This question was prompted by the Staunch book international award for thrillers where ‘no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered’. At first blush I was like “yeah, take that literature world!” but upon further review I think the rebuke isn’t one hundred percent deserved. If you’re going to write a thriller probably someone is going to be beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered and if you want people to care it has to be a woman because no one gives a shit about men being murdered. That’s an exaggeration of sorts but it’s true to a large extent. A female victim can elicit sympathy in the reader, a male victim cannot as readily unless they’re a kid.
I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but it’s harder and people don’t like doing things that are hard. Having your bad guy hurt a woman is an easy way to establish that they’re bad and the thing I think is importantto remember is that most books are garbage. Somehow reading has garnered a reputation for moral or intellectual superiority to watching TV (or whatever) but most books are just as vapid and pointless as the Real Housewives of Basketball Wives Island Wives. Wanting them to be better is fine but there’s no reason to expect it. The point is the people writing these crappy books are going to follow the well-established patterns of a million other crappy books because it’s a formula that works. T use an expression I hate they don’t want to reinvent the wheel. If you want to write a book about a man being beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered you need to think independently and throw a little spice in there for it to work and how many authors are going to bother?
I do support the prize (in as much as its possible to care about prizes at all) in the sense that it’s trying to reward those people who aren’t lazy and try to write “better” but the message behind it falls somewhat flat to me. Although perhaps I’m reading too much into it, I’ve done literally no research on it. Maybe there is no message and they’re just encouraging people to try harder. I know there’s also an “award” for the worst sex “scene” in a book given away each year. Reading the “nominees” for that award is good for a chuckle, too much is just sad though.
On to the question – what other very specific literary prizes should there be?
I’d say an award for the best female character written by a male author. Although I have mixed feelings about this. I have long been quoted (by whom?) as saying that dudes shouldn’t write female characters – not ‘character’ characters anyway. Most books don’t really have characters, they have archetypes, and the gender or background or whatever of that archetype doesn’t matter – you could just call them The Protagonist and say nothing about what they look like or where they’re from and it wouldn’t affect the story at all. But some books are about characters and usually when those characters are women and the writer is a man they’re awful. I read a book last year that was decent (I don’t like really hard sci-fi so maybe to someone who does it would be better) but the major detracting factor to me is that the main character was a woman and I found her “character” moments to be wildly unrealistic. I don’t think women look at themselves in the mirror naked as much as male writers think they do.
But Jeremy you write female characters all the time you dirtbag hypocrite. That’s fair, but I don’t pretend that anything I write is good so that’s how I intellectually let myself off the hook for that. I remember years ago when the internet was new I was on a forum where a bunch of people (all dudes) would post their writing and then chat about it. A writer’s workshop if you will (how pretentious) and the feedback was that my female characters were unrealistic because they didn’t talk about their periods all the time. When I said “none of my female friends ever talk about their periods” the response was “That’s all every woman ever talks about.” Point being that I don’t think men (generally) have any idea what goes on in a woman’s life. I don’t really like the axiom “write what you know” but there’s some truth to it.
So I don’t really think that men should write women but why not give an award for if it’s done well?
Another award I would give is for the best non-fiction book where they don’t make the same point over and over and over again. I enjoy reading non-fiction but a lot of books that are meant to teach you something approach that task by saying the exact same thing many, many (many) times. I guess that’s because the key to memory is repetition but it doesn’t make for a good read.
I’d give a reward for the best effort an established author made to dosomething different event if it didn’t work. When I find a new author I like I have the bad habit of reading several of their books in a row, which exposes how similar some authors are all the time and makes me not like them. Christopher Moore is a good example of this for me. I enjoyed the first few books of his I read but after a while it I turned on him becomes it seemed as if his writing was the same joke repeated ad nauseam. Which I realize is my own fault for not spacing them out, but still. If Anne Rice wrote a comedic buddy story that had nothing to do with emo vampire BDSM that should get an award even if it stinks. Because hey, she tried something new.
I’d give an award for the best love story without any sex “scenes”. Unless you’re writing erotica (which you aren’t) get that shit out, it’s awkward 90% of the time and tolerable at best. A story about two people falling in love and their trials and tribulations where I don’t have to read about how pink anyone’s nipples are or what kind of fruit their tits look like would really hit the spot.
I’d give an award for the best fantasy novel that isn’t Lord of the Rings for the 90,000th time. I’d give an award for the best sci-fi novel that isn’t about an intergalactic war where the main character is not a handsome scoundrel who plays by their own rules but has a heart of gold. I’ve given an award for any book that became popular on the level of The DaVinci Code, Twilight, or 50 Shades that wasn’t awful.
In conclusion what I said above.