can submit more for this year and ultimately have a better chance of being longlisted again or even winning again… It just seems so unfair to indie publishers! It’s a never-ending cycle of the same publishers putting books forward year after year… UGH. (If you’re interested, there’s a list here: https://themanbookerprize.com/sites/manbosamjo/files/uploadedfiles/files/MB2018%20Rules.pdf)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There is no way in hell I would have been able to keep up with a book prize when I was in school, I’m always SO impressed when students are so active in this community. So I totally get the ‘finals schedule allowing’ caveat. Fingers crossed the schedule works out for you! Even though there’s always a ton of book prize coverage on booktube I don’t see it as much on WordPress, so it would be cool if more bloggers were into it next year!

        And ditto re: a woman winning the Man Booker, in general I just always want women to win to balance out how sexist the award has been in the past, lol, but YES 5 years is a pretty huge gap!! But I agree that I wouldn’t want a woman to win SOLELY on the basis of being a woman… There are just SO many different criteria that need to factor in, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the judges! Also the thought just struck me that even though one thing I dislike about book prizes is their subjectivity, I wouldn’t want the judges to just be filling out a rubric and the book that comes closest wins, because you can’t remove emotions from the reading process so they shouldn’t be absent from the judging process either? This is so tricky.

        I thought I knew all the eligibility criteria, but the publisher submission limit one threw me!! I am definitely going to comb through that rules page carefully, I want to see what else I’m missing. This is so similar to the ‘Zadie Smith automatically gets a nom’ situation – it’s just the same big names both for authors and publishers and it makes it so difficult for smaller names to break through. Ahhh I can’t wait for the longlist to be posted, I am so ready to pick it apart, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Fingers-crossed everything will work out for next year!! If not, I’m at least planning on posting a longlist prediction, reaction, or something along those lines.

        I too can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the judges! There are so many things to take into account! I think reading is such an emotional, subjective activity to begin with, so it must be tricky to come up with a winner. But it’s even more amazing to me how five completely different individuals can reach a consensus as to who that winner should be… I don’t think I could do it.

        Definitely comb through the rules if you have a chance. It’s seems so nerdy to say, but I found everything SO interesting. It really showed me how much of an industry the prize is. I’m even more excited for the longlist now, just to see how everything we’ve discussed comes into play. One more week!!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ok, this one surprised me:

        “The author of the novel must be living at the time it is submitted or called in. The novel will only remain
        eligible for as long as its author is alive through the various stages of the prize up to the time of the
        announcement of the winner, although this is subject to the discretion of the Literary Director.”

        I would have thought if an author passed away after the novel was submitted/before the winner was announced that book would still be eligible??

        Also this:

        “The judges may also call in any novel published between 1 October 2017 and 30 September
        2018, even if that novel has not been submitted or nominated for call in by a publisher. If the
        publisher agrees that the novel is to be considered then the publisher must sign an undertaking
        to the effect that the publisher will comply with all the rules of the prize. The novel will not be
        further considered without this signed undertaking.”

        That seems a bit unfairly biased, if judges are able to submit their own nominations?! I wonder how often this actually happens.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. The more I find out, the more it all seems insane. I don’t know why they stress so much on the author being alive… they also say the same thing about being present at the awards ceremony and shortlist events. If an author can’t be there, does that mean they don’t make the list? I understand that from an industry perspective, but it’s just ridiculous. Another thing I don’t like is how publishers have to give money to Man for publicity when they make the longlist, shortlist, and/or win. It makes it even harder for smaller publishers who might not have the money to front.

        I’ve really loved chatting with you about this!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      6. That struck me as very bizarre as well! Does that disqualify disabled authors who can’t travel…? I would hope they’d make exceptions in cases like those? I mean, obviously it’s IDEAL if all nominees attend the award ceremony but for it to be a requirement strikes me as very strange. I was also surprised that the publishers have to give money to the MB for longlisted titles, like you said that seems completely unfair to smaller publishers without that kind of spare cash.

        I’ve had a lot of fun with this convo as well – it’s made me think of a ton of factors I’d never even considered before!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yes, I was researching different awards for work and the National Book Award stresses the same: that the author be present at all the events and that the publisher contributes a sum to the organization for publicity purposes. Interesting! Looking forward to the longlist announcement Tuesday, and looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was planning posting a reaction, but I don’t think I’m going to. I haven’t read any of them (yikes) but I guess 5/13 correctly- Rooney, Ryan, Powers, Mackintosh, and Ondaatje. I reeaaaally want to read NORMAL PEOPLE and FROM A LOW AND QUIET SEA. I’m also kind of interested in SABRINA, the graphic novel, because it must be really special if it made the list?? I remember requesting THE WATER CURE and THE OVERSTORY but getting rejected, maybe I’ll get ’em from the library.
      Really surprised not to see CRUDO on the list, because it’s been so highly praised. I also thought we might see MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, because Moshfegh was shortlisted before. Not surprised that SING UNBURIED SING isn’t there, because it’s probably too mainstream for the Booker now, lol. They definitely cut down on their American longlistees for sure, but there’s more women this year, woohoo!
      What are your thoughts???

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve only read 1 (From a Low and Quiet Sea) but my first impression is that I love this list! I thought last year’s longlist was such a bore with all the big names and bestsellers, so I’m loving all the obscure titles on here. But I can’t believe there’s ZERO crossover with the Women’s Prize – I thought for sure I’d have read a quarter of the longlist already because of that! But loving that women are the majority on this list, even if there’s not much diversity with race and nationality.

        Sabrina intrigues me as well – I’m thinking it either has to be a VERY special book to be the first ever graphic novel longlisted, or else the judges are more interested in making a statement with it, like ‘it’s time for the Booker to include graphic novels and it doesn’t really matter WHICH graphic novel’ so I can’t wait to see for myself what the deal is with that.

        Otherwise I’m most interested in The Water Cure (the only one I actually have an ARC of), Normal People, Milkman, In Our Mad and Furious City, The Long Take, Everything Under… ah, so many appeal to me! I REALLY was not planning on reading the entire longlist, but I feel like this might be a situation where I’m going to read most of them and be like ‘well, I’ve made it this far…’ We shall see.

        Also shocked by the exclusion of Crudo and My Year of Rest and Relaxation! The latter I’d put a library hold on because I was SURE it was going to show up on the list. Honestly thrilled that Sing, Unburied, Sing’s reign has ended – I am just so tired of that book. But I’m very shocked not to see Sight, or Hollinghurst or Barnes.

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      2. Definitely agree about the obscure titles! I was too familiar with all the longlisted books last year; I remember when it was announced, I was just like, “oh, I’ve heard of all of these already.” So I appreciate that I haven’t heard of most of these before. And I’m also very surprised about how different it is from the Women’s Prize!

        SABRINA has been highly praised by none other than Zadie Smith, so she found a way to sneak onto the longlist this year, lol!! Definitely want to pick that one up. It sounds very current to Trump-era America, so I’m not surprised it’s there. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader, but I love them when I do, so I’m thrilled there’s a graphic novel on the list.

        Besides Rooney’s and Ryan’s, I’m most excited for THE WATER CURE and EVERYTHING UNDER, which I hadn’t heard of but sounds spectacular (and has a gorgeous cover, wow!). Really surprised not to see Hollinghurst, Barnes, or Carey, who I thought had a good chance of making the list again, though I really appreciate the lack of repeats and well-known writers on the list.

        I don’t think I’m going to read the entire longlist, but I’ll try to read the few I’m really interested in and then see where I’m at with the shortlist!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Omg hahaha, Zadie Smith just can’t stay away! I’m not a huge graphic novel reader either – actually I think the only one I’ve ever read is Fun Home? But I really loved that. And I totally agree that Sabrina seems relevant and topical so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

        I just found out that Everything Under is a retelling of the Oedipus myth and my interest in it just skyrocketed. I can never say no to a Greek mythology retelling. And yes, that cover! Stunning.

        I think I’m going to go for the same approach – read the ones that jump out at me and then see where I stand with the shortlist. My only annoyance with this list is that so many of them have US publication dates in early 2019. I’m trying my luck with requesting ARCs at the moment in an attempt to not bankrupt myself from ordering these all on Book Depository… but I’m annoyed that the 2 I’m most excited for (Normal People and Milkman) don’t even have US publication dates! (At least not ones that I can find easily.)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. OMG, I love mythology retellings, you just got me even more excited for SABRINA! And I noticed that about the U.S. pub dates… kind of a disappointment for me. I hate ordering from Book Depository just because I can’t track my orders, but I might have to give in for a few titles. NORMAL PEOPLE is coming out April 2019 from Penguin Random House (I stalked their website!) which is so far away!!! This is one of those times where I truly wish I lived in the U.K.!!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Everything Under is the Oedipus one (did I say Sabrina?) but YES I am obsessed with mythology retellings and Oedipus Rex is one of my favorite plays ever, I am so excited for this!

        Ahhh April is too far away! But at least you were able to find a release date! I think I’m definitely going to cave and order that one from BD when it’s published in the UK… Ugh I know what you mean. I feel like a solid 95% of the booktubers I watch are English too so I often find myself browsing bookstores for books that haven’t actually been published yet.

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