Sunday, March 21, 2010

TSS: Reading the awards

I am kind of still finding my way with this whole Sunday Salon thing and so I think that for the time being, I am going to keep unofficially participating in Sunday Salon and also officially participating in Muse in the Fog's Suddenly Sunday at the same time.

In case you hadn't noticed the longlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction was announced this week. It has been mentioned one or two times around the blogosphere, and yes, I am going to talk about it here. What I wanted to focus on though was what it means to a reader if a book is long listed for one of the big prizes, let alone wins one. First, here's the list of books that made the long list:

Rosie Alison: The Very Thought of You (UK)
Eleanor Catton: The Rehearsal (New Zealand)
Clare Clark: Savage Lands (UK)
Amanda Craig: Hearts and Minds (UK)
Roopa Farooki: The Way Things Look to Me (UK)
Rebecca Gowers: The Twisted Heart (UK)
M.J. Hyland: This is How (UK)
Sadie Jones: Small Wars (UK)
Barbara Kingsolver: The Lacuna (US)
Laila Lalami: Secret Son (Morocco)
Andrea Levy: The Long Song (UK)
Attica Locke: Black Water Rising (US)
Maria McCann: The Wilding (UK)
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall (UK)
Nadifa Mohamed: Black Mamba Boy (UK)
Lorrie Moore: A Gate at the Stairs (UK)
Monique Roffey: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Spain/UK)
Amy Sackville: The Still Point (UK)
Kathryn Stockett: The Help (US)
Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger (UK)

My initial thoughts when I first saw this list was 'oh my goodness I haven't read any of these'! I own Wolf Hall, I have The Help out from the library at the moment, and I have had The Little Stranger out as well, but I had to return it unread. I will borrow it again eventually I am sure. There are several others that I have been meaning to read as well, but haven't actually done anything about.

My second reaction was based purely on my affection for Historical Fiction as a genre. Of the twenty books that are listed, twelve of them have a historical setting, or at least are partially set in a different era! The Very Thought of You is set on the eve of WWII (so a must read for me)and Savage Lands by Clare Clark is set in 1700s Louisiana and sounds fascinating and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is set during the Mexican Revolution. I really loved The Poisonwood Bible and so this is already on my TBR list. The Long Song by Andrea Levy is about slavery and The Wilding by Maria McCann is set in the post English Civil War era (a time that I find fascinating too). Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is a Tudor novel that has been garnering critical awards all over the place, and Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed is set in 1930s Africa. I can't get enough of books set in Africa. The White Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey is set in post Colonial Trinidad, which it is fair to say I have never read about before, and The Still Point by Amy Sackville is partially set at the end of 19th century. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (1960s American South) and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (post WWII UK) round out the list.

Then I saw the longlist for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, which is Australia's most prestigious literary fiction prize, and again, I hadn't read any of them. I had heard of some of the authors - let's face it, you can't be a reader in Australia and not have heard of Peter Carey and Tom Kenneally at the very least - and I have read Sonya Hartnett, and have been meaning to read Peter Temple for the longest time too. It is interesting to have a crime novel make the long list too. That's not something that you see that often.

Figurehead, Patrick Allington (Black Inc. Publishing)
Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey (Penguin Group)
The Bath Fugues, Brian Castro (Giramondo Publishing)
Boy on a Wire, John Doust (Fremantle Press)
The Book of Emmett, Deborah Forster (Random House)
Sons of the Rumour, David Foster (Pan Macmillan)
Siddon Rock, Glenda Guest (Random House)
Butterfly, Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Group)
The People's Train, Tom Keneally (Random House)
Lovesong, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)
Jasper Jones, Craig Silver (Allen & Unwin)
Truth, Peter Temple (Text Publishing)

So heres the thing. Apparently, despite the fact that in the past 15 months I have read approximately 150 books, I am not reading the books that are garnering the critical praise that comes associated with being nominated with these prestigious prizes. Coincidentally, this week also saw the launch of the third annual DWABAHA tournament, where popular romance novels that have been released in the previous 12 months are pitted against each other in brackets. Participants then vote, until finally there is one book left that is called champion! The initial list was 64 books long, and out of that list, I had read a miserly total of 4. This means that I am not reading the critically acclaimed books and I am not reading the popularly acclaimed books in the genres that I enjoy reading, so what the heck am I reading?

As I do every year, I have added the long listed books to my ever growing TBR list, and think about when I might possibly read some of them, so that I can continue my participation in the ongoing Orange Prize Project challenge at the very least.

Do you like to read the novels that are long listed for prestigious prizes? Some people try to read as many as possible of the long listed novels before the prize is nominated? If a novel does win one of these prizes, do you add it to your TBR list? Does seeing which books made the list attract your interest to those novels, or do prizes not matter to you at all? Perhaps some prizes mean more than others to you?

Let's talk prizes!


  1. Isn't it fun to follow the literary prizes? I gravitate towards the Orange and Booker prizes. I started by working towards reading all the winners, and have done pretty well withthat. I love reading nominees as well, but I am not the type who tries to read all the longlisted books before the winner is announced. Instead I kind of work my way through the list at a more leisurely pace. And I may not read them all but I do think making the list attracts my attention and helps me discover literature I might now otherwise have noticed.

    Great post!

  2. I'm the other way around. I take not the slightest bit of notice of literary prizes. Wolf Hall (read long before the Booker win) must be the only Booker novel I have ever read. I choose what I want to read by my mood and by listening in on forums and finding out what my like minded friends have enjoyed. These prize lists are selected by random celebs or supposed literary critics - a dozen people at most among tens of millions, so of no relevance whatsoever on my personal radar.

  3. I am not sure what I do, really. I generally note when a book has been listed for a prize, but only if I was already interested in that book before, or only if going forward, I think it will interest me. I don't really read books just because they're on lists. Though I do love the Booker winners, most of the time. I also think, going forward, I'll try to read winners of America's National Book Award. Those are usually really good.

  4. I like to read a wide variety of books every year and probably no more than 10 or 15% of my reading is contemporary fiction (not counting genre fiction). So those books are very carefully chosen and there has to be another reason for me to read them other than that they won an award. Although I have enjoyed books which have been shortlisted for and won prizes, the prize carries no weight with me. I think the way prizes are awarded is pretty random as it comes down to the opinion of just a few people. Plus I suspect there's a good deal of politics and catfighting behind the scenes.

  5. I don't really follow the literary awards at all, nor do I choose books to read just based on the fact that they made a possible awards list. That isn't to say I won't read them though--I tend to come across them in other ways and the subject matter has to interest me. I do eagerly read the lists, however, when bloggers like you post them, looking for familiar authors. :-) So, it's not a matter of protest, the awards just aren't something I keep up with.

  6. I have to say the long lists aren't really ringing any mental bells for me, even the Orange Prize, which I've found usually resonates better with me than the others. So yes, I'm on the same wavelength as you this year. It's like, what are these books and where did they come from? Who *chooses* them?! :)

  7. I haven't heard of many of these books, except the ones you mention hearing of yourself. I have always wanted to pick a year and read the long list, but as of yet, I haven't done it. I do hope to get a few of these read though, and I will be paying special attention to the winners! Great post!

  8. I never usually follow the prize lists, but I so want to consume books off the Orange prize list right now (I've read 2 so far, so it's not just you who wants to get going on them). Hurray for the meaty historical fiction.

    Out of the romance tourney I think I'd read 3, maybe with 3 sitting on my shelves. My bracket results are oh so sad though, YA doesn't seem to be doing too well and I think I picked a lot of YA.

  9. I have a taste for literary fiction, so usually I've heard of the prize books if not read a few. I read Wolf Hall and some of the other Orange Prize books, and Peter Carey is actually one of my favorite authors. So yeah in my case. But that genre is my thing to start with.