Book Awards: Love Them or Loathe Them? Join the Debate!

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For our December meeting, my book club had the theme ‘Best of 2020’ and voted on an award-winning book to read. We ended up choosing Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams which won the British Book Award – I loved it and you can read my review here!

However, the time I spent trawling through different book award shortlists to put our poll together got me thinking – do book awards really matter?

The Issues: Pros of Book Awards

  • Boosting authors

Let’s be honest, writing and publishing is hard – really hard. It always makes me happy to see an author, even one I’m not familiar with, be recognised for their efforts and catch a break that can change their career.

  • Introduction to new genres

I find book awards a great introduction for those looking to broaden their reading horizons. For example, I’m interested in reading more books by women in translation and have found the Booker International Prize and Warwick Women in Translation prize valuable starting points.

  • Can bring marginalised voices to the fore

Most of the traditional, mainstream book awards have a serious diversity problem (see below). However, there are some awards that are at the fore of promoting diversity and inclusion – here are a few of my favourites!

Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT+)

Stonewall Book Awards (LGBT+)

The Diverse Book Awards UK

The Wellcome Book Prize (Mental and physical illness representation)

Jhalak Prize (Writers of colour)

Book Awards Love Them or Loathe Them? Join the Debate!

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The Issues: Cons of Book Awards

  • Diversity problem

It has to be said that there is a major diversity problem in book awards, especially the most traditional and mainstream ones. All too often, such awards only take steps towards improving representation when the public demand (and negative press) becomes too loud to ignore, and not as a matter of improving their values.

  • Critical taste vs popular taste

My family have a tongue-in-cheek code for deciphering the vocabulary used by literary critics to describe book award winners:

‘Beautifully written’ = long-winded

‘Experimental’ = weird

‘Epic’ = too many pages

Ooh, controversial I know! The point is, what a critic thinks is a ground-breaking piece of writing  may not be your thing at all, and that’s okay. I believe everyone’s opinion of a book is valid, no matter how unqualified! 

  • Sucker for trash?

Sometimes a book isn’t world-changing literature but it entertains us, cheers us up, or provides guilty pleasure escapism when it’s needed most. Do these types of “non-literary” books deserve more recognition?

The Verdict: I think book awards are a valuable way for authors to get recognition, plus they’re always an exciting event in reading communities! But it’s important to focus on awards that challenge and widen our reading habits rather than reinforcing traditional ideas of what makes great literature.


Now it’s over to you! Are you more likely to read a book if it’s won an award? What are your favourite book awards? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments, I would love to hear from you!


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18 thoughts on “Book Awards: Love Them or Loathe Them? Join the Debate!

  1. I don’t really pay much attention to book awards overall so I don’t think I’m more likely to read a book if it wins an award. However, I think the exposure that a book will get as a result of winning an award is so increased that chances are I would hear about it where I wouldn’t otherwise, I suppose that in itself would increase the readership. Interesting discussion Florence 😊

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    1. Thank you for the comment Carla! I do often check the nominees list for the Booker as well, but I agree that sometimes the longlisted or shortlisted books appeal more than the winner. I’ve sometimes disagreed with the judges’ decisions in the past too, but I guess that’s part of what makes the awards process interesting! 📚❤️X

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  2. Excellent post, Florence! 🥰 This is such an interesting discussion and you make some really relevant points. I definitely pay attention to book awards, but they don’t have a huge say in the books I choose to read. I often decide to read a book after I’ve heard great things about it from friends and/or other bloggers, provided that it’s in a genre I like.

    The amount of books we’ve added to each other’s TBRs lately probably reflects that! ❤📚

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    1. Thank you so much Stephen! 🥰 I think I may be slightly more likely to read an award winning book, but more because it’s talked about and on my radar than specifically because of the award. I definitely prefer to read books based on recommendations from friends as well – we clearly trust each other’s taste more than we trust the fancy book critics!!! 😃❤️ X x x

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  3. I like following the conversation around different awards and seeing if there’s anything that fits my preferences that I may have missed, but it’s rare that it changes my reading intentions.

    One of my favourites us the International Booker because it’s one that when it comes out there’s a chance I may have read a couple already, because I love reading women in translation. I like seeing new prizes appear that bring to the surface groups that struggle to gain exposure.

    I think it’s also necessary that judging panels continue to evolve and become more representative, that’s when awards begin to stale, when I look at the judges and they’re way too established or same same. Great post! Thanks.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Claire! I’ve just discovered the International Booker and I’m very excited! I have decided to try and read more women in translation this year and the shortlists gave me lots of inspiration. I think you make a really good point about judging panels as well. I’ve never really paid attention to the judges when I’ve looked at awards but it’s definitely something I’ll be aware of in future X x x

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      1. The other one I only just be some aware of this year is the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation which covers different genres, not just fiction. I’ll be watching that longlust this year definitely.

        One if my favourite reads in translation in 2020 was Stories From the Sahara by Sanmao, I lent and bought that for lots of family and friends and another I lived was Maryse Condé’s Traversing the Mangrove, a writer I discovered on the longlist of the International booker in 2015 and have been reading ever since. She didn’t win the prize but was definitely my winner.

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  4. Yes, some book awards aren’t great – especially the ones that ignore indie and self-published authors. But I think they’re trying to at least be more diverse, lately. At least it seems that way. By the way when I say ‘Beautifully written’, I mean it. When I say things like ‘expansive’ or ‘sweeping’ or ‘highly detailed’ that’s when I mean long winded!

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    1. Thank you for the comment Davida! I agree that book awards generally do a poor job of supporting indie and self published authors. I’ve also noticed a recent diversity push which is a step in the right direction, even if it is too little too late. And ha ha, I’ll bear that in mind when I’m reading your reviews – I’m glad it’s not just me that’s aware of these funny little subtexts though!!! 📚❤️ X x x

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  5. Haha, I’m loving the code you and your family have for bringing highbrow literary criticism down to size, I have a similar one myself. As for book awards, I could take or leave them to be honest. While I enjoy skimming through longlists to find titles outwith my usual reading habbits, I can’t say I have ever been tempted to read a book purely for its prize-winning status. I also find some of the literary snobbery around such prises a tad uncomfortable, and the definition of so-called good literature seems quite narrow. xx

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Alyson! I completely agree that book awards can be really snobby. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a bit of a laugh at the expense of literary criticism too – reading is meant to be fun so it’s good to take the seriousness out of it sometimes! 📚❤️ X x x

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