Bestsellers vs Award winners

I recently came across Roald Dahl’s Matilda again, which i had read as a child. I picked it up, started flipping through and then actually reread it. I know, i know, i should’ve continued reading War and Peace or finished a hanging review on, which i had drafted in Novelr earlier in the week.

You realize something interesting about novels overall? If it’s a bestseller, it’s likely not to be an award winner, or at least not one of those glittery, top-notch types, like the Booker or the Pulitzer. One of my favourites, The Age Of Innocence, won the Pulitzer way back in 1921. But guess what her most popular novel is? Oh, no, not Innocence – the Pulitzer golden egg. It was Ethan Frome.

Now, i’ve never read Ethan Frome, but i daresay it should pale in comparison if parallels were drawn between it and The Age Of Innocence. This is, of course, pure assumption (i must read that book), but on a wider scale bestsellers don’t win awards now do they?

I only suppose the reasons are out there for all to see – bestselling fiction makes money, and in the same way critics scoff at James Blunt’s popularity in the mainstream, so does the literary elite. Then there are the usual set of typical reasons: bestselling fiction is entertaining, does not set out to do anything other than to provide a good 400 pages worth of escapism to readers (hence chick lit and sappy YA novels), does not require intelligent and elegant use of the English language.

Matilda is one such book – it may have won a Children’s Choice award (which is, as the name suggests, chosen and voted for by children) but you can’t say that it has lasting literary value … it’s just enjoyable to read, that’s all.

Now which would i want? To write something so engrossing it hits the bestseller lists for weeks on end, or to write for literary achievement and recognition?


In the meantime, check out the Lulu 2007 Blooker prize – i’m waiting for the nominations to come out and check it all out. ;-) Good times lie ahead.

[Update! Just ran a search and found out that Ethan Frome is available for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Hooray for expiring copyrights! You didn’t hear me say that.]

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