Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Awards, Do You Follow?

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.

2009 Shortlist

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.


  1. Great post! I try to read all those that are shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for fiction at some point (even though they often get published in the US later). I find they push me from what I read normally in ways that I what I read normally and I have a tendancy to like the books from this list better than most.

  2. I like it and would be interested in more! I need these books to push me out of my comfort zone! Thanks.

  3. I don't follow award books as much as you do but I have tried to read a few of them along the way. I have read a few that you listed but I truly enjoy reading your thoughts on the ones that you share with us. Enjoy your list!

  4. Loved this post Sandra, and while I do follow the lists, I only tend to read the ones that I think might appeal to me. So I am a blurb and flap reader. I don't read reviews before I read a book, until after I've formed my own opinion.

    I've read several on this list, but there are many more that I have not read, and several I want to read: Wolf Hall, Lark and Termite, Crying Tree and Better View of Paradise.

    BTW...I LOVED The Art of Racing in the Rain (the audio version was so very good).

    Thanks again for the interesting post!

  5. Do not, do not be put off by the title The Financial Lives of Poets. This one touches on so much that is going on these days and could be very depressing but manages to be very humorous at the same time.

  6. I love book awards! I am always reading books just because they were shortlisted for one. I have discovered many fantastic books that way.

    I haven't read any of the books on your list, but am intrigued by the Lark and Termite. I might have to find a copy of that!

  7. Great post. Wolf Hall was awesome- I know you'd like it!

  8. Hi! Just headed over from the Saturday Network! Your blog is lovely!
    I don't normally follow book awards, but it's funny because quite a few of these books are actually on my TBR list.
    I also tend to avoid everything, including jacket info, before reading a book. I find they tell me way too much!

  9. Great post! You mentioned on my blog earlier about another Sebastian Faulks's book - Birdsong? Did you love it?

  10. Thank you for participating in The Saturday Network!
    And interesting post! I don't tend to follow book awards too much, but they're good to refer to when I'm wondering what to read or deciding in stores. It could make a fun post though, so I hope you find something you'd like to do! :)

  11. Interesting post, Sandra! I got confused about Thomas Cromwell and Oliver Cromwell, when I first heard that 'Wolf Hall' has been nominated for the Booker Prize. I thought it was about Oliver Cromwell! I follow some of the literary prizes but don't necessarily read all the books which win the prizes. I don't read reviews of a book before actually reading the book, because reviews are sometimes so subjective. 'Financial Lives of Poets' looks like a very interesting title! I remember reading about Coleridge in an essay sometime and about how he struggled with his finances. Would love to read this book.

  12. I don't follow awards, but I saw a lot of great titles on that list, so I probably should.

  13. I avoid reviews when I get a feeling they're about to tell too much of the story and influence my experience of the book. But yes, my decision to buy and read a book can get influenced by whether they won an award or not.

  14. I'm a media specialist. I always follow book awards, but don't let them decide my reading choices. I do follow them to use when considering my book ordering. Thanks for your post.

  15. I'm aware of the lists, and make note of them, but don't use them as a strict reading guide.

    I read/reviewed BLAME; it's very well written. An intense style, with no quotation marks around dialogue, giving it a sense of urgency. I think you'll like it.



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