Just last week I was reading a post over at Savidge Reads and was struck by a couple things. First, I don’t pay attention to literary awards. This might sound funny coming from someone who, at the very least, is a member of the RWA which has it’s own big awards once a year – but I truly don’t. Truth be told I don’t usually know a book won an award unless I’m already looking at the book and said award was listed on the cover. A friend of mine had commented how she would look at awards as a way of gauging what kind of esteem the work had garnered and a few of those she cites are the Pulitzer and the Pen/Faulkner as they most regularly indicate some level of quality. Second, I have a philosophical issue and conundrum that arises when it comes to discussing such things which I’ll get to shortly.
Now, even though I don’t pay attention to the winners of such awards I admit to being somewhat in awe of these awards and certainly some of the works that have garnered them. The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri certainly warranted the praise and acclaim they did (at least in my not so humble opinion) while still others left me scratching my head in wonderment that they were even nominated for such an honor. Here comes the philosophical issues I have with these things. Awards are given by people on a committee chosen by people in an organization whom we don’t know. When one starts looking up the individuals on the judges one still has more ties to unravel to ascertain any biases that may advantage a work over another and merely hope that an ideological issue doesn’t place a work tossed into the bin – just the writing.
It’s easy to like and trust these awards when you’re raised hearing the names and then lauding the recipients as brilliant because, well, we’re supposed to trust these committees to judge the works “fairly”. But when we start questioning the nature of the judging, that it is subjective, it comes down to us merely applauding a work because a committee of people we don’t know nor necessarily have a reason to trust, told us to. I make no bones about the fact that these awards matter a great deal for the author, publicity certainly being a large one, but I can’t help but wonder at the reasoning behind so much faith in these other people to tell us what is exemplary.
The conundrum, as you can probably guess, comes to me as a writer. Would I be enthralled, ecstatic, orgasmic, calling everyone I knew in the world excited if I won an award along these lines? Well, I think I would be. PEOPLE on a COMMITTEE, chosen by OTHER PEOPLE, told everyone my work was THAT GOOD. And yet, who are these judges? How or by whom were these judges chosen? What do they prefer to read? What guidelines do they utilize in the judging process? [If you know then certainly please let me know – that would be very interesting information, imo.] But because these people LIKED something somehow that means it’s AMAZING – and I can’t get over how much a few people’s opinions matter in this world.
How much do awards matter to you? Do you follow the lists of nominees as they come up and immediately flock to the library/book store? Do you even know when the nominees or winners are posted? If an award is listed on the cover does it compel you to purchase/read it?
**I admit to being completely ignorant of the awards awarded in other countries such as The Man Booker or the Aurealis beyond the few things I catch in the blog-o-sphere every now and again.