As the fuss surrounding the Pulitzer and Orwell prizes shows, book awards are increasingly more about hype than substance.
By Robert McCrum
The great literary boom of 1980 to 2010 is over, but its glittering prizes still linger, like discarded party favours the morning after the night before. Hardly a day goes by without some new titbit of literary prize gossip, or speculation.
Last week, it was the brouhaha over the news that this year’s Pulitzer prize, one of the premier US literary trophies, would not be awarded in the fiction category.
Then came crowd-pleasing advance publicity for the People’s book prize (promoted by Frederick Forsyth and the late Beryl Bainbridge).
And on Wednesday, new depths were plumbed in reports that the Orwell prize jury had “snubbed” the late Christopher Hitchens by not shortlisting his final book of essays, Arguably. (I bet they’re shaking their heads up on Parnassus about that one.)
Really, it’s a shame Hitchens is no longer around to make hay with the ideas that: a) he was troubled by prizes; b) he had somehow always hankered after the Orwell trophy; and c) there can be any meaning whatever in handing out posthumous awards to books whose authors are beyond the reach of lunch, dinner, and especially critics.
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