India Uncut

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Shortcuts to culture

That's what prizes are, in my view. For example, take literature. It is hard for non-regular readers to navigate their way through the tens of thousands of books released every year, to decide what is worth reading, pick writers whose work they should follow, and so on. Their time and attention bandwidth is limited, and it's much easier to check out the Booker or Pulitzer shortlists, read what is written about those books, pick up something by the latest Nobel Prize winner on the way out of the megastore, and so on. For the layperson -- and they are the bulk of the reading public -- prizes are a filter.

And for those who take books seriously, they will surely not be swayed by prizes, but will read widely for the pleasure of it, and will value serendipity. Literary prizes haven't "replaced the art of criticism," as the strap of Jason Cowley's piece on literary prizes in the Observer seems to suggest, for criticism generally caters to the involved reader, while prizes are a market mechanism to help the irregular reader navigate the maze of choices he is confronted by. They are both filter and lottery, and I think it's a great thing they exist -- even if the results of some prizes make my eyebrows attack gravity -- because without them, less books would be read. And writers would make less money.
amit varma, 7:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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