For the most part, literary awards mean very little in the US, unless it's an Oprah Book Club sticker on the front cover1. Most Americans can't tell you who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction2, or what the Man Booker Award is3. Even most self-proclaimed bibliophiles (and by 'most', I mean most that I've encountered) have read surprisingly few literary award winners.
I have been informed that things are different overseas. Book awards in the UK, for instance, have more impact, and a nomination for short-list can be enough to propel an unheard-of author into the spotlight.
With the recent announcement of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners, I've begun to realize my literary short-comings. It bothers me, a bit, that there's so much amazing fiction out there that I've passed over in favor of "bubblegum" lit: fun, but of no real literary value.
Since I'm currently unemployed, I've decided that I have the time to read more. And with that realization, I've set a goal to read an entire list of award winners. And after a lot of thinking and researching, I've decided that the list I'm going to work through is the Orange Prize for Fiction.
There are two reasons for this:
1. The award is only given to female authors.
2. It's only been around since 1996, so there are a lot fewer books to read than, say, the Man Booker (est. 1968) or the Nobel Prize for Literature (est. 1901).
Here is the complete list of Orange Prize finalists:
2011: The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
2010: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
2009: Home, by Marilynne Robinson
2008: The Road Home, by Rose Tremain
2007: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2006: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
2005: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
2004: Small Island, by Andrea Levy
2003: Property , by Valerie Martin
2002: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
2001: The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville
2000: When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant
1999: A Crime in the Neighbourhood, by Suzanne Berne
1998: Larry's Party, by Carol Shields
1997: Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
1996: A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore
I haven't read a single Orange Prize finalist, and I've only read one of the short-list selections (Oryx and Crake, Atwood, absolutely fantastic read!), so this should be a good challenge!
1 I don't understand why this is, because I disagree with most of the books Oprah selects, and also the senseless fervor that surrounds her selections as millions of housewives flock to the bookstores.
2 No finalist was selected for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award.
3 I'm not actually sure what it is either, but Wikipedia informs me that it's "a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe". This is the next award list that I plan to tackle.