Yesterday’s announcement of the shortlist for the Ned Kelly Awards for Australian crime fiction* reminded me, once again, that I am generally out of step with the rest of humanity (or at least judging panels) when it comes to book awards.
Of the three books shortlisted in the best fiction category for this year’s awards I rated Michael Robotham’s Bleed for Me a disappointing 2 out of 5 and failed to finish Garry Disher’s Wyatt. I haven’t yet tackled Lenny Bartulin’s The Black Russian so can make no personal judgement about that one.
In my opinion the best work of Australian crime fiction for the eligible period is Peter Temple’s Truth but it was not considered, apparently at the request of Temple himself, but even taking that into consideration there are several books on the longlist that I think are better than those selected and a couple that didn’t even make it that far.
It’s not only Australian award givers with which I am out of step. I’ve recently read the winner of this year’s Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year and found it the opposite of everything the judging panel said it was and the winner of the 2010 Edgar Award for best novel which was a decent read but not, in my opinion, the best of those on the shortlist. Even the winner of this years International Dagger Award for best translated crime fiction wasn’t my personal favourite of the shortlisted novels (though it is a superb novel). I don’t even have much luck with non-crime related awards as I have only gotten a third of the way through the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize despite it being a work of historical fiction about a period I enjoy. Sigh.
I’m no longer surprised when my opinions don’t match those of the people who matter but the fact that it happens with alarming regularity is the reason I rarely seek out books that are shortlisted for or have won awards. Whether it’s because I don’t have a clue what makes a good book (entirely possible) or because it’s all a pretty subjective game of chance in the end, choosing books by virtue of the accolades that have been showered upon them doesn’t really work for me.
What about you? Do you deliberately look for books that have won awards? Do you have more luck than I do when it comes to award winners? Do you think some awards panels set out to make controversial choices to generate discussion and, if you do, is that a bad thing?
Bernadette – I actually don’t decide what to read based on awards, either. Often, like you, I find that my taste is different from what awards panels’ tastes are (although there have been some exceptions). I don’t know if it’s only a matter of taste or not, but I don’t think it’s a case of “out of step” (unless I, too, am out of step, perish the thought ; ) ). In my opinion, there are a lot of factors that go into choices for long and short lists of award-winning novels. It’s that constellation of factors, rather than just “Is it a well-written book,” etc. that determine the winner.
Bernadette-I wondered why Truth wasn’t on the list as it definitely one of my best reads so far this year.
I used to make a point of reading the winner of the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers, but then they had some years when I was definitely out of step. There was the boring book set in Bath that sent me to sleep despite my love of the city; then there was the Ancient Greek setting book that I did not really understand, but everyone raved about it so I decided I must be thick; and then there was the American authored book that informed me every second page the rather obvious fact that George W Bush was probably not going to be rated as good a president as Lincoln, Washington, FDR or Teddy Roosevelt. I decided at that point I would rely on my fellow bloggers for recommendations.
I do read the International Dagger shortlist, and this year it was so strong [and at least one judge knew what she was talking about] so you could make a case for 5 out of the six books winning, but the previous year the decision was beyond my comprehension, a lot of things are lately.
In fact I was going to read the Ned Kelly winner, but now I think I will not bother unless it is The Black Russian. ;o)
The good thing about blogging is that you can to a certain extent [within England’s ludicrous libel laws] express an honest opinion about a book. If you are out of step Bernadette I am limping along behind.
I suppose there are just so many different tastes, and these awards either have a relatively small number of judges, or are decided by a voting system which is no guarantee of anything for a host of reasons. I agree with Norman that what I tend to do is to go by trusted review sites (i.e. have become trusted by experience), often blogs but not always (there are some good book reviewers in the mainstream media eg Laura Wilson of the Guardian). But even then, I don’t always agree with even the same reviewer about different books.
I like to try new authors all the time and don’t like to stick with a safe little collection of always reading the same one, but it is certainly true that I go through periods of not being very happy with anything I read, as well as the opposite.
For me, Awards are the same. I thought the books on the Int Dagger Shortlist earlier this year all had strong things to recommend them, but like you Bernadette, I have been amazed at how some other books were even considered. (Some of these prizes, publishers have to pay quite a bit to submit a novel – again, no evidence of quality, possibly the contrary!)
I don´t actively avoid awarded books, but I don´t care much either way. It probably means something for the writer´s sales, however, so I would hardly choose Peter Temple´s way if anyone wanted to award something I had written.
I always look at the lists of nominees and winners when they come out, but I know I won’t necessarily like all the books, so I also read the publisher’s description and other reviews before I decide to buy or borrow. There are often some very good books on these lists but of course personal taste varies.
I think it all comes down to personal taste which, in reading, as in everything else in life I find, differs from individual to individual. I look at lists to see which books were nominated for awards or won, and then I read reviews of the books, descriptions, comments on blogs to see if I want to read them. I do not only count on the award nominations’ lists or wins. None of the books on the Ned Kelly list appeal to me.
Also, I think there are genres which some people prefer, as you know, because you wrote a terrific piece about many of them, giving your views. Some people really like hard-boiled crime fiction, thrillers, espionage, war-based, and don’t read anything else. Others like more character-driven books or look for other aspects.
As I once read on a good blogger’s website, “there is no accounting for taste,” when I wondered why Fred Vargas and Tana French weren’t listed a few years ago in a top reading list for a particular year (where there was only one woman listed of 30 in a “best books” for whatever year, Nina Revoyr for “The Language of Dreaming”) I have learned to agree with that statement on taste.
Even among my mystery-reader friends, there are huge differences of opinion on books, even on genre, even on a specific book. Many women friends don’t like books with misogyny and violence against women. Understandable. Some can read a little bit of that. Some don’t like historical mysteries. Some don’t like cozies. Some love thrillers, fast-paced, action-oriented books, even if violent.
It’s hard to figure this out so when I see awards’ lists or nominees, I start digging and reading further, also ask friends their opinions if they’ve read the books.
Blogs like yours help a lot. I can tell if I’d like a book or not by your or other reviews at wonderful websites/blogs. And I’ve been branching out on global reading which is great; sometimes is works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I give the books to friends who would like them.
Also, there’s another thing that often hits me when I see a list of 30 books with one one woman’s book recommended. And I’ve read discussions of this. Some male readers do not read books written by women, or read very few of them, so women writers do not always get a fair hearing or reading.
You have great taste in books and your reviews and comments are so incisive.
I was disappointed that “Hypothermia,” didn’t win the Dagger. And I am disappointed that the superb “Gunshot Road” wasn’t on the Ned Kelly list (unless the year of publication wasn’t the right one.)
Much of the time after reading an award-winning tome, I wonder what on earth the judges smoked before they read it. For years it used to be that I would put a book down when I discovered it was an award winner. Now I don’t purposely avoid them, but I still don’t seek them out. For me to read an award-winning book, there has to be something else about it for me to invest my time in it.
Hi Bernadette, I met you over on Goodreads. I agree with what you said about awards. I think that book award presenters are out of touch with what makes good reading. It’s better to have a mix of awards some of which are voted on by the public. I’m looking forward to reading Peter Temple’s book.
All right: I finished “The Darkest Room,” and while it’s fine (I abhor ghost stories), I still think “Hypothermia,” should have won the Dagger. Call it being a spoiled sport or whatever, but I just like Indridason’s writing style better; it’s more contemporary, no ghosts. It’s a matter of taste as is all reading, art, music, movies, even jewelry and clothing!
Pingback: Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino | Reactions to Reading