What’s the point of book awards?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mongst the many emails that arrived in my inbox last month, one was unlike any other: “Vote in the Semi-final Round of the Goodreads Choice Awards!” it commanded. Intrigued, I decided to investigate.

As someone who loves books, I was surprised only to find out about the book award then. Every year, competitions are hosted by websites like Goodreads, Booktrust, The Guardian, Costa, and more. Books are nominated for different categories, either voted for by readers or by a panel of judges, and winners are selected over a period of time.

Looking at the advertisements for these awards, it’s hard for a bookworm to not feel excited

So, I obeyed the email and proceeded to pore over the different categories. Hmm, Fiction is a good place to start, I thought.But wait: I hadn’t read any of the books on the list. Never mind, Ill take a look at Fantasy.’ Nothing. ‘Young Adult Fiction?’ Nope. Okay, maybe I’m not that familiar with the most recent books. Or maybe I should have voted in the opening round, when there would have been more options to choose from, and I could even have nominated my own favourites.

This got me thinking: there could easily be others like me, who, not having read any of the short-listed books, wouldn’t be able to participate in the awards. Even worse, they might make uninformed choices based on what others are voting for, or on what they have heard about the book or its author elsewhere. Would that not defeat the aim of these awards?

More importantly, I wondered what gives us the power to say, “This book is the best.” What makes anyone qualified to make this judgement? Does someone need to have a degree in literature or experience in publishing? If I disagree with them, does that mean I’m wrong?

Are their opinions more valuable than mine?

Furthermore, what criteria are we supposed to follow when voting? The judges’ jobs, according to Costa, is to “select well-written, enjoyable books that they would strongly recommend anyone to read.” However, they can’t guarantee that everyone will consider the same books ‘enjoyable’, as responses to books are personal and based on individual preferences. There are no clear guidelines for everyone to consult, which makes the task of finding the ‘best’ book difficult.

pixabay.orgNevertheless, the awards are an opportunity to appreciate books and encourage people to read. They are a celebration of literature, and a way of bringing the community of readers together: according to the Goodreads website, more than a million people voted in the opening round of the awards, for close to 14,000 books. Readers who are interested can take this chance to discuss different books, and can even use the list to decide what to read next. In this way, the awards expose us to a variety of genres and authors.

As well as that, the book awards put the spotlight on new authors through categories dedicated to them. The Costa competition, for instance, has a ‘First Novel’ category, which makes sure that new authors are considered amongst the already well-known. Competitions also have rules concerning eligibility; for example, books must be published within certain dates to be qualified for nomination. This ensures that the same novel doesn’t win every year, and focus is shifted to newer books. Although people may be inclined to vote for more renowned authors, the awards are a good way to make them aware of new writers.

Some competitions also have several categories, which means books of different genres get a fair chance at winning. If one book can’t find its way into the ‘Fiction’ category, it might be short-listed for a more specific one.

Despite their merits, however, the awards may ultimately be pointless because their main goal is unattainable. It just isn’t possible to pick the best book, because there isn’t one; differences in opinion and preference prevent that. In fact, competitions like this, which pick out the ‘best’ books of the year, may end up pulling attention away from other, equally great works that couldn’t make it onto the list.

When participating in these awards, perhaps keep in mind that the results are not absolute. Certainly, the competitions are an opportunity to celebrate literature and to find new books to read, but remember: we don’t need any specific events in order to do that.

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