Sunday Salon: Do you read prize winners?

The Sunday Salon

On the back of this week’s announcement of the Booker Prize winner, I was wondering how much note people take of literary prizes. Are they just an excuse for bookshops to promote certain books? Or are they a valuable exercise in weeding out the best books from the thousands published each year?

I don’t follow any prizes closely enough to make a point of reading their long or shortlists every year, but there are certain prizes that have winners that tend to fit my taste. I find hype generally puts me off a book, but later I’ll come back to them and agree that the judges did a good job. And I do think it’s a great opportunity for small publishers to get their books out in the public eye and into all the bookshops, something they normally struggle with thanks to lack of the big bucks when it comes to marketing.

The [Man] Booker Prize
Launched in 1969, given to “the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland”. Of 47 winners, I have read 11 and have a further four in my TBR. (That may not sound like many but all the ones I’ve read were published within my lifetime.) And I have had several other books on the list recommended to me.

The [Orange] Women’s Prize for Fiction
Launched in 1996, given to “the best full-length novel written in English by a woman of any nationality”. Of 17 winners, I have read seven. I never used to pay that much attention but the last two winners have been two of the best books I have read this year – The Tiger’s Wife and Song of Achilles.

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Launched in 1917, awarded for “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”. Of 85 winners, I have read nine and have one on my TBR, but again I have had several recommended to me. I keep meaning to pay more attention, but that clashes a little with my intention to look beyond the UK and US in my reading.

Hugo Award for Best Novel
Launched in 1953, awarded for “the best science fiction or fantasy novel published in English or translated into English during the previous calendar year”. Of 64 winners (including Retro Hugos), I have read nine but I think we (by which I mean mostly Tim) own at least half, probably the SF half. And that’s probably also how many I’ve had recommended to me (largely by Tim, who has probably read them all, or at least significantly more than me). I have to say I’m a little surprised that JK Rowling won it in 2001 (actually, I know for a fact that Tim hasn’t read that one). I was also surprised to see that the book I’m reading right now, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union won it in 2008 (okay, Tim hasn’t read that one either). This is not mentioned anywhere on the book jacket. Had it been, I might have found myself less confused when it turned out to be an alternative history. I wonder why the publisher didn’t choose to publicize this, when they did do that awful three pages of quotes thing at the start.

Nebula Award for Best Novel
Launched in 1966, awarded for “the best science fiction or fantasy novel published in English or translated into English and released in the United States”. Of 48 winners, I have read seven. The winners overlap quite a lot with the Hugos. In fact, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union also won this award and again this is not advertised on the book jacket. Methinks the publisher (HarperCollins) doesn’t want people put off a “literary” author by the idea that he has written SF.

Clearly, my bias is for novels, mostly literary ones. I include those last two prizes not only because I am actively trying to read more science fiction, but also because I know it is often discussed that the big literary awards occasionally include historical or crime fiction but never science fiction, not even in the shortlists. There is a certain anti-SF snobbery.

So which prizes (if any) do you follow, and how closely? Do you read the whole longlist? Are you more likely to buy a book if it’s won a prize?

9 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Do you read prize winners?

  1. Laurel-Rain Snow October 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I have certainly read some Pulitzer and Booker prize-winning novels, but didn’t necessarily pick them up because of that. Usually it’s an author I’ve admired and enjoyed anyway.

    Thanks for the info on the prizes!

    Here’s MY SUNDAY SALON POST

  2. Unfinished Person October 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t usually read award-winning books as most of the books I read are older murder mysteries. Well, some might be Edgar Award winners, but beyond that, not so much…

  3. Lori/Dollycas October 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I read what I like without a lot of interest in the prizes. I see books recommended by others and that means more to me than the prizes they may have won.

    Happy Reading!!

  4. Karen October 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I didn’t pay much attention until the beginning of this year when I started reading each of the Booker winners. I’ve never bought a book purely on the basis that it won an award and often the more highly promoted a book is, the less I am likely to buy it. Perverse I know!

  5. Vasilly October 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I follow the Pulitzer Prize for Drama pretty closely. There haven’t been many years that I disagreed with the judges’ pick. I do follow the Orange Prize and try to read some of the nominated books.

  6. Susan October 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    If a novel wins one of the awards noted above, it’ll likely perk my interest to read it if I’m not already interested. I wont always read it but it does add to a greater possibility of me picking it up. cheers. http://www.thecuecard.com/

  7. Jinjer October 22, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I’m working my, slowly but surely, through the Pulitzer Prize list and am keeping track on my blog. I go through periods where I read one Pulitzer after another, then I come across one that I can’t finish and therefore don’t get to mark off the list and then I take a break from the Pulitzers and go in search of something else. I don’t have a timeline to finish the list. Just keeping track of my progress for fun.

  8. Nose in a book October 22, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Unfinished person I hadn’t heard of the Edgar Awards. They look a bit different.

    Jinjer Sounds like an interesting project. The Booker and Orange prizes are probably the only ones I’d do that for. Well, maybe I could try to read one work each by winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. But some of them are quite hard to get hold of.

  9. Melissa W. October 30, 2012 at 3:10 am

    Depends on the book, but for the most part, I avoid award winners.

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