Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who Cares if You Win an Award?

On Monday it was announced that Jennifer Egan's book A Visit From the Goon Squad has won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I haven't read the book yet, but now I will.

You see, I read all of the Pulitzer Prize-winners. It's something I do to keep in touch with American literary culture or something. Maybe it's just a habit. Mighty Reader reads all of the Man Booker Prize winners. Some people read all of the Hugo Award winners; some people read all the Edgar Award winners; some people read all the Nebula Award winners; some people read all the National Book Award winners; some people read all the Newberry Award winners. I could go on, but I won't.

I'm wondering what prizes mean to us, we who also write. Certainly a big prize will get a lot of attention in the press and will get buyers/readers to pick up these novels. And I think that's a good thing.

Do you read books if they've won a particular prize? Are you happy to see books/authors you like win prizes? Do prizes like this mean anything at all to you?


  1. You know, I used to think a lot more about prizes and then I read a Pulitzer prize-winning novella last year and was so disappointed that I wondered who on earth was on the deciding board, or, at least what else the book was up against. Then I reminded myself that it's all subjective, anyway, and thought, well other people loved this book. Oh well. Maybe one day I'll win a prize and people will hate my book. I might be honored at that point. :)

  2. A prize with money means a lot more than a prize without money.

    An award or a plaque really doesn't mean much to me. I can make those, and to be honest, the only ones which truly mean something were created by my kiddos.

    But if it comes with money, or somehow generates more income (such as additional book sales), then sure, it means something.

    Otherwise, as Doc said in Cars, It's just an empty cup.

    - Eric

  3. I respect some awards more than others. If someone wins a Nobel prize in literature I'll check out their books, though I don't always read them. I just realized years ago that I find many of those books interesting.

    The Pulitzer is much more hit and miss for me. I only tend to like about half of them, so I'm less likely to check those out. I've decided it's because they care too much about the book being about America and that narrows down their choices too much. (But, I'm glad when good books win it because they take place in America rather than because they're about America, like Interpreter of Maladies, The Road, and some others.)

    The Booker Prize is almost always an interesting book to me, so I check those out too.

    I'd love to win any of the prizes. I'd love to be more visible so that more people will read my work. That would be nice!

  4. Awards mean nothing to me, unless it's Caldecott or Newberry. Those awards have become equated in my mind with kid lit that my grandkids will want to read, that they're that much of a classic in the making.

    I don't read mystery that often so the Edgars mean little.

    And I hate to say it, but National Book Critics or whatever it is, Pulitzer, and Nobel all turn me off entirely from the books they nominate and award.

  5. I haven't read enough of the big award winners to know if I prefer some or others. I have found that I've enjoyed quite a few Pulitzer and Booker winners and short-listed books. So I do pay attention to the awards.

    Since I write kidlit, I'm more aware of the types of books that tend to win the Newberry. Even with the biases that I may not always agree with, I found that the winners are always worth a read.

    Like most readers though, I have favorite books that have not garnered much attention, much less win prizes.

  6. Nope, prizes mean absolutely nothing to me. I don't watch a movie because it won an Oscar (or its European equivalent). I don't read a book because it won a prize. I don't listen to a band because they're world-famous.
    I like discover things, to be the first on a trend, not to follow. If it's already a trend, I'm not interested! ;-)
    The selfish author

  7. To quote Yat-Yee, "Like most readers though, I have favorite books that have not garnered much attention, much less win prizes."

    However, I'm going to stick up for the major writing awards. Almost every novel that's won the Pulitzer Prize is a damned good novel (even Paul Harding's Tinkers, which I didn't like last year but admire more and more as time goes by). Almost every novel nominated for the Booker Prize is a worthy book. Almost every writer who wins the Nobel Prize for literature has produced works of absolute genius. Last year's National Book Award winner, Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule, was published by a tiny little press and would have remained obscure had not the NBA shone their light on it, and it's one of the best books I've read in years and had it not been for the NBA, I'd never have heard of it.

    I sort of agree with Domey about the American-ness of the Pulitzer, but then again, that's exactly what the prize was established to recognize. I am also interested in how a pretty fair number of recent Pulitzers have gone to collections rather than traditional novels.

  8. *sing song, celebratory voice* I got quoted by Scott Bailey, I got quoted by Scotte Bailey.

  9. I have had the best luck with Nobel prize winners (and 19th C writers) and resolved to read atleast one work of every winner. My husband also made a similar resolution, but he acted on it better than I did. So far he says he has had a 100% hit rate. And even if the writers aren't 'his type'- he finds something to love in their books.

    Ideally though, I'd love to discover writers when they are obscure,fall in love with their books and then watch them get the accolades I knew they deserved..:)


  10. I pay zero attention to book awards, in any genre. In fact, it's often a turn-off because I know it was decided by a committee, and committees make compromises.

    -Alex MacKenzie

  11. Scott: Because compromise on committees usually boils down to Members A and B arguing fervently for Book 1, Members C and D arguing fervently for Book 2 and none of the four will budge an inch, so Members E and F offer up Book 3 which they like and to which Members A, B, C and D have no strong objections and everyone eventually gets tired of the arguing and goes with Book 3 in order to keep the peace.

    Either that, or it's because I've worked on too many committees over the years.


  12. But what if Book 3 is brilliant? The point, I think, of award committees is to achieve a compromise decision. I still don't see why it's a priori something to be avoided. Like I say, last year's NBA winner is a brilliant book that almost nobody would have heard of without the award. There is no downside to that particular compromise.

  13. Lavanya: I feel the same way about wanting to discover new authors on my own, but that's really hard to do. And I've also had a really good success rate with the Pulitzer and the NBA. The Pushcart Prize sometimes baffles me, I admit. I am less in love with the Man Booker.

  14. I don't pay any attention to prizes when choosing a book. I have read enough prize winners that were thoroughly disappointed to know that my tastes are sufficiently different from those of most literary judges!

    That said, I'd love to one day receive a literary award of some kind!

    *edited comment for typographical error. I'll never get an award at this rate!

  15. I can't say I pay any attention to which book wins what award. Part of the problem is that I don't have a lot of reading time, so trying to keep track of which book won which award and then hunting down said book is too much time spent. These days I pretty much read a book because a friend recommended it or a fellow author friend wrote it.

  16. If I won an award, I would be thrilled to gain the acceptance and attention from it. It's a publicity bash and an ego-boost. Hopefully the book is amazing, but sometimes it's not.

  17. Literary awards mean a lot. Thank you for making this announcement as I didn't know (too involved with hospitals and yucky stuff like that). I'd love to win any award, money or not. Who doesn't want to be read which any award will lead to more of? When I found out I was selected for NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, it did something to my insides, like the flash of euphoria that used to hit me at random moments as a youth. I pay attention to awards but I also like to discover things on my own. Actually, if I'm honest, I pay more attention to recommendations from people I know than to awards, but that doesn't diminish the importance and stature inherent in the smallest literary award.

  18. FWIW, I bought Goon Squad while I was out and about today.

  19. Yvonne, thanks for your comment; I was thinking over lunch just now that the awards are about the book and the author, not about us and our opinions of awards. Certainly I've picked up award-winning books that I didn't think were the best books of the year or whatever, but they're still never rubbish, and I'm still always happy for (and, yes, envious of) the authors. Awards are an important way of putting the public eye on new or previously-ignored talent, which is one reason I'm always happy when hugely popular books don't win major awards. Who on Earth thinks Nick Hornby (for example) needs to win the Booker? His books aren't up to Booker standards and everyone's already seen what he can do. Peter Carey, on the other hand, could win a third Booker and I'd be fine with that, because you know he'll surprise you.

    Eric, most bookstores have big signs pointing you to the award winners, and books will have shiny stickers on the cover if they've won something.

  20. Yat-Yee, I expect to hear your opinion of it. I'll admit that one reason I'm happy for Ms Egan's win is that she's only a month younger than I am; I'm tired of hearing about all the hot new writers. What about the hot middle-aged writers?

  21. I am actually planning to read it on a long trip in May. Will let you know what I think.

    (Hey I'm around her age too. Yay for not-so-young writers!)

  22. Hey, Eric: Happy birthday!

    Hey, everyone, wish Eric a happy birthday! He's 40 today. Young pup.

    Yat-Yee: I hope you love the book! I also hope we all win awards in our own lifetimes!

  23. I went on an award reading spree last summer. The Edgar nominees were good (I only looked at first novel and best novel nominees for the last couple years that were at my library.), but some of the other award nominees were seriously among the most predictable and worst-written books I've read.

    Would I still be flattered and happy to receive a nom from those awards? Heck yes!

  24. In my early twenties I went though a period of only reading books by Nobel Prize winners. Part of me wishes I'd kept it up because I look at the list and don't recognise most of the names.


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