Lost recap: Made you look! But really: So many prizes, so little time
Okay, I’ll concede it’s a bit of a strain to keep the “lost” theme going all the way to Friday, although this week’s clamor over the “Lost Booker Prize” has got me to thinking about prize proliferation and the inflation of literary awards. So many prizes — if you haven’t won one yet, then you must not be much of a writer.
At least that’s the feeling I get, sitting here in my silk pajamas and slippers each morning, sipping Earl Grey and surfing the webbernet for some booky item to bring to your attention. Hardly a day falls dead without word of some prize. Yesterday brought two: The London Independent has a story on the Desmond Elliott Prize, while the Guardian alerts us to the Ondaatje.
The Eliott, as it transpires, attempts to identify the best “first novel published in the United Kingdom,” and has a short list of just three titles: Before the Earthquake, by Maria Allen; The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw; and Talk of the Town, by Jacob Polley.
I’ve never heard of any of them — have you? — but I do like The Girl with Glass Feet as a title. The winner, to be announced June 23, will take home £10,000 (about $14,000).
By contrast, the Ondaatje goes each year to “a book ‘of the highest literary merit’ that best evokes the spirit of place,” intones the Guardian. Could we be vaguer? This year’s lot is “eclectic” and “diverse” — as always, we are informed. The Guardian seems most pleased that one of its columnists, Madeleine Bunting, is short listed for her book The Plot, a “biography of an acre.”
The Ondaatje, which also carries a £10,000 award, will be announced May 24. Let’s all root for Madeleine, whose book produces “a more general portrait of England and its land from her very specific example.” I mean, who knows, it probably does, so why not? Go Madeleine.
As you can see by this one day’s random sample, the British seem avid for the giving of literary prizes. Time was, we here in the States heard about the Man Booker (the U.K.’s top literary prize) and maybe the slightly less stringent Whitbread (now rechristened the Costa).
Nowadays, though, the British hand out book awards willy-nilly: Wikipedia lists 87 Brit-lit prize pages, and I’m not sure that counts them all. Among them: the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; The Commonwealth Writers Prize; the T.S. Elliott Prize (not to be confused with the Desmond Elliott); the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; the Somerset Maughum Awards; the Orange Prize (don’t you wish it was the “Orange-Is-Not-the-Only-Fruit Prize?!); the Gold Dagger (for crime fiction); the British Fantasy Award; the Arthur C. Clarke Award; the Orwell Prize; and dozens and dozens more.
As one website has it, “the British have a prize-giving culture” –but Americans have grown just as generous with the award-giving: In addition the the Big Three — the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle — U.S. lit awards include: the Bancroft Prize; the Edgar Alan Poe Award; the Golden Spur; the O. Henry Award; the Heartland Prize; the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry (too bad it’s not for editing); the Ridenhour Prize; the Shamus Award; the Lambda Literary Award; the Hugo Award; the Locus Award; the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction; and on and on and on.
I’m sure most if not all these prizes and awards are bestowed in all seriousness, but their cumulative effect is akin to a t-ball tournament, where no player goes home without a trophy. Is this a ridiculous state of affairs? Does it cheapen each and every prize, except perhaps for the top two or three? You tell me.