The OF Blog: Learning to love award nominations all over again

Friday, October 14, 2011

Learning to love award nominations all over again

October is, as Matthew Cheney states in his recent article "Silly (Awards) Season," that wondrous time of the year where writers, critics, and the so-called "general reading public" e-gather together to whine and cry, piss and moan about the selections juries have made for the Nobel Prize in Literature, the winner of the Man Booker Prize, and the selected shortlist for the National Book Awards (and for another audience, the winner of the World Fantasy Awards).  I am in nearly 100% complete agreement with Cheney's arguments, so I won't recapitulate them here, but I will elaborate a bit on my changing opinions on these juried awards.

Sometimes, the wrong kind of overexposure can ruin a reader's perception of a literary award.  I am still somewhat active on a few SF/F-related fora and reading constant debates about which books should be nominated for genre awards such as the Hugo Awards (and other, less visible ones like the Locus and Nebulas, although the latter is selected from SFWA member nominations and not general reader votes) can be a bit tiresome.  By the time I even consider looking at the finalists for those awards, I'm just ready for the entire thing to be over and done with; there is little appeal to me even when the book's themes might agree with my general literary tastes.

Lately, I've begun following two main UK/US literary prizes, the Man Booker and National Book Award shortlists.  While there are plenty of valid points made elsewhere about the perceived deficiencies in these awards, I find it refreshing to encounter books that have not been as debated and skewered as much.  Having only a 1-2 month window between the shortlist selection and the winners being chosen means (for me, at least) that I can read these nominees (or the ones that interest me) in a near-vacuum compared to the noise that I'd hear in genre fora.  Oh, I'm certain that similar discussion cesspools exist for these books, albeit likely in a somewhat different format, but since I am not actively involved in those, I am permitted to just read the damn books and come to my own conclusions without as much chatter.

I find it somewhat bemusing to read that there are arguments in UK newspapers about the Booker Prize's shortcomings now that I've "come up for air" after reading all but one (and that final one, Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending will be finished later today) of the shortlisted books.  I see the National Book Award shortlists went up on Wednesday (I was too distracted by work worries to bother looking until now, my scheduled vacation day).  I've already read Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife and I think of it as being one of the best 2011 releases (and debut novels), but the others I've heard little about.  However, that leaves me wanting to know more, so over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will read the others in the Fiction shortlist (and maybe later the winners of the Non-Fiction, Poetry, and YA categories) on my iPad (buying four books for $39 pre-tax is not bad at all) and see what I think.  If I have time this weekend, I'll write a post or five summarizing my thoughts on the Booker Prize finalists and the strengths/weaknesses of this particular shortlist.

The sense of discovery is a powerful thing.  Sometimes, it is a benefit to be "unplugged" from the chitter-chatter regarding why Book X was selected and Book Y wasn't considered or how the Award Z shortlist is "obscure" or "limiting;" fewer outside "white noises" can help the reading/appreciation process.  So what if the Nobel laureate for literature this year is a Swedish poet?  Maybe he's written some cool poems that I haven't read (or almost certainly haven't read, which will be rectified in the near future).  Same goes for other winners of juried awards.  Sometimes, I'd rather take a risk and trust in a juried panel's selections than to listen overmuch to those who want to comment on it all (yes, I realize the irony in me saying that, but life is full of such delicious ironies).

Now excuse me while I get ready to go buy some books and then attend sessions this afternoon led by Stewart O'Nan, David Halperin, Chad Harbach, Justin Torres, and Donald Ray Pollock at the Southern Festival of Books.  I do have more important things to do, you know.

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