While perusing through the collection of books at your favorite book store, you may notice a metallic-colored imprint on the cover of certain works. It is a sign of quality fiction with arresting plot lines, complex characters and culturally-pertinent themes. These book awards are literary badges of honor denoting masterpieces of literature which showcase an author’s fascinating, socially-relevant voice.
With fiction being the largest genre of books, a vast amount of book awards comes with the territory.
Administered by Columbia University, The Pulitzer Prize is often considered the greatest book award an author can receive. The first Pulitzer awards were given in 1917 with the fiction category introduced in 1948. Winners of this prestigious honor include Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Norman Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories, “The Interpreter of Maladies.”
While most consider the Pulitzer to be the highest honor, the Nobel Prize for Literature does not fall short of prestige and historical achievement. With past winners including J.M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow and Jean-Paul Sartre, the list is complete with a dream team of artistic and philosophical writers. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Prize for Literature is selected by a committee of three to five people and receives $10 million for producing the most outstanding work in a chosen field.
The Man Booker Prize, or the Booker Award, is awarded in Britain to the best work of contemporary fiction.
As of 2006, The Man Booker Prize is entering its 38th year and has crowned authors such as Ian McEwan, Alan Hollinghurst, Margaret Atwood and J.M. Coetzee. According to its website, any novel can win this particular book award, but the work cannot be self-published and must be written in the English language.
In America, the PEN Faulkner Award is highly regarded. Sponsored by PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors and Novelists), the Faulkner Award, named after the classic American author of “The Sound and the Fury” and “As I Lay Dying,” acknowledges an exceptional work of fiction and is selected by a committee of fiction writers. Winners of this book award include Don DeLillo, E. Annie Proulx and Philip Roth.
While authors write the books, critics have the power to sustain or strangle the work’s legacy. The National Book Critics Circle Award is one of the ways to solidify certain works’ deserved recognition. The National Book Critics Circle is composed of 700 book reviewers promoting great works and recognizing literary excellence via its book award. Past winners include Ian McEwan, Ernest J. Gaines, Cormac McCarthy and John Updike.
With an understanding of some of the most significant book awards, you can select your next read with more precision and passion, arriving at your own conclusion as to whether the work deserves critical acclaim. After reading the book, award yourself for pursuing a quality piece of printed art.