A Confession: I Hate Book Awards

15th January 2013


Ok, so hate is a strong word. I mean, I love books. I’ve helped judge a couple of book awards.ร‚ย  But yesterday the National Book Critics Circle announced its finalists for 2012, and every time I see these notices on Twitter or The Millions or wherever, I just feel so…lethargic.

First off, I rarely read so much contemporary fiction that I have read all (or most) of the nominees. I’ll have heard of the titles, perhaps, but I’m not one to do award reading. Why? Most often, the awards are from one particular year. I don’t like limiting myself to contemporary fiction alone, especially from the preceding year only. Therefore, I’m not invested. I may have read one, sometimes two, on a list of ten or more, but that isn’t enough to feel like I can speculate on the nominations or eventual winners.

Second, awards are so completely subjective. Last year, the Pulitzer committee didn’t award a prize in fiction. When Michael Cunningham wrote a letter to the New Yorker regarding the jury’s decision, he cited lines he thought were brilliant and ones he thought were subpar. My opinion? Exactly the opposite of what he thought. Yes, he’s the genius writer, and I’m an instructor of English. But again, it’s opinion. I don’t like overly wordy prose. Can’t stand it, in fact.

So each time another award or nomination is announced, I stay silent, hoping no one will notice my complete lack of interest, feeling as though it makes me less connected in the bookish/blogging world. But who are we kidding? I’ve always been on the outskirts. I’m one of the few book blogs that doesn’t have the words book, read, or literary in the title. I don’t know another blogger who writes about home decor as much as I (once did) do. In the end, does it matter? No.

Instead, I’ll gladly keep picking my newest reads based on my mood, ignoring the articles about which book should win and how brilliant it is. Because in the end, books thought to be rubbish today may remain, while highly lauded books don’t always stand the test of time. I’m ok with that.

  • I don’t really enjoy book awards either. Whenever I look at one of the lists of nominations or winners, I hardly ever recognize the books on it. And then I feel weird, like if these books are so great then why haven’t I heard about them? What’s wrong with me? Aaaannd then I read the descriptions for the books and they sound boring anyways, and then all interest is lost. Screw book awards.

    • Yes! That, too. And yes, boring books (or boring-sounding books) are no good.

  • Nicole Bonia

    I rarely pay attention to awards. I find that very often I’m not a match . Lately they have been filled with books I tried to read and didn’t finish or I hadn’t heard of them/weren’t really interested in them anyway. I’m okay with that.

    • There’s that subjectivity. I was actually thinking this Sunday. I was at my parents’ house, and after Downton Abbey switched off, my dad flipped it to the Golden Globes. I thought at the time what a strange thing it is that celebrities doll up to get told how magnificent they are. You’d think the money would do that on its own. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I enjoy reading the lists of award winners or nominees but they don’t change my reading style. I read what I wanna read, that’s that ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I sometimes glance at the list, but more often than not, I just keep on scrolling. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • This is why I <3 you so! I rarely read award fiction and almost never in the year it is hot — I always feel so out of the loop! I'm starting to care less — and as I plan to tackle more classics this year, I'll be even further out of the loop.

    • Why, thank you! I guess I feel out of the loop, except that implies I care enough to feel that way. And I just don’t.

  • I enjoy book awards if only for the lists that are generated. I don’t usually like the winning book, but the short list usually appeals to me in some way. I guess I just love lists in general.

    • I do love a good list, and since you pointed it out, it’s kind of odd that I wouldn’t like a book list. Hmm.

  • mkw3

    Before I became a librarian, I used to be so excited about awards. In recent years (at least for children’s awards) I’ve noticed that the award receivers are seldom books that the children would be interested in.

    I’ve become jaded now, and only give an award credence when it’s actually given by children.

    • That’s a shame, actually. Perspectives are far more different in those areas, I’d think. I’ve never quite thought about it like that.

  • teresareads

    I do enjoy seeing awards lists when they come out (and I’ve read a shortlist or two over the years), but mostly I look at them as one of many sources for finding books worth considering reading. They’re not, in my mind, the “best” books of the year. As you say, it’s subjective. It can be fun to read a shortlist because there’s often more conversation about those books around that time, but I don’t see much value in doing that if most of the books on the list don’t look appealing.

    • I guess the conversations surrounding these awards are part of my problem. It really bothers me when those “in the know” laud certain books over others, particularly when you know there are so many that they’ve never seen. The conversation becomes really exclusive and often pedantic as well.

      But as a source for books, yeah, I can see that.

  • heidenkind

    I’ve never cared about book lists or awards. I’m more interested in genre fiction than literary fiction, and even for genre awards my personal taste is usually in direct opposition to whoever picks the winners. Or nominees, for that matter.

    C’est la vie. Reading is a personal experience and the kind of validation one finds in awards is more for the authors than the readers.

    • You know, I can’t believe I didn’t think about that, but you’re right. Awards aren’t designated for me…but at the same time, aren’t they? Isn’t that why we sit in anticipation, watching the Golden Globes, the Oscars, etc.? When you talk about validation, I do thin that transfers to the reader/viewer as well. Almost praise for having picked a diamond out of the rough (though now that’s very unlikely). Interesting.

  • Lindsey

    I understand your aversion. It does seem rather subjective. I’m much more likely to read something because it sounds interesting than because it is an award winner.

    That being said, I am thinking about reading some of the Pen/Hemingway Award winners this year because they are awarded to debut novelists and I think I’ve hardly read any of them!

    • Debut novelists. That’s a great list to check out, actually. It’s neat to watch a new author progress. Thanks for the tip. I’ve heard of that award but had no idea that’s what it was for. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nishita

    I do like book awards because they highlight books that I may otherwise not consider. I read a limited number of books, seriously I do. I average about 3-4 books a month, so book awards help me filter out a lot of stuff. Or, at least they used to, now I go by what my favorite book bloggers are talking about to help me decide which book to read next. So, in that way, I think book awards are not as useful? as they were in the past. I don’t know, I still like to know about award winning books, although that doesn’t mean that I am going to read them. It’s just that, I don’t know…sometimes, it prompts me to pick up something that I might not have considered otherwise.

    • That’s awesome, Nishita. I think that’s certainly one of the goals, to have a reader pick up a book they otherwise may not. And if the lists help you, then they’ve served a purpose right there.

      I guess one of the things that bothers me is that most people don’t read the list in its entirety, so the three, maybe more, judges are the only ones whose opinions really count. I’d almost rather the award include a couple of years so that we’d have a shot at having read more of them.

  • I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I don’t really care about book awards, either…at least, not as far as using them to decide what to read. I’m sure it’s nice for the authors, but the awards don’t matter to me one way or the other. I almost never read the books in the same year they’re nominated–I’m too far behind for that. Haha!

    • That’s what Tasha said below, and I really didn’t think about the awards being for authors (silly, self-centered me). ๐Ÿ™‚

      But yes, I rarely organize my reading (at all) by lists, years, etc.

  • Eva

    I just ignore book awards & judging from my feed reader the blogs I follow do too! And most of them don’t have book, read, or literary in the title either. lol So you’re not a misfit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Yea! But wait, you’re just saying that because yours doesn’t have those words either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Ah, either way, thanks for the affirmation. I actually do see a lot of bloggers discussing the lists. It just seems like such a stringent/restrictive way of reading. Not for me. But to each his/her own.

  • Charlie

    I find the lists interesting and if I’ve read a book or two from it all well and good, but I’m not too bothered either unless the books interest me in general. It’s the subjectiveness of it that makes me feel that way, and yes, the limitation of a year or so. Good point about standing the test of time. If a book wins because it provides a shocking commentary on present-day situations, that’s great for now, but later?…

    • Yes, I’m always curious about that. If you look at lists from 20 years ago, often those titles are less popular now than some of the nominees. I always wonder what books from my lifetime will be “classics.”

  • Rayna (libereading.com)

    I’m with you! Book awards don’t really impact my reading in any way. Except maybe when there’s a huge sticker on the front of the book announcing that it has won XYZ award, as this will bother me the whole time I’m reading it.

    Is there an award for best cover art? Because that’s one I would actually be interested in.

    • Haha! Yes, those big stickers are annoying.

      And let me tell you, I love cover art. I’m sure there *is* an award for it. How could there not be?

  • I’m totally ambivalent. Couldn’t care either way. Though I have noticed that all of the Booker Prize books I’ve read are ones that I really and deeply love. Otherwise…eh–I just don’t pay attention.

    • That’s interesting – seeing books you really enjoy end up on lists. I’m afraid I’m too behind in current reads to ever have many that end up that way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • alexia561

    Great post! I’m not big on book awards either, partly because they’re so subjective but mostly because I don’t like being told what I “should” read. Everyone has different tastes, so just because a book wins an award doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.

    • The fastest way to get me not to read a book is to tell me I *should.* ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I definitely don’t follow the book awards-I am interested in reading some of the Pulitzer and Booker prize winners but it’s not that important to me. I’m more interested in books recommended by my blogging friends when I know our tastes overlap.

    • Ditto. Recommendations go so much farther for me. I’ve ready too many books lauded as this, that, and the other that did nothing for me.

  • lulu_bella

    So I’m right there with you with often disagreeing and the fact that I’ve rarely read the books before they’re given the awards, but I enjoy book awards for the sheer reason that they make me interested in books that I’ve either never heard of before or that I wasn’t particularly interested in reading before. In that sense, I am sort of of the camp that awards should be given to the books that deserve the award, not necessarily the most well-known books that were also award-worthy. Otherwise, I might never have read Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, which won the National Book Award.

    • That’s awesome that you come across those titles. I’ll admit that sometimes I get a bit contrary when everyone reads/boasts of a certain title, though that certainly doesn’t say anything except about me. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I still need to read Salvage the Bones, for example.