The Lure of the Award Winners
January 10, 2014 | 12:46 pm
By Joanna Cabot
I did a purge of my Amazon and library book wishlists the other day as part of my Happy New Year spring cleaning. It felt good to de-clutter my digital life a little, and it brought my to-read to a more manageable state.
I deleted over 50 books, and most of them were award winners. These books have in the past been like catnip to me. I would hear about one and rush to find it. And much of the time, I would never get to it. I would go to redeem a coupon code and choose a new mystery by a favourite author, or a quirky-looking but unsung memoir, or a book about spirituality or psychology or finance or any of the other genres I tend to gravitate toward.
What I have come to realize is that this is okay. The Beloved and I have a game we play when we are perusing the Netflix new additions. It’s called the ‘You Lost me at…’ game. We’ll read the description say exactly where in the description they lost us. ‘Road trip’ is usually a movie-killer for me. So is ‘comedian’ (this says to me ‘bathroom humour’) or anything involving a college frat boy. The Beloved will bail on ‘heart-warming’ or ‘journey’ or anything involving a ‘bond between’ one character and another.
It was curious to me that I was so comfortable playing this game with the movies, but not so comfortable applying it to books. One title I hesitated over was recommended to me by a Goodreads friend I greatly respect. He called it one of the best books he’s ever read. It was masterful. It was exquisite. It was the highest form of the art. And it was also a ‘literary fiction’ novel set in old-timey Japan. You lost me at ‘where East meets West’…
I think books can be a sensitive thing for a lot of people because they can be so aspirational. When I first moved in with the Beloved, I got rid of a ton of books I bought during my single days when I wasn’t yet sure what my life would like like when I was a ‘real’ grown-up. For example, I had a stack of books almost one shelf strong on the subject entertaining, because I thought this was something ‘proper’ adults did, and I was trying—in vain—to improve my cooking skills so I’d be ready. Turns out the Beloved is not such a party guy, and when we do see friends, we do it in restaurants. That’s not only a relief, but it’s also a shelf-saver. That’s half a dozen books in the Goodwill bin right there!
And so it went with the award winners. I kept on wishlisting them, with noble intentions of getting to them one day, because I wanted to be the sort of person who liked those books. And the reality is, I generally don’t. A frat boy movie which has won an award is still a frat boy movie, and having it linger on my ‘wish’ list when I don’t even wish it, just so it can taunt me me with how uncultured I am because I haven’t gotten to it, doesn’t help me.
So I’m letting go of my award-winner guilt. It’s the one lesson of ‘proper’ adulthood which is finally sinking in: it’s okay to be myself. Award shmaward, I can read what I want and people will still love me. So I’m doing it. Sure, I’ll read the news about this award or that one. I do like reading news! But then I’ll play ‘you lost me at…’ and see how far into the blurb I get. The book will have to win me on its appeal to me, not its pedigree!