Why do I follow literary awards? Because several experienced readers, usually including booksellers and librarians, read it and bother to go through the process of nominating it. Several other people, who are well read enough to be thought good judges, read it very carefully. They weeded out any poorly written or not well constructed stories, staking their reputations (or friends laughing at them) on their final choices after much discussion among themselves. Most of the work has been done for me already. I'm still very circumspect; there are subjects and themes I do not wish to read about for pleasure. I consider all that made the longlist as equals, even the winners are only someone else's preferences. I still have to decide for myself. But I rarely read a bad book so I'm sticking with award lists, past and present. I follow them everywhere but here are a couple of recent ones closer to home for many of you:
The National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists for fiction:
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell (short stories)
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Blame by Michelle Huneven
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
I avoid all reviews, jacket information, blurbs etc. before reading novels. They tell too much. But I usually have good instincts. Those I will read and why:
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips - What I know: the Korean war. Even if I weren't yet another whose father was changed in terrible ways by his experience there, Tim O'Brien gives it his endorsement. I have read In the Lake of the Woods***** so that's good enough for me.
Blame by Michelle Huneven - What I know: alcoholism, manslaughter, remorse, redemption, forgiveness. Again, a personal element is involved that makes this a must read for me.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - What I know: Not a thing, except that it's winning awards, big ones; so it must be well written; and someone said "Thomas Cromwell" so it has to be interesting.
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James - What I know: Slavery in Jamaica 200 years ago. Language, sexual content, and brutal violence (people talk) which would normally put me off. But this is history, as it was. Therefore a possible read- when I am in the mood.
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell - rarely in the mood for short stories, so not likely.
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
2010 Nominees for Fiction
The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha - What I know: nothing at all, but I can't resist a lyrical title so you never know. I'll wait until I heard good things.
Hotel On Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford - What I know: Japanese internment camps. It had me at "Japanese". A favourite cultural subject. And I won a copy. It doesn't get easier than that.
A Better View of Paradise by Randy Sue Coburn - What I know: A beautiful cover which I featured on Cover Attraction here (would you believe the author left a comment!). Hawaii, a dying father, and a veterinarian are all I know, and that it's her third book. But it looks a lot like chick lit to me - I don't touch the stuff - ever. I feel bad about this because the author is a sweetheart, I'm reserving judgment until I hear different.
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - What I know: recommended by a blogger I trust and I won a copy so most likely will read.
Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter - What I know: absolutely nothing, but if the title relates to the story, it has to be bleak.
The PNBA awards recognize excellence in writing from the Pacific Northwest. region (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and British Columbia) The Awards Committee is made up of booksellers representing the PNBA region.
2009 Book Award Winners:
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - Dog stories don't do it for me - too light.
Guernica by Dave Boling - Read it, reviewed it here, loved it. What I knew: The title says it.
The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig (Seattle, WA) - What I know: he's an awfully good writer from what I've heard, so maybe one day.
The English Major by Jim Harrison (Montana) - What I know: roadtrip with ruminations and reflections. I've only read Harrison's non fiction, but I enjoyed every word. How could I go wrong.
The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones (Spokane, WA) - What I know: nothing, sounds like historical fiction/chick lit. Not for me, unless I hear otherwise from someone I trust.
Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kantner (Kotzebu, Alaska) non fiction - Ashamed to admit that I have an ARC and I owe it a review. A male friend is dying to borrow it and I just might let him have it since I can't seem to face non fiction lately. The book is doing really well even without my review.
Do you follow fiction awards? Have you had good experiences with them or negative ones? Are there any books mentioned here that you can recommend? No spoilers though please.
Do posts on fiction book awards interest you? I'd be happy to write up more if anyone is interested.