This is a question which I have been asked rather a lot recently. Actually the exact question has been ‘what do you look for in an award winning book?’ So I thought I would open it up to all of you for all your thoughts on that very subject. We all do it, we judge the panel that judge the award and we always have opinions of why a winning book should/shouldn’t or did/didn’t win don’t we? (If anyone is saying no then you are fibbing!) I am also interested, as ever, in what you all think because I would like to see just how different or similar our expectations are with these books.
I could easily think of some recent titles that show just how much discussion/controversy book winners can cause. The first that came to mind were these two both winners of awards in 2010.
First up is ‘Truth’ by Peter Temple, which I have now decided I need to get my hands on imminently, this book seemed to shock everyone by being a ‘crime/thriller’ that won the literary prize The Miles Franklin Award 2010. Why should that be so shocking, does the genre really matter? There seems some great surprise, like when Tom Rob Smith’s brilliant ‘Child 44’ was put forward for the Man Booker, that a crime book could be well written and yet they are well written (need I send you in the direction of Kate Atkinson or have I raved about her enough?) in fact I think some of the plots in some of the best thrillers published could put some of the more prose heavy contenders to shame yet you wouldn’t.
Also a shock winner this year was ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver (which I gave up on and am giving to Gran at the weekend as she’s doing it for one of her book groups and a ‘guest review’ on here) which caused a lot of controversy for winning the Orange over what many believed was the better novel ‘Wolf Hall’. It appeared the judges couldn’t let the latter book win as it won the Booker the year before, which strikes me as slightly odd because surely if its won one award already it’s because its bloody good and deserves to win more? Or is it just me that belongs to that rare school of logic?
Turning to another subject on award winners I was interested that reviews of one of this years Man Booker long-listed titles ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue have suggested that despite the fact people think its absolutely brilliant they doubt it will be Man Booker winning material because its too accessible. I am not berating that because that’s what I thought too, why though? Shouldn’t the books that go on to win awards, not only by being very well written, be able to reach out to a mass of people and just be a cracking good read as well as everything else?
Really with most awards it’s down to a group of people rather than us and what they think makes a cracking read. They aren’t able to please everyone and yet we expect them to, which brings me nicely to my next point.
Another question which I have been asked a lot is ‘what qualifies you to be a judge of what is a good book or not?’ My answer so far to that one has been ‘I read enough of them to know what I like, what makes a book special or amazing rather than just another good read, it’s a very personal thing too.’ Which left me wondering what my criteria is for an award winning book and I don’t think it would match some other peoples, and maybe people will be asking the question at the start of this paragraph even more after seeing what it is.
Though because we have sworn to secrecy I can’t tell you how many books have been submitted for The Green Carnation Prize 2010, which ones they are/might be or which publishers sent them… I do feel I can tell you what I personally will be looking for regardless of genre, length etc;
- The writing has to be captivating. I don’t mean that it has to be the most beautiful prose that has ever graced a page – though that helps – I do need to be spell bound by it, every word should count without being calculated and together as a whole work have an effect on me.
- It needs to be readable and accessible. I don’t want to be able to put it down (this doesn’t mean it has to be trashy books like the marvellous ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell can be stunningly written and also page turning) yet I don’t want to enjoy it and forget about it as soon as its on the shelf.
- I want narrators who I believe the whole way through no matter how lovely or vile or how reliable or not they may be.
- It needs to be a book I would rush out and buy for anyone and everyone (hence why no thoughts on any of the long listed or short listed books of a certain prize will appear on my blog or be discussed by me in specifics in the real world until the winners announced) because because its a great story and one I want others to read asap.
- Most importantly I want a book that stands out and etches itself in my brain in some way, it doesn’t have to change my life or world completely, but it does need make me think and linger with me for days, weeks and months after.
So what makes the perfect award winning book for you? By all means mention a few titles but what I would love to get to the crux of, and am much more interested in, is just what those perfect award winning books had about them for you? What made them work for you personally? Which criteria would you be looking for if you were judging a book award? What would instantly stop you from wanting a book to go further through the process? Which book award winners have mystified you and more importantly why?