Whether a book has won an award or not has never determined whether I’ll buy or read it, and many of the stories I love the most cannot boast an award. It’s also worth noting that, like awards for film and TV, Black authors, particularly Black women, have significantly less recognition for their work. It was only in 2019 that Bernardine Evaristo became the first Black woman to win the Booker prize award. With this in mind, do awards really matter, and do they determine whether a book deserves popularity or signify what is good?
I think book awards do matter, but not in the way that you may think. There is no list of requirements that make a novel good, and, typically, an awards’ definition of greatness is remarkably narrow. The books considered for an award largely belong to the genre of literary fiction, ignoring the wide range of genres out there, and are rarely diverse in giving voices to writers of colour. With this lack of diversity in mind, why is so much importance still placed on awards?
The life of a book is rather short, and it soon becomes old news, a shadow behind the newest cover on display in a shop window. Awards breathe new life into the world of books. They start conversations about what makes a great story, or what novel deserves a nomination. They show us a small picture of what is valued by a part of the bookish community, whether we agree with it or not. It allows us to see what deserves recognition. We cannot ignore awards, because if we do, we remove ourselves from a big part of what makes books so fun to discuss.
Similarly, the bragging rights and shiny sticker that come from an award are no small feat; it’s another opportunity to talk about your book. There’s also no denying that an award will result in an increased number of sales; publishers and readers alike take note of what’s winning. Without its Book of the Year prize at the British Book Awards this year, I never would’ve picked up Candice Carty-Williams’ novel Queenie. I loved it, and it deserves the recognition this award has brought it. Whilst awards are certainly not an appreciation of every kind of brilliant, beautifully written book, they help define an author’s legacy and create conversation between book-lovers. What is truly good, though, cannot be defined by anyone, not even a Pulitzer or Booker prize. It’s entirely subjective, and what really matters is the words on the page, and what they mean to readers.