Monday, October 08, 2012

Four Non-Fiction Awards

With the influx of shortlists this fall, I usually focus on the fiction awards since that is what I tend to read. However, there are several non-fiction awards that are worth mentioning.

I don’t have anything against non-fiction, and I like really good non-fiction, but I prefer fiction in most cases. Simply, I have an infinite list of books to read, and I will choose fiction over non-fiction 99% of the time. However, every once in a while a non-fiction title will catch my eye and I will pick it up (usually reading it alongside a novel I am into at the time). I usually read books about music, literature or sports - Jonathan Lethem’s Fear of Music, The Library at Night by Manguel and Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running are a few examples. I am intrigued by biographies of writers. I like reading about music, and fans of music. Nick Hornby and Lethem are great examples of this. I also like books about baseball - Moneyball was great, so was The Boys of Summer.

But these are just my tastes. Apparently, non-fiction has experienced a redefinition in the last decade, moving from factual reporting to creative non-fiction. Not “creative” like James Frey, but creative as in imaginative prose. Writers are adding narrative to works of non-fiction in a way that hasn’t really been done before. The stories will continue to be interesting, but writers themselves are generating a following, regardless of what they write about - Michael Lewis is one such writer, or Malcolm Gladwell, or Bill Bryson.

The increase in non-fiction writing awards reflects this shift. The Governor General’s Literary Awards have always celebrated non-fiction, but new awards, such as The Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction, or the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, have brought more attention and prestige to non-fiction writers.

If you are a fiction reader and want to expand your reading list, the prize shortlists are good places to start. Not only will the subjects be captivating, the writing will be at a high level. There’s no reason to hang on to the stereotype of dry non-fiction writing.

The Hilary Weston Prize announced its shortlist on September 25th. Like the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the prize celebrates Canadian non-fiction over the last year. The GGs were announced last week, and the Charles Taylor Prize is handed out in the Spring.

Another non-fiction award shortlist was announced this past week. The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was created in 1997 and is one of Britain’s richest literary awards. It is open to books published in the UK, but not necessarily by UK authors, which allows writers in English from other countries to be considered for the prize. This year’s shortlist features Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis, a Canadian author. This book is also nominated for the GG award, and was a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize in 2012. By all accounts, this trifecta is remarkable. Davis’s book details George Mallory’s attempt at Mount Everest following the Great War. Perhaps this shall be added to my to be read list this year - it is certainly getting enough acclaim to warrant a glance.

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