It’s book awards season again, alas. I used to be one of those tail-wagging puppies that practically did zoomies when it was time for the annual Booker, Hugo or Goodreads awards. The reason was that I would recognize most of the novels up for awards, having read them, and saw the awards as a pat on the back, and some reward, hopefully monetary, for the authors who I admire.
I don’t like literary competitions
I have come to realize, maybe because I’m getting old and cynical, that the organizers of these prizes are mainly concerned about, and motivated by, politics, lobbying, popularity for whatever reason, franchising, multimedia spinoffs, and especially, sales. The works themselves are of minor importance to them. The adjudication process is also an opportunity for these organizations to do a good deal of virtue signalling.
The authors, having gone through the tortuous process of producing a book, may not even care about winning and are probably mainly concerned about the quality of their writing, their vision, the narrative they want to share, etc. I have become suspicious about the criteria and objectivity of all the “important” awards (even if only important through longevity and by reputation) and have discovered to my disgust that there are even “awards” that authors pay to “win”. Ouch. Poor authors.
It’s about the clicks!
A case is point is the Goodreads Choice Awards. As Goodreads has pointed out in an article that refers to particular cases, statistics and tracking charts, the Goodreads Choice Awards are not about literary criteria, but about boosting “…a book—even a bestselling book—into higher levels of awareness and drive more sales”.
The awards promote the books, and so increase awareness and communications, which leads to increased sales, even for debut novels, a process called the Nominee Effect. Moreover, from the article it is clear that Goodreads’ administrators do not care about what kind of review, post, rating or tweet a nominated book receives. It doesn’t matter to them if the message is real or not, or if it is positive or not, or fair or not. A case of there being no such thing as bad publicity?
That’s how works for Goodreads. All these literary competitions have their ways of explaining and justifying their existence.
Hey, look who’s there!
So I was mildly surprised when, this year, I saw that quite a few authors whose novels I have read and enjoyed have made it into the Goodreads Choice Awards. The final round of voting ends on Dec. 5, 2021, and so far 3,581,112 votes have been cast. That’s three and a half million plus readers, but still, it’s a mere fraction of the potential readers in the English-speaking world.
I wondered what the authors really think of being shortlisted. I guess they are grateful for the exposure, media mentions, posts and increased sales. It makes their job of punting their book a bit easier. It made me wonder what my reasons are for being either gruntled or disgruntled about these nominations. Am I not also wanting to prove that I am right, and that I know best, and that I am a sure judge of quality? If so – and that may be – I will try harder to get off my high horse!
Well, if you really want to support your most favourite author, I suggest just buy their books, recommend them to others, get other people to buy their books too. Buy the books because you like the author’s writing, because you liked a previous book that they wrote, because you think you will enjoy the book, or because the blurb on the cover appealed to you. But it’s about YOU, the one and only you. It’s not about appealing to other people, to a faceless mass of online clickers, or to a demographic, but to you.
Because in the end, writing is one side of a one-to-one conversation between the reader and the writer. The process isn’t complete until one person reads it. During the time that readers spend on a book, they are sharing the thoughts and feelings of the author. The author and the reader are connected. They are living in the world that the author has created. In that world, in that moment, even in a crowded room, there are only two people: the reader, and the author. It’s the same in literature as it is in music:
“GOOD MUSIC—AND GOOD MUSIC-MAKING—IS FUNDAMENTALLY ABOUT THREE VALUES: TRUTH, TRUST, AND SERVICE.” – Yo-Yo Ma, in his Masterclass, Music and Connection
If you have made that experience of reading a particular book your own, if you hold and treasure a book and the ideas and words and feelings in it, then buy more books by that writer. That’s my advice.
The awards lists: You’ve read them all? Surely, ’tis a miracle!
Considering all of this, dear reader, book lover, bookworm, literary aficionado: look at the list of books that have been listed for major awards this year (down below), and then check how many of them you have read. All of them? You have? Well, then you’re a better reader than I am, Gunga Din! (Apologies, Mr. Kipling.)
The winners: Bookers, the Pulitzer and the Nobel
The 2021 International Booker Prize had nominees of whom I’ve never heard. The winner is At Night All Blood is Black, by David Diop, a French writer and academic. The 2021 Booker Prize was won by South African author Damon Galgut, whose novel, The Promise, I have not read, nor any of his others. The other shortlisted authors I’ve never heard of either.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah, and again, I confess my ignorance.
And as for the Hugo Awards for Science Fiction, the less I say about that, the better.
The shortlists: Goodreads Choice Awards 2021
Final Round Nominees
The authors whom I have read, and whose books are final round nominees, are:
- Horror: Stephen King (for Later – it is excellent – I just haven’t written the review yet)
- Humor: Jenny Lawson (for Broken)
- Historical Fiction: Amor Towles, Chris Bohjalian
- Fantasy: Naomi Novik, Alice Hoffman
- Science Fiction: Andy Weir, Kazuo Ishiguro
Final Round Nominees by category
Debut novels are marked with *
- The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams
- Detransition, Baby*, by Torrey Peters
- Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney (author of Normal People)
- Once There Were Wolves, by Charlotte McConaghy (author of Migration)
- The Gunckle, by Steven Rowley (author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor)
- Golden Girl, by Elin Hilderbrand (author of 28 Summers and Summer of ’69)
- Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr (author of All the Light We Cannot See – winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
- The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller
- The Wish, by Nicholas Sparks
- Dial A for Aunties, by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Mysteries and Thrillers
- Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty (author of Nine Perfect Strangers)
- The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins
- Razorblade Tears, by S.A Cosby (author of Blacktop Wasteland)
- Arsenic and Adobo, by Mia P. Manansala
- The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides (author of The Silent Patient)
- Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney (author of Sometimes Life)
- Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (author of The Underground Railroad)
- Billy Summers, by Stephen King (author of too many novels to list, including If It Bleeds)
- The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave
- The Push*, by Ashley Audrain.
- The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn (author of The Alice Network)
- The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles
- The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles (author of A Gentleman in Moscow)
- Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson
- The Personal Librarian, by by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
- The Lost Apothecary*, bu Sarah Penner
- The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah (author of The Nightingale)
- Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams
- Hour of the Witch, by Chris Bohjalian (author of The Flight Attendant and Skeletons at the Feast)
- The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, by Zoraida Córdova
- The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec
- She Who Became the Sun*, by Shelley Parker-Chan
- The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik (author of A Deadly Education and Spinning Silver)
- The Shadow of the Gods, by John Gwynne
- The Book of Magic, by Alice Hoffman (author of too many others to mention, including The Museum of Extraordinary Things)
- Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint
- The Crown of Gilded Bones, by Jennifer L. Armentrout
- A Court of Silver Flames, by Sarah J. Maas
- Under the Whispering Door, by TJ Klune
- Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of too many books to list, including The Buried Giant)
- Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soule
- Remote Control, by Nnedi Okorafor
- Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells
- A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers (author of To Be Taught If Fortunate, and many others)
- Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir (author of a lot more)
- Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki
- Winter’s Orbit, by Everina Maxwell
- The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey
- The End of Men, by Christina Sweeney-Baird