Another day sees another literary award announced…this time, it’s the launch of the Folio Prize, a new £40,000 literary award sponsored by the Folio Society for the best work of fiction published in the English language. This particular prize was created after several literary bigwigs complained about the supposed dumbing down of the Booker Prize in 2011, a year when books were chosen for their ‘readability’. Heaven forbid that somebody who wasn’t on the judging panel might actually understand or even enjoy something on the shortlist…
But do we really need another literary prize? A few months ago, shortly after the Booker Prize ceremony, I wrote a blog post in which I mused about the value of book awards and whether or not they are a total waste of time. I do take an interest in these prizes and appreciate their promotional value particularly for new authors but I am wondering if there are perhaps too many of them. When the same authors (*cough* Hilary Mantel *cough*) get nominated for the same bunch of prizes based around the fuzzy genre of ‘literary fiction’, it does seem a little pointless to create a new one with no real distinguishing features, categories or criteria. Even though the Folio Prize was created in response to perceived concerns about the Booker shortlist, I would not be surprised at all if there was some overlap between the two next year.
The founder of the Folio Prize, Andrew Kidd, says that “It’s not a matter of how many prizes there are but how many prizes effectively get their message across and connect with the public and result in thousands of people buying these books. For me that’s the key measure of success.” Ironically, Kidd probably has Hilary Mantel in mind here – a critically-acclaimed author who has also managed to shift tens of thousands of copies of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ since winning the Booker Prize for both of these novels in 2009 and 2012 respectively. However, having watched so many commuters on the Tube attempt to battle their way through ‘Wolf Hall’, only managing to turn the page once whilst travelling half way round the Circle Line, I believe that it is not so much the number of copies that are sold but rather the number of copies that are enjoyed and appreciated which is more important. Yes, literary awards make a valuable contribution towards raising awareness of good books and good authors but I still don’t like seeing people in physical pain when they are reading something that they somehow think they ought to read purely because it has appeared on a shortlist somewhere. I sincerely hope Kidd reassesses his priorities before next year.
Overall, I am not yet convinced that the Folio Prize is really going to add much to the over-saturated domain of literary awards. This seems like a missed opportunity for creating something genuinely different.