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Words About Awards

Booker Prize Judge Rick Gekoski says,

"From the beginning, I was clear about my criteria. I was looking for a book that would repay sustained attention, that was worth reading for the quality of the prose itself, that took tenacious hold of one's imagination. I was hoping to find something that would still be admired in 2075: a book that was worthy of the honorific description "literature", rather than just another good novel. The Booker Prize has too often been awarded to middle-brow books that are pleasant to read, and soon forgotten."

And then he continues to list the way in which he and the other judges decided on how they picked John Banville's novel as this year's winner.

It's a rather bloodless thing, really, and reminds me once again why awards are pretty much useless. To my mind, there should be fighting. Knives out, guns drawn, names called, judges dead. Blood vendettas are also good. I like the idea of children becoming literary judges to avenge their parents. Bring on the violence, I say. Make the world red. The winning novelist should be named because one judge beat the others into submission. Beat them out of love, out of hate, out of sheer righteous desire to see the choice he or she had made put up there. It's there because of a burning fucking desire. This tea and biscuit and everyone was so nice public relations shit just makes me want to go and puke. If the Booker judges had had any sense of dramatics, they would have waited a year and awarded Banville's crime novel, written under the name of Benjamin Black the award. Banville could've then choked on his idiotic art statement and Gekoski could have even kept that stuff about good prose and capturing the imagination.

Awards are, by their nature, a compromise. Find any number of people and tell them to pick a winner and they won't agree on the book that is most interesting to one individual, but to the one that that they can each agree on as admirable. Admirable, of course, being the code for I-Liked-It-Well-Enough-Luv-Now-Can-I-Have-A-Beer-And-I'll-Talk-About-This-Other-Book-I-Really-Dug. This kind of mentality turns awards into populist judging techniques for people who want to judge and be judged. It's not a bad thing or a good thing, but it's somewhat hard to get excited about a prize winning author when you really sit down and think the process through.

This is an interesting thing for me to be thinking right now, because it's that time of year when you compile your published fiction and send the pieces to the Aurealis Judges. Some of those judges are perhaps even reading this blog, and will be amused when photocopies of my work arrive, sent by editors and publishers and, in a couple of cases, myself. Personally, I find the contradiction a bit annoying, irritating me because I'm not living honest, because I really and truly do not care about awards of any kind as a way to measure merit in a piece of work. But, that said, awards are also a way for you to get a bit more exposure, and a bit of that intangible credibility that clings to your name and which results in people wanting to read your work... and, ultimately, that is why I bother with the process. There's nothing wrong with good things being associated with your name, and having people read your work is, I think, the ultimate goal of getting published. More than anything, I want people reading my work, want them engaging in it, want that conversation, and I'll use whatever I can to get that.

Still, the contradiction bothers me, slightly, and only in the quiet.


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Oct. 26th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC)
I don't really have a problem with the panel thing... yeah, it means a novel that one person loves and the others hate is less likely to win than a novel that they all like...but i don't necessarily think that's a bad thing... or at least, it's intrinsic to any kind of panel decision or even popular vote...

If you want to hear about the books that one person thinks is great, then that's cool, but reviews are the place for that. Awards, at least in this country, are for books that more than one person likes. More of a consensus thing. Yeah, that means that the books that divide opinion are less likely to win, but I think that's fair... you can protest that "but one person loved it" but then you have to say "well, yeah, but two people loathed it"...

(and of course there's the question of how often that sort of thing happens anyway...)

I guess all I'm saying is awards and reviews give you different things... awards are more likely to deliver a kind of public opinion... these are the books that are considered good widely... reviews give you personal opinion... this is the book that rocked my world...

the trouble with the latter is finding a reviewer whose tastes mesh with your own.. but if you do then you're set...

I can see why you'd prefer reviews to awards... myself I tend to like both and draw stuff from both...

but yeah, fuck it, even if you don't think much of awards, you'd be crazy to ignore the chance for publicity... I don't think much of The Australian but if they wanted to publicise my novel then I'd be cool with that:)

Oct. 26th, 2005 03:01 am (UTC)
see, to me the difference between reviews and awards, is that the first one is part of the conversation about a work. especially across the blogsphere now--you can really see the emergence of that kind of thing. but even without that, reviews have been, traditionally for me, part of the conversation. as an author, i feel that the work has reached someone, that they've read it, that they're talking to people about it. if that's good or bad... well, that all depends on the person. i'm not much fussed either way, tho nice reviews are certainly more pleasing than those of hate. (but i don't even mind the hate.)

an award, though, to me that's a judgement. it's putting a judgement on a work, saying it is more important than another. that doesn't work for me. i've never been real comfortable with judgements like that. it's like giving a mark.
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