A is for award winning books and some reasons why I might avoid them

Author: Anne

Date Published: Apr 3rd 2017, 6:45pm

This is a reposting of a blog I originally published in May 2015. I have read a few more award winning books since I originally wrote this but I am definitely still wary of them.


When reading the summary of a book several things will cause me to hesitate even if it looks like the sort of book I might buy. One of those things is if it tells me that the book is “award winning”.

The words “award winning” conjure up for me a wealth of preconceptions – not all of them accurate, I expect. I have a view of “award winning” books or those which achieve critical acclaim as being difficult to read or having complicated/harrowing subject matter. I heard someone once describe reading a Booker Prize winning novel as “the author makes you work hard for your pleasure”. Maybe I’m lazy but I want reading to be easier than that.

I am positive that I am suffering from prejudice here but some experiences seem to bear out my theory that “award winning” books are not for me. I heard Anne Enright being interviewed on the radio after her novel, “The Gathering”, had won the Booker prize and she was intelligent and amusing to listen to so I purchased the book. Not a great decision, and to be fair I should have read some of the reviews first, because this is a remorselessly grim novel about a dysfunctional family and historic child abuse – I didn’t finish it. Another much acclaimed and multi-prize winning novel “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel also disappointed as I really didn’t understand the attraction (see my recent review and compare it with that of my two fellow reviewers both of whom did like it).

A book that wins awards has to be well written but it doesn’t have to be popular and, in fact, it often isn’t (although the success of “Wolf Hall” will demonstrate that this is not a hard and fast rule). It seems, however, that I am not a great lover of books which are critically acclaimed and find them difficult in some way. This may be because they are so often literary fiction and I tend to read genre novels but as I do have a degree in English Literature I am pretty sure that I have the intellectual capacity to tackle something harder.

There are, of course, awards to win which don’t have the same cachet as the Booker or the Costa and some of which are even voted for by the readers. I twitch when I see “award winning” but I really need to look further to see which award and who votes for it.

My question, on much reflection, is this – is it that I don’t like the sort of books that win awards or is it that the fact that they win awards that means that I don’t like them ? As an experiment I looked at the Booker Prize winning novels and find that I have read seven of them since they were created and I enjoyed four of those very much (the exceptions were “Life of Pi”, “The Gathering” and “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje). I also looked at the Costa Book Awards (and their predecessors the Whitbread Awards) and again found that I had read very few of them but every one I had read I had enjoyed.

This leads me to new questions – why have I read so few “award winning” books and why do I think that I don’t enjoy them when evidence shows that I do ? Maybe it is only those few I have read that I would enjoy and I have “cherry picked” those which most attract me but it is possible that sheer prejudice means that I don’t read critically acclaimed books because I have made up my mind in advance that I won’t enjoy them or that they will be too hard for me.

What I need to do, of course, is test my theories and read some more books which have won prestigious literary awards to see whether I really should be avoiding them or alternatively whether I am missing out on some great books I would enjoy. Maybe this needs to be a book challenge for me for the future – feel free, however, to suggest below some award winning books you think I might enjoy.