The Edinburgh Bookshop is up for another prize – but owner Marie Moser wonders if it all matters.
Oscars, BAFTAS, Nobel’s –nowadays every walk of life has its’ prizes and the Book Industry has more than most. We have:
The Booker Prize-
The Costa Prize
The Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction
The Welcome Prize
The James Tait Black prizes
The Saltire Prize
The Samuel Johnston Prize
Political Book of the Year
Sporting Book of the Year
Arts prizes are a contrary invention. They imply that, somehow, creative works can be empirically compared and ranked; that a panel of “Wise Men” can divine the absolute “best” from the works they are judging.
For me empiricism and creativity have no business being in the same room. A book represents anywhere from one to ten years work of a writers imagination and intellect. It may range from 150 to over 1,000 pages and cover any and every subject there is.
It may have been written in the most beautiful English prose or be a starting explanation of an intellectual theory.
What we enjoy, or rate reading, is a matter of personal choice. This choice is influenced by many factors from the mood we are in, the subjects that interest us, the style of writing that appeals to our brain or the story being told. How can you possibly compare and judge such different works? Just as one might prefer Van Gogh to Vermeer; one might well prefer one to another, but the concept of picking a “winner” quite ridiculous.
To be fair, the publishing industry does try to provide some structure for the process by segmenting books before judging them. The Booker Prize is for especially “literary fiction”, The Samuel Johnston for non-fiction and The Welcome Prize for Scientific/Medical subjects.
Occasionally a truly remarkable work may pop up in each of these areas – Hilary Mantel’s Woolf Hall, Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Andrea Gilles Keeper respectively. It is the long and shortlists for the awards that are interesting. Like the’ “Top Ten things to do…”in a travel guide, they offer up the cream of each type of writing for that year, without attempting to anoint a “winner”.
Unlike many other artistic industries, the business also gives out awards for those in non-artistic roles. The agents, publishers, editors and even booksellers! Here again, however, the problems of impossible comparisons arise. This year, for example, The Edinburgh Bookshop is shortlisted for the award of UK’s best Children’s Bookseller. Our fellow nominees include Sainsbury’s, Waterston’s and the Scholastic Schools’ Sales Team. You will understand why this doesn’t seem like a fair fight!
Presenting someone with a prize because it is “their turn” or, even worse, not giving them the award because it is time someone else had a chance to win, is a ridiculous tendency. This is the equivalent of asking Usain Bolt to skip a race to “give someone else a chance to get a medal” or asking Picasso to take a few years off from painting.
Sometimes, like sportsmen, a writer or artist is simply at the top of their game, the height of their powers. If you must give out awards for endeavours, at least have the decency to recognise that sometimes one individual is “the best”. Attempting to spread the accolades out “fairly” demeans a shaky process even further.
Of course, over the passage of time, awards matter not one whit. A work of literature that remains admired across generations is being judged on its’ merits – not on some bauble it may, or may not, have won. A book that is still being read and admired decades after it was written has won the only accolade that truly matters.