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Eyes on the Prizes

Should you care about literary prizes?

Autumn is the most exciting time of year for books. Hundreds of long-awaited titles are released in anticipation of Christmas gift sales and end-of-year awards and wrap-ups. As readers we can feel spoiled for choice and perhaps even overwhelmed by the assortment on offer, and it can be hard to know where on earth to start.

This is where literary prizes come in. Phew! Thank goodness a group of judges have gathered together to decide what I should read! What would we do without them?

Understandably, some readers hate the dictatorial judgements of value placed upon certain books and prefer to take the road less travelled and choose their reading material themselves. Personally, I am really happy for them. However even the most voracious of readers sometimes need a push or a nudge, a good recommendation, or a new read shoved into their unsuspecting hands.

So, for those of you who haven’t read a non-academic text in years (or ever), for those who get through at least a book a week, and for those who are somewhere in between, I present you with a whistle-stop tour through the most exciting literary prizes out there, ready to inspire you.

The Big One – The Man Booker Prize

The juggernaut. The prize that the press and the literary world pay most attention to, and therefore the one most likely to sky-rocket a writer’s career. Also the most lucrative, with winnings of £50,000. The 2016 prize has just been won by Paul Beatty for his novel ‘The Sellout’, a satire about race relations in the States. He is the first American to win the prize, which has gotten some critics a bit nervy. Calm down now.

The Foreign One – The Man Booker International Prize

Sister of the juggernaut. Awarded to fiction that has been translated into English. A brilliant platform for highlighting translated fiction, which is all too often neglected. This year won by the dazzling ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith. It is the tale of a woman who decides to stop eating meat one day and the life-altering consequences this subversive act has on herself and those around her. Totally bonkers, totally gripping.

The Alternative One – The Goldsmiths Prize

Established in 2013 by Goldsmiths University, this one celebrates novel novels that truly break the mould. Eimear McBride won in 2013 with ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ (a difficult read, but utterly transporting) and Ali Smith in 2014 with ‘How to Be Both’ (disorientating, clever, uplifting). This year’s winner is ‘The Solar Bones’ by Mike McCormack, the third Irish winner in four years.

The Woman One – Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

Formerly the Orange Prize, this one considers only female writers to address the gender disparity in publishing. Won by formidable women such as Zadie Smith, Ali Smith (again), Eimear McBride (again), Lionel Shriver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rose Tremain and Marilynne Robinson, every short-list is the making of an exciting to-read list. Lisa McInerney won this year with her rude, political, vibrant ‘The Glorious Heresies.’ Don’t you dare call this chick-lit.

The Nature One – The Wainwright Prize

The Wainwright praises excellent nature writing by writers who engage with the natural world in a meaningful way, often incorporating biography. The winner this year was the incredible ‘The Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot, her story of returning to her home in Orkney after living as a lost alcoholic in London, and how nature played a crucial part in her recovery. Other outstanding books that have been shortlisted include ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks and ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald.

Others to watch:

The Baillie Gifford Prize, formerly The Samuel Johnson Prize, for excellent non-fiction.

The Dylan Thomas Prize, for emerging young writers.

The Folio Prize, for any genre, any country, judged by a diverse, international academy.

The Costa Book Award, for good, solid, readable books.

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