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The Man Booker Prize would be that guy that says you just “don’t understand Morrissey” and will only drink Peruvian goat’s milk half-and-half decaf soy latte with a dash of Madagascan cinnamon. Despite notable moves in the publishing industry to reduce the elitism of the literary world, the Man Booker remains stoic in its high-brow elitism; this year, the public favourite His Bloody Project – which, ironically, far outsold the actual winner, The Sellout – was another demonstration of the inaccessibility of literary awards. Our opinions, and apparently our purchases, can be easily overlooked in favour of the snobbish opinions of literary critics and those engaged in the exclusive literary sphere. However, the Goodreads Choice Awards offers a chance at democratic redemption.

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From November 1st , thousands of bibliophiles congregated to their laptops to vote for the winners of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016. This year 3,565,560 votes have been cast, spanning genres that are often overlooked in highbrow literary awards, including Graphic Novels and Comics, Food and Cookbooks, and Young Adult Fantasy. To be eligible, the book must have been published in English in the United States between November 16, 2015, and November 15, 2016. Unlike the Man Booker – in which the long-list is selected by the advisory committee – there are opportunities from the long-list to the short-list for books are nominated by write-in recommendations from the Goodreads community. From the beginning of the award selection process to the winner, the Goodreads Choice Awards places public opinion at the forefront of its selection process.

The Goodreads Choice Awards offers a chance at democratic redemption

Just a quick look at the ratings of the past Man Booker Prize winners show that very few earned above 3.5/5 on Goodreads, classing them as barely above average in public opinion. Perhaps the Man Booker is a demonstration of ‘booksplaining’: like mansplaining, the panel guides our opinions with a commanding and condescending correction. “You might not have enjoyed it”, the Award says to the bookish masses, “but trust us, it’s a good book. We would know.” However, to be eligible for the Goodreads award nominees ‘must have an average rating of 3.50 or higher’, which are all based on public ratings of the books.

Amazon’s 2016 Bestseller list shows six food and cookbooks in the top 20, and the Goodreads Choice Award is the only literary award to include a separate category for this genre. Rather than follow the archaic divide between fact and fiction, Goodreads has recognised the popularity of certainly genres and adapted accordingly, reflecting the current literary trends. If the Man Booker is your grandfather trying to work out how to use the telly, Goodreads is building a robot to help with household chores. The future of the publishing industry lies in the hands of the readers; the Goodreads Choice Awards is participating and shaping the way authors are rewarded for their writing.

the increasing popularity of the Goodreads Choice Awards reveals a growing appreciation of the public’s opinion

Literary communities are increasingly becoming a force of influence to the publishing industry, with book bloggers and the ‘bookstram’ hashtaggers increasingly receiving pre-releases as part of the marketing campaign for a new book. Similarly, with more voters than ever before, the increasing popularity of the Goodreads Choice Awards reveals a growing appreciation of the public’s opinion. The award may not carry the £50,000 prize that the Man Booker boasts, but it’s a popularity contest that won’t have book groups snickering about the ‘unreadability’ of the winner.

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Admittedly, the Man Booker isn’t redundant. Its elitism is often farcical, but it upholds a standard that appreciates literary quality and represents intellectual innovation. In its 40 years of running, it has influenced the literary market in ways which could not have been anticipated by its founders (the winners become best sellers in hardback and even later, in paperback). However, this bookish elitism needs to be balanced by public opinion; by those who snatch a chapter on their morning commute, or read a new release in one hand while cooking dinner with the other, or all the occupants of a student house passing around a tattered paperback with their recommendation. Books can be studied and evaluated, but they can also be enjoyed, and the Goodreads Choice Award is unique in placing this evaluation at the forefront of its selection.

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