What Cat said, bearing in mind that Jeff’s healthy mindset is, in my experience, the exception and not the rule. I’ve attended my share of awards ceremonies and, like others in this discussion, been on awards juries; I’ve seen the trembling gratitude of those who win, and the equally palpable despair of those who don’t. All of which is doubly ironic when, to follow up on Liz’s earlier comment, we might ask ourselves who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1947 or 1954, and have no answer readily at hand.
But to shift gears slightly, let’s also not forget about the readers, for whom, as has already been pointed out, awards have their uses. Publishers, too. Whatever Pulitzer Prize winners are still in print no doubt benefit from being able to put “Pulitzer Prize winner” on their covers.
I have a clutch of awards and I enjoyed winning them, but not only do they not make much difference in the long run, they don’t even make much difference in the short run. A week later there you are, back wrestling with whatever you were writing before you got on a plane to go to some other city for the award ceremony. The current book still needs writing. The dog still throws up on the carpet. The dinner still needs cooking. All the sweetnesses or sournesses of daily life remain utterly untouched, and the characters in whatever I’m writing now are the ones I’m living with; the ones in the award story are long gone, like dead relatives.
I’ve been on various panels whose “deliberations” give birth to awards; and I’ve won some awards. The knowledge about the selection crapshoot that one gathers as a panelist, or someone who follows voting patterns in electorate-generated awards, is rationally incompossible with the joy of finding oneself a winner. This could be called cognitive dissonance, or the natural expression of Social Darwinism in a member of a highly aggressive species, or whatever. But I’m probably not exactly alone in feeling I would welcome the chance to experience it all over again. We may not be very good at reality as a species: but we do know how to surf.
I really like being involved in the nomination process because it gives me a kick in the butt to get out there and read everything I’ve neglected to read all year. I love seeing the lists other people put together of fiction that energizes them; I love reading the material and feeling up to speed; I love conversations happening around fiction.
After I do my daily housekeeping/noveling, I’m planning to send in a list of some of my favorite stuff from this year that didn’t get nominated. (Although I’ll say here and now that I’m really surprised there wasn’t more love for Charles Yu! I’ll just have to be extra super excited about his work to make up for it. 😉 )