Catalog 116, Introduction

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A Note About This Catalog

A catalog of award-winning books and writers really needs no explanation, or the explanation seems so obvious as to scarcely be worth articulating. But it's noteworthy to recognize one easily-overlooked fact: an award is intended as a recognition of special merit; however, it also confers a special status on the book selected, ensuring that it will be remembered over the years. This two-fold nature of literary awards is of particular interest in terms of collectibility: award winners are, over time, among the books that retain their collectibility to a degree greater than most, both because they were significant and accomplished to begin with and because they are memorialized as such by virtue of the award.

The Nobel Prize is a special case, in terms of literary awards. Each Prize is, in effect, a "lifetime achievement" award, rather than being tied to a specific work. As a result, one finds that the entire body of work of a Nobel Prize winner is recognized by the award. In this catalog, we've included works by Nobel winners, whether or not the individual book ever won an award.

The second component of this catalog -- letters -- is in some ways the opposite of the first: letters are not meant to be public as published works are. Whereas the rest of the catalog is devoted to winners of awards -- the most "external" type of acknowledgement and recognition a writer gets -- the letters are predominantly more internal and private. One can get a glimpse behind the scenes -- at the writer's struggle and support, or of the element that made a writer's published work great: the García Márquez letter in this catalog gives a picture of his greatness-to-come; the Kerouac letter to his girlfriend has the same kind of jazz-inspired riffs as his best published writing. While one can seldom hope to purchase a manuscript of an acclaimed and collected author, letters do turn up and represent a piece of original writing by the author that is unique and often revealing.

The number of literary awards given out every year in the English-speaking world is pretty extraordinary: in the mystery field alone, there are the Edgars, the Shamus Awards, the Macavity Awards, the Anthony Awards, the Agatha Awards -- each of which is given for best novel, but also in such categories as "best first novel," etc. In "mainstream" literature, there are the National Book Awards but also the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and various others. In England, there are -- in addition to the Booker Prize, which is the most well-known literary award in the U.K. -- also the Whitbread Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and others. Collecting all award winners would be a daunting task; even collecting all the winners of a single award can be challenging enough: there are usually a few "stoppers" that are exceedingly scarce even if they're not worth a great deal of money.

Still, the rationale for collecting award winners is clear enough: they represent a tiny, tiny fraction of all the books published -- and it is a fraction that has been explicitly selected for excellence. Collecting award-winning books can be an interesting challenge and one that is likely to be rewarded with an extremely high percentage of books that are, in the end, "keepers" -- books whose intrinsic value that merited the award is still evident, and is ultimately more profound than the award itself.

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