Most of the year's top literary prizes have now been given out but if you're feeling overwhelmed, cynical or a bit weary of the whole circus, then Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes: An Accounting, translated by Carol Brown Janeway, makes for a lovely antidote.
This is not a sour grapes type of book; during his lifetime, Bernhard won all of the top German literary prizes. However his experiences both at the awards ceremonies, the reactions to his speeches, and his musings on the nature and politics of prizes are very amusing. For example, when he won the Georg Büchner Prize (one of Germany's most prestigious literary prizes), he was expected to talk about the famed German writer in his acceptance speech. But while he had the highest respect for him, he felt that there was nothing left to say that hadn't been said before:
I'm taking the money, because people should take every penny from the state which throws not just millions but billions out the window on a yearly basis for absolutely nothing at all, every citizen has a right to it and I'm not a fool. . .I don't believe, I said, that I'm lacking character if I take the prize amount from people I bottomlessly loathe and despise, quite the opposite. To compensate for the humiliation of being given the Small State Prize I should be able to take a trip . . . the twenty-five thousand schillings would give me the opportunity to go to Spain, for example, where I'd never been. If I don't take the money for myself and use it to pay for a trip, I said, it will be thrown to some useless person in revenge, who causes nothing but damage with his creations and poisons the air.Yes, he's grumpy and ungracious at times. But he has a point about the tediousness of being feted by government officials who have no interest in his work, and in one case, don't even bother to greet him at his own prize ceremony. One official actually walks out during his speech in protest (you can later read the speech at the back of the book). I wonder what he would have made of the whole Gaspereau Press/Giller Prize controversy.