As a number of fellow bloggers have noted we have a new book award forthcoming. A couple of weeks ago details were announced of the Folio Prize, which will be presented for the first time in March 2014. Unlike the ManBooker, which limits itself to writers from the Commonwealth, this prize is intended to recognise the best English-language fiction from anywhere in the world as long as it has been published in the United Kingdom, regardless of form, genre or the author’s country of origin.
Many gallons of ink, not to mention a few buckets of tears, have already been shed over the backstory to this award, which was first mooted a couple of years ago when certain people felt that the ManBooker was concerning itself with the notion of readability rather than focusing on the literary worth of the novels up for consideration. Don’t worry, I have no intention of rehashing those arguments here. Oh no, my concern is of a much more personal nature. In my case one more award is simply one more opportunity for me to be forced to come to terms with just what a poorly-read individual I am.
I don’t know about you but every time an award short list is published I end up berating myself for being so far behind in my reading of what is apparently considered the ‘best’. Almost inevitably I have read nothing on it. Oh, just occasionally, if one of my favourite authors is there, I might have read a single entry, but I can’t remember the last time I’d read two or more. I tend to be more forgiving where long lists are concerned, after all, some of the titles on those will be the ‘dark horses’ of the literary world that none but people who are in the know will have come across. But surely someone like me, who spends several hours every day with her nose in a book, ought to have read more of what is thought to be the best and the most worthy? It seems the answer is ‘no’.
So, in an attempt to do something about my inadequacies, every time one of these lists comes out I promise myself that I will high-tail it down to the library and reserve each and every last book. Sometimes I even do it. Last year I checked out all six of the short list for the Orange. I wasn’t going to get caught out again, oh no.
I managed to read one.
Something else always seemed just that wee bit more enticing and before I knew where I was the books had to go back to the library in order to be checked out by borrowers who actually would read them: better readers than I could ever hope to be.
Just a fortnight ago, having been complaining here about falling behind in my knowledge of what was happening in the world of children’s literature, I dutifully printed out the short list for the Carnegie Award. I could do this. I could start to pick up the slack I’d let develop since I finished lecturing in the subject. I can proudly report that I have one of the eight sitting on my shelves right this minute. What’s that? Have I read it? Don’t be idiotic, of course I haven’t.
In fact, there are now so many awards that no reader could hope to keep up with them all, even given the duplication that inevitably appears. The long list for the Impac alone runs into over a hundred titles. (Help! Isn’t that short list imminent?) I know that I am asking the impossible of myself. However, that doesn’t stop me feeling completely sub-standard each time a new set of titles appears. So, for me the conflict concerned with the arrival on the scene of yet another fiction prize has nothing to do with the politics behind the way the books are selected or who the judges might be and everything to do with the opportunity it presents for me to beat myself up yet again for my reading inadequacies. It won’t be long before the Women’s Prize short list is available. Would someone please hand over the sack cloth and ashes.