I feel a little odd linking to an essay on the significance of literary awards while I'm having the time of my life reading nominations for an award myself. But I'm doing it, anyway, because I think Kathryn Hughes has a couple of interesting things to say.
1. "The first thing to say about prizes is that they are, above all, a mechanism for generating publicity. It would cost companies like Costa or Orange [sponsors of English literary awards] millions in advertising to garner the same amount of name-checking; writers, meanwhile, benefit from the publicity their books get when they're in the running." Hughes doesn't have any complaints about that, and neither do I. As so many have pointed out, it's damn hard to get press for a book. I particularly like to hear that books I've never heard of are in the running for awards or have even won them.
2. "Nonetheless, I don't for a minute think that winning a literary prize means a book is objectively better than its rivals. All it means is that on a certain day at a certain time in some anonymous meeting room or other, five well-meaning people reached an agreement that this or that book was really rather good." Absolutely. And, remember, those five well-meaning people can only consider nominated books. Who knows how many "really rather good" books are out there that they never saw because no one nominated them?
The above link comes from ArtsJournal.com.