Wednesday, November 26, 2014

National Book Awards

So, this might be a little late. It's been a long week. Anyway...

A couple of years ago I didn't pay much attention to who was winning what awards (aside from the Chime/Shine debacle which caused a stir in the blogging world). I would take a minor note of the winners, probably months after they announced it and continue on with my life.

It was when a book I really loved, Where Things Come Back, won both the Printz and the Morris awards and Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races was also nominated for the Printz that I started to take note. It was also that year that I started working in a bookstore so as my enthusiasm about these awards grew so did the number people around me who were also excited.

Which is how I found myself obsessively following the @NationalBook twitter feed last Wednesday night as the winners were announced. WTCB's author John Corey Whaley was shortlisted for his new book Noggin and I needed to know if he won.

I do wish I could have live streamed it, but the twitter feed did a wonderful job of highlighting the important parts of each speech.

Now think what you want about Daniel Handler as a presenter, that wasn't what I took away from what I've seen and read from the awards. There will always be a controversy, as sad as that is.

What stuck with me the most from the awards was the amazing overall love for literature as an art. I feel like so many of the big stories that are published now highlight the publishing world as a business. I'm not saying it's not a business, or that some authors don't write to make money.

The thing is, no one chooses writing as a career unless it is something they love doing. It's not exactly a well paying, get rich quick job. It's something that you have to care about to do well and I think when people get all wrapped up in the business of it, when they do nothing but talk about how this book didn't sell as well as that book so it must not be as good, that they lose sight of the fact that writing is a labor of love.

Wednesday night's ceremony was such a reminder of the importance of story and not sales. That books are an art, no matter what genre they're in.

Plenty of people walked away talking about scandal but what I saw most commented on, and rightfully, was Ursula Le Guin's speech after she was presented with the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her speech was everything that I wanted and everything I feel whenever someone talks about the worth of a book being in the sales alone. If you haven't had the chance to watch it see it below.

But even Ursula Le Guin was introduced by Neil Gaiman who practically gushed on stage over her. He talked about starting to write how much her writing meant to him;
 "Other writers I would copy. I would copy their style. I loved C.S. Lewis. I loved G,K, Chesterton. I would look at how they did it and try to copy it. Ursula, I couldn't figure out how she did it because her style was so clean, her words so precise and well chosen."

And it came down to how her writing impacted him, not how well she sold. In his speech she is never called a bestseller. Instead she is a "giant of literature" because of how much her writing impacted other writers.

If you haven't already watched their speeches watch them now!

Neil Gaiman presents lifetime achievement award to Ursula K. Le Guin at 2014 National Book Awards from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Most of the books aren't these mega blockbuster books. If I didn't work in a bookstore I might not even have known some of the titles or the authors but it's not the sales that are driving the awards it's the writing and that's what I think we need.

Who cares what the bestsellers are! Look for the books with medals. Look for the books that a friend gushed about because it made them feel something really spectacular. Ask someone who works in the store what the last book that they read that really mattered to them was.

I am not saying buying books doesn't matter (please, please buy books) but also please please remember that there is so much more to a book than whether it was on the New York Times Bestseller list. If you love every book on the bestseller list great but step out of that comfort zone and that guide and try something else.

There is so much to read in the world and so many different things and what matters about all of them is the writing and how much blood, sweat, and tears went into them and whether they can find one person to make an impact on.

So check out one of the NBA winners (John Corey Whaley didn't win but Woodson's book is stunning) and, of course, congratulations to those who did win!

Young People's Literature: Jacqueline Woodson for Brown Girl Dreaming
Poetry: Louise Glück for Faithful and Virtuous Night
Nonfiction: Evan Osnos for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
Fiction: Phil Klay for Redeployment

No comments: