The Good Immigrant has been voted as the British public’s favourite book of 2016 at the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards.
Over 50,000 people voted in the inaugural awards, sponsored by National Book Tokens, with the collection of essays by 21 emerging BAME writers beating competition from several big-name works to take the prize, including The Girl on the Train, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The essay collection edited by author Nikesh Shukla examines race and immigration, painting a picture of what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want or accept you. It was published after being crowdfunded on the Unbound platform and benefited from a £5,000 pledge from J K Rowling.
Alan Staton, head of marketing and communications at The Booksellers Association, said the fact The Good Immigrant was voted as the public’s favourite after such a politically “turbulent” year was “affirming”.
“At the end of a turbulent year, the faith that book-lovers have shown The Good Immigrant and the affection in which it is held, is so affirming,” he said. “It’s the book of the moment in so many ways and I’m delighted that it’s won the inaugural Books Are My Bag Readers’ Choice award.”
After the readers' choice winner was announced, Shukla told The Bookseller: “To win a book that has been voted for by readers is the best thing because, yeah, its great to win a prize that has been voted for by critics and fellow authors and getting a review in well-respected literary pages is great, but ultimately what we want is readers, so to win a readers choice award is just the best feeling in the world.
“The industry will tell you that our book doesn’t deserve to be here, but it does, because it was voted for by readers who want to read it, and then it was a bestseller before it came out by readers who wanted to pay for it and now it was voted by readers to win a massive industry award.”
Contributor Wei Ming Kam said she thought the win “partly demonstrates partly how good we are at social media in getting our readers involved”, but also “how needed and how wanted this book is”.
“Something I wanted to say on stage but didn’t is that I don’t want the publishing industry or any other industry to be complacent just because one book featuring people of colour writers won doesn’t mean to job is done. People want these books, they have readers and they are out there. So I am really happy and it is really important because it shows the audience is out there. We have all had a lot of young people talking to us saying ‘this essay resonates with me’ or ‘I’ve learned something new’, and that is what’s important.”
Himesh Patel, another contributor to the book, added: “I am glad the book has been chosen, especially in a year like this. Very glad.”
Five more authors also received accolades at the event, hosted by British actress and writer Meera Syal at Foyles bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road.
Max Porter won in the fiction category for Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Faber) and Matt Haig triumphed in the non-fiction category for Reasons to Stay Alive (Canongate). Bill Bryson was crowned victor in the Biography and Autobiography category for The Road to Little Dribbling (Black Swan) and Julia Donaldson and illustrator Sara Ogilvie came top of the vote in the children’s category, for The Detective Dog (Macmillan Children’s Books).
Joanna Canon, who recently published The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, was also crowned the best Breakthrough Author (The Borough Press).
Meanwhile, bookshops chose The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail) by Sarah Perry and designed by Pete Dyer as the most Beautiful Book published in 2016.
Alex de Berry, managing director at National Book Tokens, added: “Each of these books is a hugely deserving winner tonight. In many cases these are books which have been extremely popular in 2016, but which might not have been recognised by other book awards. It’s wonderful to see these fantastic and diverse books being celebrated by the people who love books the most: bookshops and readers. For anyone looking for inspiration for what books to buy this Christmas, tonight’s winners would be a fantastic place to start.”