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Monday, March 15, 2010

A Look At Literary Prize Overlap

Last week, Wolf Hall collected a second major literary prize for its "Mantel" (sorry...) when it won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Hillary Mantel's period piece about Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in the court of King Henry VIII also won The Man Booker Prize last year. 

Wolf Hall's second award got me thinking: Is such award overlap frequent among the major literary prizes? By major literary prizes, I mean the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, the Man Booker and the NBCC. And I only mean the fiction version. 

So let's take a look: Wolf Hall's dual Booker and NBCC prize isn't even the first time it's happened in the last five years. Karin Desai's The Inheritance of Loss won the Booker and NBCC in 2006. That book won my own literary prize, too: Longest, most fractured, and totally boring book I've ever read. 

In the last 30 years, other prize overlap also has happened several times — most frequently with the Pulitzer and NBCC. Junot Diaz's fantastic novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the NBCC in 2007 and the Pulitzer in 2008.  Edward Jones's The Known World (which bored me silly) won the NBCC in 2003 and Pulitzer in 2004. Rabbit at Rest by John Updike won the Pulitzer in 1991 and the NBCC in 1990. And Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres won both in 1992.

Only twice in the last 30 years have the NBA and Pulitzer overlapped: Alice Walker's The Color Purple won the NBA and the Pulitzer in 1983 and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News won the NBA in 1993 and Pulitzer in 1994. 

So there you have it — award overlap isn't nearly as rare as I might have thought. Apparently when the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award go to the same novel, then we'll really have a piece of news.

By the way, have you read Wolf Hall? I haven't, but with another award under its tunic, I'm moving it several slots up my priority list. I've heard it's not difficult, just long. Your thoughts?

(Side note: I thought it a little odd that this English novel had won an American critics' award, but when I looked at the list of NBCC winners, I realized that a foreign writer winning an award voted on by more than 600 U.S. book reviewers is not that unusual either. Last year, in fact, Argentinian writer Roberto Bolano won the NBCC Award posthumously for his massive (and all-but-unreadable, I've heard) tome 2666.  British novelist Ian McEwan won the NBCC in 2002 for Atonement.)

12 comments:

  1. I'm reading Wolf Hall right now and really enjoying it, and I'm not usually a big fan of historical novels. It's up for another award too: the Rooster! (Tournament of Books)

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  2. I haven't read Wolf Hall but books set in that time period do hold interest for me so I might check it out at some point. You're right that award overlap crops up on a semi regular basis but what irks me is when great books are ignored by NBA such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which won the Pulitzer that year),Olive Kitteridge(another Pulitzer winner) or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. For once,I would like to see the NBA select a few nominees for Best Fiction that more than a handful of people have heard of.

    Nothing against the previous winners but I don't think it would so bad if a slightly more popular but just as literary title made it in there.

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  3. @Amy - Thanks for pointing out the Tournament of Books Award! Glad to hear you're enjoying it. I actually do like historical fiction, so it's turning into a must-read for me, I think.

    @lady t - Yeah, for whatever reason, the NBA seems to enjoy selecting only the most obscure novels no one has read - this year, especially! Even though I wasn't a fan of the Oscars move from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominations, seems like the NBA seems to at least consider a similar strategy so as to become relevant again!

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  4. I'm also in the process of reading "Wolf Hall" by which I mean I've read the first 100 pages, and haven't picked it up in over 2 weeks. I don't know if I'm just not in the right mood for it, but I look forward to the day that I am because what I did read was awesome.

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  5. I have Wolf Hall on my shelf but haven't read it yet. I'm hoping to get to it soon. I've been discovering some great books by reading Pulitzer winners this year. I've yet to run into a stinker (but I'm sure its only a matter of time).

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  6. I really wanted to like Wolfe Hall but could not. I did not like the way she wrote her dialog; there were times I had no idea who was talking. I put it down after a couple of chapters. I know a lot of readers who enjoyed her book despite her messy dialog but I could not. I do not want to have to think while reading.

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  7. I read Wolf Hall last year and I didn't really care for both the writing and the treatment of the subject. I did finish it though for the dollops of history lessons it furnished me.

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  8. Im completely put off Wolf Hall but the size and some of the not so great reviews Ive read. I think its a book where you really have to be in the mood to read it.

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  9. @last 5 commenters - looks like it's 3 to 1 against Wolf Hall, with one abstention (Holly). But that one vote is still enough to keep me interested! ;)

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  10. Hi lovey blog, I`m a new follower

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  11. I read Wolf Hall when it first came out before it was on sale in the US. Loved it. Absolutely. And the scuttlebutt is that she's coming out with a sequel. For years now I've been reading all of the books on the Booker Longlist as soon as it's announced, and for years now I've always got the winners wrong, except this past year when I thought it should go to Wolf Hall. Let me also recommend to you The Glass Room, which was my second place choice (if there were such a thing).

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  12. Well, I am one of those readers who is a little baffled by how prize worthy Wolf Hall has apparently become (my review is here). I really didn't like the book - it felt like Mantel wrote it specifically to win a prize based on her unusual style of writing it. It was unwieldy, confusing, and at times, downright boring. I also read The Children's Book by AS Byatt - and in comparing the two felt like Byatt got ripped off by the Prize judges.

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