Book Awards: What’s the Point?

There are now only two, short days remaining before the judges of The Man Booker Prize 2018 announce the winner of this year’s competition. This means that, after months of waiting, the author of one of the six shortlisted titles will be walking away with one of the most prestigious literary awards available to the English-speaking world – along with the £50,000 cash prize that comes with it.

SabrinaYet the release of this year’s shortlist, and the subsequent rejection of some of the most popular longlisted titles, which included Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina and Belinda Bauer’s Snap, has caused many readers to question the reliability of this award. After all, Sabrina is the first graphic novel that The Man Booker Prize judges have ever considered, and its inclusion in this year’s longlist had many of us believing that respected literary establishments were coming to accept less traditional modes of storytelling.

We were disappointed.

Sabrina was just one of the popular titles to be excluded from this year’s shortlist, revealing a disparity between the books which people enjoyed, and those which were shortlisted. For many, this has suggested that the judges’ assessment criteria may not be in line with what the consumer market actually wants. Sian Cain considers this frustrating truth in a recent Guardian article:

[T]here is a stark gap between what the judges have chosen to go through to the final stage, and what readers have actually been buying. This year’s Booker bestsellers have so far been Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, Bauer’s Snap, Rooney’s Normal People and Drnaso’s Sabrina. None survived the latest cull (par. 3).

What, then, do book award judges consider when they choose a winning title? It cannot be a book’s popularity, or else Drnaso’s work would never have been excluded from the shortlist of The Man Booker Prize. Is it then dependent on the storytelling, and how powerful a narrative is? Or do the judges consider how thought-provoking a book is?

According to The Man Booker Prize website, the purpose of the award is to seek out “the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK” (par. 1), yet what does this mean? What makes a novel “the best”?

From a consumer’s perspective, a book will arguably be prized for its storytelling, along, perhaps, with a strong writing style and good character development. An author, on the other hand, may value a book for its financial success, its popularity, or perhaps how well it presents their original intentions. Agents and publishers, meanwhile, may rate a book on its ability to sell, and on the economic capital that it can provide.

With so many differing perspectives, it seems impossible to determine what “the best” book would be, and yet this is exactly the purpose of book awards such as The Man Booker Prize. James English suggests that this ambiguity is due to the origins of such awards, which he argues are products of “consumer society run rampant” (2). He suggests that, at the roots of every book prize – at least from an etymological perspective – are the monetary exchanges that define our society.

We That Are YoungYet even if this were the case, and if these awards were designed to suit our consumerist society, there is no denying that we value them. Even though they may be ambiguous, money-centric transactions, and even though it is difficult to determine how such awards are granted, it cannot be denied that we, as consumers, are more likely to buy a book that has been shortlisted for an award, than a book by a new author with no prizes to their name. This is because the awards seem to provide a certain credibility that we register when we make the decision to buy a book.

This credibility has been demonstrated by Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, the recent winner of the Desmond Elliott and Republic of Consciousness prizes. Published by Beggar Galley Press, a small publishing house, this book has exceeded all expectations, and, after winning various book awards, it has arguably become the most successful novel that has ever been published by Beggar Galley Press.

The book’s paratexts flaunt this success, and, when you pick up a copy of We That Are Young, the mention of book awards is the first thing that you will see. More than anything else, the success and consequent design of We That Are Young prove the importance of book awards. They may often be presented as ambiguous, and they may not always match public opinion. Yet even despite this, book awards do seem to have a very vital function in our society, and this is not only, as James English would claim, to suit a “shallow”, consumerist world. English was right in thinking that these awards represent “stardom and success”, but this “stardom” is what helps us understand the publishing industry, and what guides us in our decision to purchase one book over another.

So, whilst this may be a flawed system, it’s clearly an important one.


This post was written for one of my university modules. You can learn more about these posts here.

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting less over the past week. This is simply because I have been really busy with all my work for university. What this means is that I’m suspending some weekly posts (such as “My Monday Message” and “The Friday 56”) during this busy period. I will still be posting, just not as often!

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My Week in Review

In case you’ve missed any of my blog posts this week, or would like to know what I’ve been up to since last Sunday, here’s a brief overview:

My Week in Review.png

My Blog Posts This Week:

You may have noticed that I have not gotten around to posting a “Harry Potter reread” post for this week. Unfortunately, what with my mounting pile of university-related reading, I simply haven’t had time, but I’ll be sure to have another one up sometime next week!

What I’ve Been Reading:

  • Manners of an Astronaut by Gig Ryan (I’ve been attempting to read this poetry collection in the week, but I really haven’t been getting on with it).
  • A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir (I know I said that my next audiobook read would be the next book in the Sherlock Holmes series, but I am enjoying this fantasy series too much. So far, I have really been enjoying this book).

Well, that’s what I’ve been up to this week! Thank you for reading. Have you been up to anything out of the ordinary? Let me know!

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The Friday 56: Manners of an Astronaut

The Friday 56 is a blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Each week, you choose a book quote (preferably from page 56) to talk about! So, here goes:

Friday 56

Rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56 (or 56% in an eReader).
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil anything) that pulls your attention.
  4. Post it!

I absolutely love the idea behind this challenge because I love quotes!

This week’s book is…

Manners of an Astronaut

This book is a collection of Australian poetry that addresses everyday issues. Personally, I didn’t really get on with it; as you can see from the below quote, the author, Gig Ryan, tends to play around with his narrators, moving from first- to second-person really quite randomly. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting book with some great quotes.

Quote:

Was that word lodged in your throat somewhere?
Is it English? Whatever you’ve got
he wants to share. But I can’t get through.


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“Some Trick”: Mini Book Review

Image result for some trickPub Date: May 29th, 2018.
ISBN: 9780811227827
Publisher: New Directions.

In a somewhat ambitious critique of the publishing industry, Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick attempts to convey her personal frustrations through the mode of the short story. From poverty-stricken artists to a musician desperate to maintain his dignity, DeWitt’s characters reflect the struggles that she, herself experienced during the publishing of her previous works (The Last Samurai, 2000 and Lightning Rods, 2011).

Peter Dijkstra is a revered foreign writer with a desperation to be left alone with his writing. Yet, like all too many of the characters in Some Trick, the protagonist of “Climbers”, one of DeWitt’s more successful stories, is continually pestered by agents, fans and businessmen. The resultant battle of ownership, where each party seeks to benefit from Peter’s writing, sees the author sacrificing his privacy for the sake of his mounting credit card bills. To make matters worse, it soon transpires that Peter’s seemingly devout fans are not at all how they appear. Rather than appreciating his books for their content, they are buying them for the sake of his foreign name and the intangible stamp of value that it will bring. Such thought-provoking features, along with DeWitt’s consistent, yet veiled references to her personal life, will undoubtedly intrigue her followers. Yet the semi-autobiographical nature of Some Trick has come at a cost, and, in the attempted balance between critical perspective and story, the story has been shunted into the background. DeWitt’s characters are presented through nonsensical, blurred descriptions that make them difficult to appreciate. At times, it becomes nearly impossible to identify a story’s narrator, and, at others, characters simply disappear from the narratives as though they have been forgotten. These shortcomings make this book difficult to follow, a blow not at all lessened by the stories themselves, which are confusing, overly abstract, and, in truth, perfectly mediocre.

My Rating: 2/5.


This mini book review is a little different to my usual reviews as it is written for the sake of one of my university modules. You can learn more about these posts here.

You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!

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Blog Update: One Useful Blog

At the start of the summer, I wrote a post explaining how my blog had helped me to secure an internship. Back then, I was amazed at how something that I genuinely enjoy doing had actually become useful for a purpose beyond simply sharing my thoughts.

Publishing Contemporary Literature.jpgWell, it’s happened again. You may or may not be aware, but I’m actually a university student, and have just begun my third and final year of my Bachelor’s degree. This term, I’ve decided to take a slightly unusual module entitled “Publishing Contemporary Literature”, and a big part of this module involves posting book reviews and literature-related posts online – such as to a blog…

Thankfully, I’ve been given permission to use this blog for those posts, which means that you might see some slightly different posts popping up, beginning with a mini book review for Some Trick, a short story collection by Helen DeWitt. As these posts are connected to my course, they might seem a little more formal than usual, and I probably won’t include any personal updates, but, if you’re interested, I’m making a new tab dedicated to them. You’ll be able to find it by following these menus:

Non-Fiction –> My Thoughts –> Publishing Contemporary Literature

As always, I’m always grateful for your comments and feedback, so let me know what you think of these new posts; if you love them, I might try to write similar things after I have finished this module. In the meantime, look out for my mini review which I’m hoping to have posted early next week.


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My Monday Message

Welcome to another of my Monday Message posts! Our quote for this week comes from a book that I am currently reading: Some Trick by Helen DeWitt.

What was remarkable was Mlle Matsumoto’s ability to realize the impossible, to transform a percussive instrument into one which had the fluidity of voice.

My Monday Message 3

Some Trick is a curious collection of short stories that reveal various and brutal insights into the publishing industry. It’s an interesting read, if a little difficult to understand at times, and provides us with some really fantastic quotes. In this case, DeWitt is talking about music, and supposing that the pianist, Mlle Matsumoto, creates a music so fluid that it becomes comparable to the human voice.

I really like this quote for quite a few reasons; for one, it suggests that we should not rely on our words; there are many different ways to communicate with each other, and writing or speaking aloud is only one. At the same time, though, this quote demonstrates how it is impossible to break conventions and, in a sense, create something new in an art form that has existed for thousands of years. As the narrator notes, she has “realize[d] the impossible”, which is a really inspiring message, because it goes to show that, no matter how many times something has been done before, it can still be improved. So, that’s my message for the week: don’t give up on something just because you’re worried it’s not original. Look at it from a fresh perspective and you will be able to create something truly beautiful.


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The Friday 56: Beowulf

The Friday 56 is a blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Each week, you choose a book quote (preferably from page 56) to talk about! So, here goes:

Friday 56

Rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56 (or 56% in an eReader).
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil anything) that pulls your attention.
  4. Post it!

I absolutely love the idea behind this challenge because I love quotes!

This week’s book is…

Beowulf

Written in verse, Beowulf is a tricky book to read, even in translation. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic story, particularly if you like tales about kings, dragons and demons. If you don’t know much about this ancient story, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Quote:

[O]ne began to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow where he guarded a hoard.


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