Mo Yan has won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, Hilary Mantel becomes the first woman to win two Booker Prizes the National Book Award nominees this year have some interesting contender and Seth McFarlane is hosting the Oscars. It's definitely awards season. And, yes, I just threw the last one in to catch your attention.
I admit to being two-faced about awards. While it would be ridiculous to slavishly agree that award-winners, and only award-winners, are worthy literature, paying attention to the awards has offered two valuable criteria to my reading life.
One of the most basic benefits of noting awards is the way it adds more books to my reading list. While it's true that the reading list didn't need a boost if you look at how many books are in my TBR mountains, it's also true that's not the point. I read to expand my world, so discovering new authors or new works and seeing what they can add to what I know about the way the world works and the ways of people who are not me is a joy. No matter how much I pay attention to what's being buzzed in the literary fiction world, there are always new discoveries to make.
Tinkers by Paul Harding is a great example. I certainly had not heard of it until just before it won the Pulitzer. It sounded like it might be an interesting character study, but since it won the prize I figured it might be worth trying.
It certainly was. Tinkers proved to be a rewarding reading experience as it moved back and forth between the dying grandfather and his own father's struggles. It is one of those small novels that has a big heart and big ideas. And if it hadn't won the Pulitzer it would have slipped between the cracks of my attention span.
More than the winners themselves, though, the lists of nominees often are more fun. This was especially true during the past 20 years for the Booker Prize. That's when I discovered writers as diverse as Ian McEwan, Kiran Desai, Zadie Smith, Tash Aw and Beryl Bainbridge.
Because of the Booker, I paid attention to Peter Carey and discovered I liked his novels considered less successful, such as My Life as a Fake and Theft. Because of the Booker longlist, I found Hilary Mantel with Beyond Black, her backlist and pre-ordered her last two novels, which have both won that prize. Because of the Booker, I went back and found Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark, and even read John Banville to wonder why he thought himself so much better than the rest. (Answer, I couldn't say.) I've spent many a happy hour arguing with J.M. Coetzee's alter ego, Elizabeth Costello.
Because of the Booker, I've been willing to try other authors too, such as International Booker winner Ismail Kadare and favorite authors Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood, whose Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin again did more for me than the acclaimed Handmaid's Tale, which attempts to whack me over the head with its important message more than the other two novels.
The Booker also helps me arrange possibilities in the reading agenda, although I am notorious for changing my mind because the next shiny object, I mean, book, appears on the horizon. Lists of nominees help me corral the inquisitive, acquisitive reader that's me.
The Nobel Prize for Literature has had the rap in recent years of being awarded to obscure people for political reasons. But looking over the past few years, I see just as many known names as not, for those who pay attention to serious fiction. Mo Yan is not an unknown, neither are Tomas Transtromer (even though I didn't know him, but I bought a book of his poetry after the award and think it's gorgeous), Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, Sir Harold Pinter, Coetzee and Sir V.S. Naipaul. Other winners may not be as well known in the States, but that is as much a problem of the scarcity of translated literature as it is a statement on the quality of the work of Herta Muller, Jean-Marie Le Clezio, Elfriede Jelinek and Imre Kertesz.
Also, as much as I'd love to see Murakami, Munro, Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates win, I realize that I have a North American-centric view of literature. So I don't expect a body that looks at literature from around the world to reflect my more narrow field of vision.
However, it wasn't the awards initially that led me to specific books. It was a book that led me to the awards. Because of a cover, of all things. The cover of A.S. Byatt's Possession is the sublime painting The Beguiling of Merlin by pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones. The painting of Nimue enchanting the captured Merlin perfectly shows the passion in Byatt's story of the Victorian poets who loved each other in secret, but not in silence through their poems. It also shows, not so much the passion between the modern lovers in her novel, but the passion they had for discovering the truth about those poets and academic integrity.
The alternating storylines, the poems that so reflected their period, the academic competition -- I adore this novel. And if the Booker committee awarded it a prize well, then, the Booker was something I might want to look at to see what else they could offer. That's how I found Midnight's Children before Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and the fatwa brought him to the attention of the world beyond literary readers. And again, it's a discovery for which I'm grateful. That snot-nosed Saleem and the tragedy of India is a gorgeous piece of historical fiction and magical realism. It's a book to treasure.
So awards are something I consider, even if they are not my only guide.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|Sun (hiatus)||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||10:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|alternate Thu||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||4:00 PM||Daily Kos Political Book Club||Freshly Squeezed Cynic|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|