So, I keep seeing shortlists for book prizes….
Book prizes often actually put me off books. With one very well known prize, if there is a book on their shortlist that I was previously interested in, it just being on the list will make me remove it from my TBR. I haven’t just started doing this completely randomly, there is a reason. With some of these big prizes I have read many of the previous winning or shortlisted books and I haven’t liked any of them. It’s similar to liking or not liking particular genres really. I know I don’t tend to like YA in the same way I know I don’t tend to like such and such prize winners, so I avoid both.
It seems the big name prizes are often very political. If a book is about an “important” topic it ends up on a prize shortlist, regardless of how good or bad it actually is. From my point of view the quality of the book should be the sole determining factor for prizes. Anyone can pick an “important” topic and write something about it. Not everyone can write a good book. A good book, can be about anything, any topic, it being about a less “important” topic doesn’t make it “unworthy”.
There are different types of book prizes of course, so the above doesn’t always apply. Prizes based purely on what “normal” people rather than the industry think, are far more valid from my point of view. Those winners are generally books that huge numbers of people found genuinely interesting, and I will read those, if they sound like something I will enjoy anyway.
Is this sort of thing a big deal? I would say yes. Why? Firstly it means that great authors go unrecognised, at least unrecognised in these big, prestigious ways, and it’s not really fair. Recognition isn’t the only thing that comes from these prizes either, more practical things, like money, are a result also. So, some of these great authors aren’t getting recognised, and aren’t able to make a living doing something they love and are great at, so what do they do? Lots of other things I imagine, but they shouldn’t have to.
In terms of getting people into reading I would say these prizes are an issue too. These winners are being presented as being the “best” books. So, if someone thinks “hey, I want to read more”, it’s reasonably likely that they would choose a prize winner to pick up. If these books are on “important” topics but actually boring or poorly written, these people aren’t going to enjoy them and it will put them off picking up more books.
What are your thoughts on book prizes? Do you normally agree that the winning books are great? Does it vary by prize?