Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The price of prizes....

by Miriam

Years ago I found myself positively gleeful at the news that Oscar Hijuelos had won a Pulitzer for his gorgeous novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. I’d not long before finished reading the book and was foisting it upon everyone and anyone—people would read it just to shut me up. Of course, part of my delight was due to the fact that Hijuelos was (and is) Cuban American, as am I. The prize seemed to validate not just my wonderful reading experience but also Hijuelos’ and my shared cultural memories and references.

A few days ago, I was thrilled to hear about another prize won by a Latin American author. This time, it was Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel, a prize that eluded him for decades—long after his arch-nemesis Gabriel Garcia Marquez won it and proceeded to rub it in his face at every gathering of illustrious Spanish speaking novelists (okay, maybe this just happens in my imagination and the first congratulatory phone call Mario received was from Gabriel).

On the one hand, it seems silly that these prizes (and their siblings, the Booker, the National Book Award, etc.) should in any way influence our regard for these authors. On the other, check out what the indefatigably witty Adam Gopnik says about this laudatory season.

Do prizes make you pick up books (or avoid them)? Do they influence how you view certain authors? Are you above such trifles?


  1. I'm 25 years old. Now tell me how many 25 years old are involved in picking winners for literary awards.

    Yeah. That's why I avoid books that win prizes, unless I hear from other sources that they're actually good.


  2. obviously to win a prize it must be pure literary gold and I won't dispute it. It does not mean I will read it if it does not speak to me.

  3. I'm not above it. If I haven't read the Pultizer winner in fiction when it's announced, I feel like I have to read it ASAP. Or at least add it to my long reading list ASAP.

    I love Alice Sebold's Atlantic essay about prizes, though. "You know this is bullshit, right?"

  4. Unless I know the judges...not so much. I'm big on book recomondations, but since I'm picky I only listen to them from people who actually know what I like.

  5. I will always read the Newbery Awards and Honors, and while I usually think the work has merit I don't always think it should have won an award for children's literature. Some of the books feel like "children's literature" written for adults. It's like this new sub-genre.

    Beyond that I generally go by recommendation or I follow authors I already enjoy. I avoid all Oprah Book Club books. (I know it's not actually an award, but it feels like one.) We just do not have the same taste in books.

  6. I work at a bookstore and so the announcement that Vargas Llosa won the prize was clipped onto our stack of book news that's behind the registers for employees to read. As a minority, I was glad that a person of color won such a huge prize, but all I thought was good for him, not necessary that I needed to run over and read it. But when a customer came in who was a long time fan of his stuff that's when I became intrigued. So a person to person interaction has more influence on me than simply knowing someone won a big, illustrious prize.

    But then I'm more of a genre reader (Sci fi and fantasy). So while I sometimes pick up "literature," literary prizes don't pique my interest as much as genre based awards might. Though if a genre writer wins a big literary award, that may catch my attention. But I don't know how often that happens because I've never bothered to look that up. Off the top of my head I know that Octavia Butler won the MacArthur grant, and I sometimes throw that fact out to customers in the store if I feel they need a little extra push to give a Black female Sci-Fi writer a chance. (Not sure how well that strategy works)

  7. If a book has won a prize I feel I might give it more time and consideration when contemplating reading it.

    What really gets me though is the book listing all of the authors other New York Best Sellers. If they have many or ones that I remember hearing about I am more apt to pick it up just for that sake.

  8. Mostly no. I won't read a book that's won a Pulitzer just because it's won a Pulitzer. Even though I work in the library profession, I won't read ALA winners just because they're ALA winners. The subject matter has to interest me. Oddly, though, and perhaps because SF is my favorite genre, I will more heavily consider reading Hugo or Nebula winners--although as with any prize, I have to be interested in the story to follow through. But those awards will make me look a little closer.


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