Awards don’t mean popularity

Talk this weekend has been all about award ceremonies, namely the Academy Awards of course. I still haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave, but I was drawn to the memoir on which the film was based, writing in January about the power of such books in capturing history. However I don’t think I have ever been drawn to read a book simply because it has won an award, either for an adaptation or for the book itself. But I know a lot of people do like to read these awards winners, simply because they are such, because they have been given that seal of approval by fellow writers, judges and critics.
Sense of an EndingBut there has been some research published in Administrative Science Quarterly, showing that “winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality”. This was observed after comparing 38,817 reader reviews on GoodReads of 32 pairs of books. One book in each pair had won an award, such as the Man Booker prize, and the other had been shortlisted for the same prize in the same year, but had not gone on to win. They found that as the status and sales of the award winners increased, the readers ratings became less positive. One particular example was the 2011 Man Booker winner The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. (which, by the way, I have read and enjoyed)

These findings have been attributed to the readership of the novels increasing considerably simply because of the award – there are more reviews written by people who read the book because it was an award winner, not because they thought it would be to their personal taste. It just goes to show that what is important to a reader – what makes them deem a book “good” – is a very personal thing. A book might be very well written, praised by award judges, but if it isn’t to your individual taste, it still might illicit a bad review.

I believe that reading a book is an investment, and there are far more to choose from than you could ever hope to read. Therefore you must choose carefully. Just because it has an award sticker on the front, doesn’t mean you are going to like it.


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