Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: What would Jonathan Franzen say?

The New Yorker recently published the list of nominations for the National Book Award.  Reading the article actually made me anxious because I have not read a single book on the list.  I also haven't read any recent winners of the Man Booker Prize,  or any recent Pulitzer Prize winners (scratch that, I did read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, the 2009 winner).  Years ago, I started a book list for myself, and I doggedly stick to it.  Of course, I add books to it, such as Hilary Mantel's Bringing up the Bodies which won the Booker Prize for 2012, but most of the books on my list are either serious literature that was published so long ago that nobody cares anymore or self-indulgent escape reads, like vintage YA novels or Mary Stewart's romantic suspense novels.  I feel like I have become out of touch with the world of modern literature.

I know--if my biggest problem today is that I don't have time to read the wealth of books at my disposal, then I really don't have any problems.  Sometimes I like to imagine what Jonathan Franzen would say to my literary moanings, and in this case, I think he would say, "You think a book needs to win a PRIZE to be considered worthy of your notice?  Why aren't you at the library, checking out every new book that comes in, rather than relying on the prize-makers to tell you what to read?  Fair enough, and now that Jonathan Franzen has made it clear to me, I wonder how much the prize makers steer the course of literature.  Is good literature ignored by everyone because it isn't nominated for a prize?  Or do the prizes exist to bring the good literature to the attention of the average reader?


Do you try and keep up with prize-winning literature?


14 comments:

  1. I think I have come to the conclusion after some reflection and time, that literature awards are more about politics than merit, and I mostly ignore them now.

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  2. I'll tell you I've been disappointed again and again by the Booker Prize winners for their obscurity and "literary-ness." I have enjoyed some of the NBA winners, but I don't read them because they got the award or nomination, that's purely incidental. I read books because people whose opinion I do value (fellow readers like YOU) suggest them.

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  3. I really don't. I will read a National Book Award winner if I hear an amazing review on NPR, but I basically read my long lost of favorite writers.

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  4. I really don't. I will read a National Book Award winner if I hear an amazing review on NPR, but I basically read my long lost of favorite writers.

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  5. I don't keep up with prize winners. I read book reviews on a regular basis and if something intrigues me, I make a note of it and sometimes Santa brings them to me. I tend to follow my favorite authors and keep up with their new releases. I also will go to the library and see what's on the new release shelves and pick from that.
    If Pat can't find my current book wish list, he has been known to grab a few titles I've recently read and will look up recommendations based on those. That's how I ended up on a whole post modern lit kick.

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  6. I pay attention, but I don't necessarily keep up. If a book is a prize winner, I am more likely to hear about it, and if I read a description and am intrigued then I add it to my (utterly massive) to-read list. If it doesn't sound like my thing, though, I don't worry about it.

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  7. Further note specifically regarding the Booker Prize: I tend to love Booker Prize finalists. I certainly have not read them all, and I have not loved all of them I've read, but most of them. I loved Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Life of Pi, The Electric Michelangelo (shortlist), Never Let Me Go (shortlist), The Accidental (shortlist), The White Tiger, Room (shortlist). I was decidedly "meh" on The Sense of an Ending, though. I'm reading Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel now, which was the 2009 winner and is the predecessor to Bring Up the Bodies. It's so complicated on its own, I definitely would not recommend skipping it before Bring Up the Bodies if you haven't read it already - I can't imagine how confusing that would be. Anyway - all that to say, I know I have a tendency to like Booker shortlist books, so I am probably more likely to seek those out than other prizes, necessarily. And I still won't read them if they don't sound appealing to me, Booker prize or no.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! I haven't read Wolf Hall yet either and I was wondering if it was necessary to read it first.

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    2. Wolf Hall is much, much better than Bring Up The Bodies. The latter seems rushed and doesn't have the same rhythm of the former.

      I've read some of the Booker and NBA finalists/winners but generally don't agree with the choices.

      I read reviews from various newspapers/magazines and I am constantly checking out books from the library that don't sound interesting but get rave reviews. I should go with my instinct more.

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  8. I find books through reviews or recommendations from friends. (I love Mary Stewart, by the way.)

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  9. I don't pay much attention to book awards unless a book I loved gets one. Bring Up the Bodies is a perfect example. I was so happy for Hillary Mantel, especially winning it twice! I read newspaper and magazine book reviews as well as my favorite book bloggers and from those sources, I usually find many books I want to read. I am in two book clubs and between those books and re-reading the classics, I have a giant stack of books waiting to be read. But I must admit, I love returning to my favorite authors for a re-read!

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  10. I am guilty of re-reading old favorites to the exclusion of other books. I don't like to be accidentally depressed by a book, so sometimes I like to re-read familiar books because I know what kind of mood it's going to put me in. I love having the eReader app for my library on my phone too. There's usually a waitlist for the popular books, so sometimes I end up checking out random books I've never heard of just because that's what's available. If it's not working for me, I just go back into the ecollection and check out something else. I started reading Bring Up The Bodies, but was having a hard time keeping track of what was going on (new baby, how long can I use this as an excuse?). It's on my list to try again though when it can get some undivided attention.

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  11. I tend to have great luck with both Bookers and National Book Award winners. I am disappointed that the way they are selected is changing. They both tend to be highly literary and I am that kind of reader. So when I have nothing else to read, they are a good place to look. As for Jonathan Franzen, he reads like a bitter, jealous, highly intelligent man. While I am glad to have finished his books, I read them thinking how much I don't care for the author. The worst book I read last year was a book he heavily praised in a blurb. Now I know my taste is so different from his that I likely take future blurbs by him as warning signs.

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    1. Good to know! I have liked everything I've read of Franzen's but I've never read anything that he recommends.

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