Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Sunday Salon: In Which I Beat a Dead Horse

I do enjoy reading about book prizes and there are some I put more weight on than others, though I doubt any prize has consistently delivered. It's hard, the awards process, I know from personal experience. :)

So I always check out the long lists and short lists when they are announced. A lot of times I get some new ideas about books and it's always validating to see books I love make these lists.

This past week the Orange Prize for Fiction long list was announced. According to their website, "The Orange Prize for Fiction is awarded to the woman who, in the opinion of the judges, has written the best, eligible full-length novel in English."

I thought it was interesting to read one of the judges complain about how depressing all the books were. Daisy Goodwin said, according to The Guardian "I think the misery memoir has had its day, but there are an awful lot of books out there which had not a shred of redemption in them. I'm more of a light and shade person and there does need to be some joy, not just misery."

I also like books with redemption and hope. I haven't read any of the books on this long list so I can't intelligently argue whether or not there is in fact some shred of redemption. But I am very familiar with the idea that "depressing=deep" In order for something to be taken seriously, it seems that it must be depressing and dark.

I barely had time to mull over these comments, though, when a response came from Jean Hannah Edelstein that I loved. I agree, yes I do, and I know for long time readers it comes as no surprise.

Goodwin is wrong. There's a great deal of pleasure in publishing, particularly in writing by women, but it's not found on prize lists. That's because this type of book is almost invariably marketed as "women's fiction", often clad in a bright pink cover and bearing an image of a shoe or a cupcake on the front. These books may catch the eyes of readers in Waterstone's (as reflected in the bestseller lists), but their categorisation appears to be a dealbreaker when it comes to literary prizes. The rules of the Orange prize require that the books are submitted for consideration by editors, not authors – and if the books that are entered have been remarkably downbeat this year, it's perhaps because editors of lighter books by women aren't confident that they command the same respect as grim ones.

You really should read the whole thing.

Why am I bothering to bring this up again? Because it's an issue that is clearly not going away. Because it frustrates me. Because I think we should keep talking about it and fight the status quo, despite the subject title of this post.

I don't have a long personal commentary to add, but I'm interested in knowing what the last "light hearted" or humorous book was that you put on one of your best of lists. Was there one on your best of 2009 list? I didn't have any humorous books on mine, but I did have lots of books with hope! ;)


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.