The annual Books Are My Bag Readers Awards is the first award for books in which the shortlist is curated by bookstores and compiled purely from recommendations from actual readers. With more than 50,000 votes cast online and in bookshops this year, this is a growing competition involving many renowned books and authors. As Alex Berry, the Managing Director of National Book Tokens, commented these awards provide an important opportunity for books “which might not have been recognised by other book rewards” to receive well-deserved acknowledgement for their popularity amongst readers.
This year, the Reader’s Choice Award was presented to Nikesh Shukla for his book, The Good Immigrant, beating stiff competition (including major league works like The Cursed Child and The Girl on the Train) to claim the top public vote.
The Good Immigrant features a collection of essays, written entirely by emerging BAME authors (BAME stands for Black Asian and Minority Ethnics and is used to refer to non-white members of the UK). Each essay focusses, in the words of Shukla himself, on “what it means to be a person of colour” in present-day Britain.
To make it possible to publish the book, Shukla placed a listing on crowd funder publisher, Unbound. The target was met in just three days, backed by pledges from a number of authors including David Nicholls, Evie Wyld and – perhaps most notably – J.K Rowling, who donated a total of £5,000 to the cause.
Despite the idea of a post-racial Britain, studies reveal that throughout the country, the likelihood of living poverty is perceptibly higher for non-white members of society. Inspired by the discrepancy between alleged racial equality and reality, Shukla put together the book to bring the problems of minorities in the UK, which are so frequently overlooked, into the public eye. The award-winning writer, who is no stranger to tackling the issues of diversity in the UK, shows what it is like to be an outsider in a country that “doesn’t want you…[and] doesn’t accept you.” Throughout the work, topics concerning why immigrants travel to Britain in the first place, what it means to be mixed-race and the difficulty of belonging are tackled poignantly by different BAME writers. British Pakistani actor, Riz Ahmed – who starred as tech mogul Aaron Kalloor in the film Jason Bourne (2016) and is due to star in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – was just one of the contributors to The Good Immigrant. He spoke about his past experiences of travelling for work and frequently being stopped at airport security to be questioned about his intentions in ways white people rarely are.
After the winner was announced, in an interview with The Bookseller Shukla commented that “to win a book that has been voted for by readers is the best thing because…it’s great to win a prize that has been voted for by critics and fellow authors…but ultimately what we want is readers…”. The emphasis on public opinion is a major and unique factor of the Books Are My Bag Awards, making this prize a particularly notable achievement.
The point of the work was to raise awareness of racial issues and subsequently encourage acceptance among the races. Despite his accomplishment, Shukla was adamant that the book’s success should not cause the publishing industry to become complacent; the victory of one book featuring coloured writers does not resolve years of racial inequality. In what Alan Staton (head of marketing and communications at The Booksellers Association) described as a ‘turbulent’ year, the support received by the public is certainly encouraging. If anything, it proves that this country is heading in the right direction.