Two pieces that reflect my view of literary prizes. I don't agree with the notion that prizes are a necessarily bad thing. Granted that they may at times come through as being decided by considerations extraneous to merit, but one still cannot overlook the benefits they accrue to publishers and the literary culture overall.
Eric Forbes of the excellent Book Addict has written a long piece on literary prizes:
Kiran Desai’s triumph in the recent 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction would drive the sales of both her books, The Inheritance of Loss (2006) and Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), which would in turn revive the sales of her mother Anita Desai’s substantial backlist, which consequently would affect the sales of the fictions of Indian writers in general: Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Romesh Gunesekera, Suketu Mehta, Pankaj Mishra, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, V.S. Naipaul, R.K. Narayan, Michael Ondaatje, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, etc. Besides an impressive backlist of fiction titles, many of these writers are excellent nonfiction writers as well.
You can read his entire piece here. Also, in the Observer, Robert Mccrum writes:
The literary prize has many well-rehearsed drawbacks, but it has one great virtue: it is conducted in public and is answerable to scrutiny. To some, that just leads to another disqualification (timid juries, they say, simply confirm the conventional wisdom). But it does not have to be so. Juries are as likely to go mad for a book as any book club. On the plus side, the winners of this year's Orange, Booker and Samuel Johnson etc will take home cheques of variable value and attract varying quantities of press. Their books, now recognised, possibly for the first time, will attract new readers. Then the final and supreme act of judgment will begin. This is immune to the pressures of hype or favouritism. It's called reading alone for oneself.
I had written about the awards economy early last year. That piece is here.