When I launched the search for a newbooks Book of the Year back in 2002 I thought I’d done well to keep the magazine going for 2 years. If I remember rightly, the award only came about because there was an empty page in the September/October issue that I needed to fill at short notice. And here we are 10 years down the line and newbooks has become the longest period of continuous employment in my career. Which has to be accounted something of an achievement.
You may not have heard of all of them but there are book prizes a plenty out there, each with strict parameters applied to what can be submitted. Until they bowed out earlier this year, Orange had generated thousands and thousands of - free - column inches from their sponsorship of the eponymous prize, simply by not allowing books by male authors.
Being pig-headed – or so I’m told – our award would be different: I was more interested in the reading tastes of the readers of the magazine and, by extension, what was really engaging the many members of reading groups out there. More interested that is than having literary London choose the books they felt I should be reading, that they wanted on my bedside table.
To be fair, organizing a literary prize is a thankless task and requires a lot of money. That’s over and above the prize money. This alone needs to be tens of thousands of pounds before it commands a level of interest OR has to have the Midas touch of a Richard and Judy-style book club. You probably didn’t know – why should you? - those costs are substantially contributed to by the publishers. They it is who are in a desperate bind if they have an especially literary list that year with several potential candidates, all expecting to be put forward. Authors may say they care not a jot for literary prizes but they know all too well the benefits they bring in terms of sales. And woe betide if one author finds out he or she wasn’t submitted while his/her deadly rival was!
I mention this because, in typical newbooks fashion, we broke all the rules.
1 There is no prize money.
2 There are no rules.
Put more simply, all we were after back in 2002 – as now – was what was the best book you’d read this year to date. No restrictions on sex of author, country of origin, when or where it was published. Neither did the genre, whether it were debut, part of a trilogy, a novella or tome make any difference. Just, was it worth others adding to those ‘books I’ve gotta read’ lists?
Looking down the list of past winners below I feel a certain pride in the excellent taste of newbooks readers. I often say to publishers that it can take years for a reading group to get round to fitting their latest runaway success into their forward programme (50 Shades of Grey, anyone?). That’s because there are so many other books waiting for their place; that’s why there are still groups discovering The Poisonwood Bible, the acknowledged best ever reading group book – and it was published in 1998. But that doesn’t mean the individual members don’t know a good book when they see one.
So, now you can see what a charlatan I am it only remains for me to suggest you click on this link - http://www.newbooksmag.com/left-menu/books/book-of-the-year.php - and ask you to nominate your personal book of the year 2012.
There’s a shortlist to follow in our November/December issue where you can give your favourite another nudge. And if it doesn’t make it onto the shortlist then at least you’ll have 10 new strong candidates for your own ‘books I gotta read’ list.
Book of the Year Previous Winners
2011 Room Emma Donoghue
2010 The Help Kathryn Stockett
2009 The Return Victoria Hislop
2008 A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
2007 Suite Française Irène Némirovsky
2006 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
2005 My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult
2004 The Sixth Lamentation William Brodrick
2003 Altered Land Jules Hardy
2002 The Siege Helen Dunmore