Thursday, October 09, 2008

Reading a book just because it won a prize

There are many ways to decide what to read. Though overwhelmed with manuscripts, I still like to keep up with new books, and following prize winners is one great way to do it.

But prize committees are complicated organisms, and many of us have read the confessions of past participants who admit they skim the books (how can you not, if you have to get through 70 or 100 to make a decision, and you also have a full-time job?). Also, inherent in a group vote is everyone picking the same book as a lower-rung choice, but with many books vying for #1, so the prize ends up going to a book everyone liked but nobody loved. Finally, the prize is usually awarded every year, even if a great choice isn't available each year. So sometimes an author gets a prize for being the best of a lesser bunch, whereas other times an author does not get a prize simply because someone amazing was in the running that year (or cynically, someone more famous whom prize judges thinks finally deserves a win).

Still, even though I understand all of this this (and I've served on several prize committees, one of which I resigned in disgust after the ranking phenomenon, when everyone's #3 won a huge scholarship, and the higher-ranked ones were left thinking they hadn't rated because we could not agree on them), I'm going to take a chance and read the book that just won the Thurber Prize because (a) I love humor and don't read enough of it; and (b) I've never read a Thurber-prize book before.

The book is Larry Doyle's I Love You Beth Cooper, and the publisher is Harper Perennial. I'll read it on my trusty Kindle and post my thoughts about it later.

1 comment:

Natalie R. Kimber said...

I remember how one of my favorite unpublished authors Willie Davis won the Willesden Prize for short-fiction (and $5k) in 2007. The contest was (and I think still is) judged by Zadie Smith. The next year, she caused an outrage by stating that there wasn't a single story in the running deserving of the prize... thus, there was no winner that year. I can't tell you how angry everyone was, but I guess sometimes that is the case--nothing is quite good enough. (a very very rare case indeed!) Nevertheless, I've thought since then that the situation reflects so well on Willie's story, called "Kid in a Well," because nothing could stand up to it the following year. You know what I mean? I don't know what happened to Willie and his incredible book, but I would love to find out. Here's a link to the story, in case you feel like reading something different-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/jan/16/originalwriting.fiction3