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Award Lists With Books I Don’t Know

October 20, 2013

  

P question

What does it mean if there’s a book award list, and you’ve never heard of any of the books? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m never surprised when I see awards lists with books I’ve never read.  I read the kinds of books that don’t win awards.  I read a lot of schlock, and schlock doesn’t usually win awards.  If there were an award for best schlock, maybe I’d have read most of the books, but as far as I know, there is no award for schlock. 

The list of 2013 National Book Award finalists was released recently, and I’m surprised because I’ve never even heard of any of the books on this awards list.  I might not read/finish a lot of high brow literature, but I read ABOUT the high brow literature.  I like to be able to at least pretend that I’ve read the high brow literature.  I like to be able to understand what my intellectual friends are talking about when they discuss the high brow literature.  I might not read it, but I usually know about it. 

Here is a list of some of the fiction finalists I’d never heard of and don’t know anything about: 

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri 

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride 

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon 

If I’m not familiar with the finalists in fiction, there’s no way I know anything about the poetry or young adult finalists.  It’s okay.  I’m sure nobody involved with any of these books has ever heard of Dysfunctional Literacy either. 

Maybe it makes sense that I’ve never heard of any of the books on The National Book Award list.  Before yesterday, I’d never heard of the National Book Awards either.  A lot of book awards are named after a famous author.  Maybe there was a famous author named National, and if that’s the case, I’ve never heard of him/her.  Then it would really make sense that I’ve never heard of any of the books on a list named after an author I’ve never of. 

Except now I just found out that the National Book Award is named after the National Book Foundation, which is something else I’ve never heard of.  I was really hoping there was a famous author named National.  That would be a cool last name.  If I ever change my last name, maybe it would be to National.  Jimmy National.  I like that. 

I really like reading about books.  Sometimes reading about a book is better than actually reading the book.  It saves me a lot of time, and it means that somebody else has already done the hard part (reading the book) for me.  I like it when other people do my work for me.  Now if I can find a job where somebody else has done my work for me, I’d be set.  Unfortunately, I’m in a position where I do the hard work for other people (not physically hard work), so I don’t feel guilty about letting other people read books for me.  It all evens out. 

Now that I’ve read The National Book Award list, I have several new books that I’ll read about but probably not read.  If I read enough about these books, I might even form an opinion about which book should win.  Right now I’m pulling for the book written by Thomas Pynchon.  At least I’ve heard of him. 

Am I the only reader who has never heard of these books?  If I am, which books have you heard of?  Which of these books have you read?  Would you honor them with any awards?  Is there an award for schlock that I don’t know about?  If you could change your last name, what would you change it to?

14 Comments
  1. Book awards are given by people who want to feel important, to people who are more interested in sounding important than writing interesting stories. I don’t even buy that the award books are ‘better written.’ If the story isn’t compelling, and the characters are nothing more than executors of the author’s agenda, they aren’t well-written.

    The problem is too many authors have been told that there is one accepted narrative, and only the work supporting that is ‘real’ writing. Doesn’t matter if you make the best-seller lists. Doesn’t matter if your story is compelling and well-written. Check the approved narrative boxes, or it isn’t ‘real’ literature.

  2. None of the books, but I have heard of Thomas Pynchon. I thought he was dead, though.

  3. I haven’t heard of any of those books and out of the authors, I’ve only heard of Thomas Pynchon (maybe James McBride). I usually don’t like books that win awards, or at least that’s my prejudiced opinion, since I don’t read many of them. I do think there should be a Shlock Book Award though. I could nominate some.

  4. 06cedmuho permalink

    Reblogged this on 06cedmuho.

  5. Over here (UK) the Man Booker Prize is a real biggie. Unfortunately every book I have read that won it sent me to sleep. Literature as it is now understood is intensely boring and usually utterly pretentious.

    Schlock, as you term it, DL is usually commercially successful but apparently that is frowned upon and not regarded as literature. It’s sad … book prizes should be judged like films.

  6. Akeem Balogun permalink

    I haven’t heard about or read any any of the books in the list either. I doubt most people have, but then again, there’s no way a person can read everything, or even hear of it.

  7. I read the fun stuff — sci-fi, fantasy, etc. And those sorts of books just don’t win awards. They’re not gritty and real enough, I guess. Same thing happens with the Oscars — most of the time, the Oscar goes to a movie I have absolutely no interest in seeing due to the aforementioned lack of sci-fi/fantasy elements. So when I see a book or movie has won an award, it actually makes me think twice about buying it, because it means that a panel of stuffy old judges has deemed it worthy, and that’s highly suspicious to me 🙂

  8. I don’t know those books, but I have heard of the author’s Thomas Pynchon and Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri published a collection of stories I tried to read once, but I never finished it, and the title escapes me at the moment. It was good writing, I just wasn’t connecting with it.

  9. I believe that I’ve hear of Jhumpa Lahiri, and her book. But I can’t talk about her because I can’t begin to pronounce her name.

  10. Now I’m really distressed because I haven’t heard of ANY of the books on the shortlist… and I don’t know what shlock means either! Gah!

  11. Just came across your blog (via this post). Love it. So identify with this. I read the shortlist of the Miles Franklin, the Man Booker, the Age Short Story… and all the rest. But I only ever hear about them when the award is announced. Then I figure I’ve been in the wrong section of the bookshop (again!) I can never find the correct shelves to be properly educated. Sigh.

  12. I think that awards for books tend to be misleading. Some books I’ve read have never won an award but are some of my favorites. However, some award-winning books have put me to sleep. It depends on the reader. If a reader likes the style of a particular author, or is intrigued by a certain plot, or relates to a certain character, that book wins that reader’s “award”. I was a little taken aback by your comment about wanting to read about books instead of reading books because someone has “done the hard part” (or the “work”) for you. Books are meant to be read, enjoyed, and understood. They are so much more than an award or a best seller or a plot… they can be somebody’s comfort or best friend in a hard time. I don’t think books are meant to be “work”. If you feel like reading a book is hard work, maybe that kind of book, or that author isn’t the right one for you.

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