I met someone new today while off in the woods with my hiking group. While I was making some notes about skunk cabbage (I have a friend who's seriously into flora), it came out that I'm a writer. I believe the first thing my new walking companion asked was how many books I'd written. The second thing she asked was, "What awards have you won?"
When I told this tale at dinner, someone asked, "Was that rude?" I don't know. I wasn't offended, but I was...stunned. I was able to cobble together some award-like facts about my writing, so I wasn't left feeling humiliated by any means. But I kept thinking, Is this how people think about writers, writing, and books? I realize that one person isn't statistically significant and this poor woman whom I know felt uncomfortable as a newbie to the group was just trying to make conversation, but I wondered if she were representative of the public.
I think she might be because I believe ours is a culture that's overly fixated on winners. It's true in all fields, but with books the race to identify and promote the "best" (assuming we even know what that is) in all kinds of categories means that we miss out on so much that's creative and exciting and new. Already bloggers and listserv members are beginning to speculate about next year's big kidlit winners, narrowing the field and sucking attention from thousands of fine books that aren't making it to the top of the heap, for whatever reason. This desire to hunt for winners can actually limit the reading experience. While we're chasing after the next big thing, we're not even noticing the books that would have been the perfect match for us.
As a writer, I think awards are certainly nice, and I'm happy to pick up whatever I can. But as a reader, I like going rogue. In fact, all the serious readers I know I would probably describe that way. They're familiar with awards, but they've learned to take them with a grain of salt. They're feral readers.
A couple of us walkers do discuss books while we're out in the woods. (One walker/reader went to hear Marilynne Robinson speak last night.) If we have a chance for book talk with our newbie group member, we'll try to encourage her to go wild with her reading.
Today's Training Report: As you may have guessed, except for acquiring some material on skunk cabbages (as well as some juicy stuff about jack in the pulpits), I didn't do much today. I was able to spend some time researching journals for possible short story submissions. But I ran into the same problem I often run into when I do that--I only like a fraction of the stories I read. Or try to.