Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Book Award Categories We Wish Existed

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Anne Mai Yee Jansen


Anne Mai Yee Jansen is a literature and ethnic studies professor and a lifelong story addict. She exists on a steady diet of books and hot chocolate, with a heaping side of travel whenever possible. Originally hailing from the sun and sandstone of southern California, she currently resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companion in the sleepy mountains of western North Carolina.

There are so many book awards out there, but how do you decide which ones might be a good match for your reading tastes?

Most avid readers will have heard of the big literary awards like the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. All of these have broad categories such as fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Then there are the regional book awards. I’m talking National Book Award, American Book Award, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize — you name a country or even a state and it’s bound to have its own literary prize.

We’ve finally evolved to the point that there are also book awards that recognize outstanding works of genre fiction. And, of course, we have important awards recognizing the work of marginalized and underrepresented writers.

Yet I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve checked the winning titles or skimmed the short- and long-listed titles for a given book award or category only to discover that none of them suit my fancy. Even the genre awards can’t always hit the mark, and I’m a voracious consumer of all manner of genre fiction.

The problem seems to have its root in the broad focus of your run-of-the-mill book awards. Put another way, isn’t the idea of a “best work of fiction” or “best mystery novel” just tremendously vague? With an estimated 2.2 million books being published worldwide each year, the odds of liking an award-winning book based solely on its genre, region of origin, or author are so slim.

So…what would make for a book award category that might be more successful at leading readers to books they’ll love? I started thinking about all the things that make a book enjoyable to read. I considered characters, reader moods, and even the social aspects of reading to try to come up with a list of categories (and potential winners from the past few years) for book award categories I wish existed.

I hope you enjoy it — maybe it’ll inspire some new book awards. After all, with all the talented writers publishing today, spreading the love can only lead to happier readers!

Dream Book Award Categories & Suggested Winners

Best Feel-Good Novel

Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers for its incredibly lovable characters and gratifying conclusion.

Best Emotionally Empowered Novel

Jenny L. Howe’s The Make-Up Test for its swoonworthy strong female lead and exceptionally supportive love interest.

Cover of The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

Best Engrossingly Weird Book

Roshani Chokshi’s The Last Tale of the Flower Bride for its dark fairy tale charm, unexpected twists, and mysterious characters.

Character You Wish Could Be Your Bestie

Lila Macapagal from Mia P. Manansala’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series, because who doesn’t want a best friend who’s a professional baker and amateur sleuth??

Character You’re Super Glad Isn’t Real

Jay Christos from Cherie Dimaline’s VenCo — that dude is beyond creepy, and his supernatural abilities only make that freakier.

Prettiest Cover to Remove and Put On Your Guilty Pleasure Read to Hide it from Prying Eyes

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau for its vibrantly lush dust jacket. (Bonus: it’s a fantastic read in addition to having a beautiful cover!)

Best Book With a Cat on the Cover

Michiko Aoyama’s What You Are Looking for is in the Library for its intriguing premise (magical librarian whose recommendations solve characters’ life problems). Fair warning: cats don’t actually feature prominently in the book.

cover of Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby

Best Book to Read to Your Cat

Samantha Irby’s Quietly Hostile because I feel certain cats would enjoy Irby’s smart, biting humor (even though she’s writing about human affairs).

Best Book No Movie Adaptation Could Ever Hope to Do Justice To

Andrea L. Rogers’ Man Made Monsters because it’s way too complex, far too well-written, and so amazingly rich that there’s just no way a few hours of screen time could do even a third of what Rogers does in this book.

Best Rage Read

Violet Kupersmith’s Build Your House Around My Body for its powerful female characters, subversion of heteropatriarchy, critique of colonialism, and overall awesome horror elements. So good!

Best Grief Read

TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door for its sensitive yet humorous treatment of mortality. I mean, it’s basically a cup of tea for your hurting heart.

Best Book to Fall Asleep With

Dave Eggers’ The Eyes and the Impossible for its simpler aspects (it’s a middle grade book, after all), thoughtful messages, and enjoyable illustrations.

cover of House of Cotton by Monica Brashears; illustration of a mint green birdhouse with a bright red human heart inside and monarch butterfly perched on top of the house

Best Book to Read in the Middle of the Night

Monica Brashears’ House of Cotton because it’s unsettling in a perfect-for-reading-in-the-quiet-dark (as opposed to a keep-you-up-in-fear) way.

Best Book to Wake Up To

Roselle Lim’s Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club for its gentle humor, fun premise, and whimsical characters.

Book You Think Would Be Fun to Experience as a Character

Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People because it’s absolutely bonkers but everything works out okay in the end.

Best Book to Read to Impress Your Friends/Date/Parents/Postal Worker

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Look At This Blue because it’s impressively smart, terrifyingly relevant, and hugely impactful.

Best Amazing Book That Will Also Make People Leave You Alone

Rachel E. Gross’ Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage because even in this day and age, strangers will cross the street to avoid hearing someone say the word “vagina.”

Don't Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones book cover

Best Book to Read in a Dark, Dark Place

Stephen Graham Jones’ Don’t Fear the Reaper (book 2 in the Indian Lake Trilogy) because as a slasher that takes place during a blizzard, there’s really no better book to be experienced in darkness.

Best Book to Read in a Very Well-Lit Place

Erin E. Adams’ Jackal because this one is so disturbing that you’ll want to leave the lights on. All of the lights.

Best Book to Read in Your Garden

Camille T. Dungy’s Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden for the way it’ll get you to think about gardens in relation to gender and race. Also, it’s almost impossible to read this one without being able to look at flowers.

Best Book to Give to Your Friends

Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence for its great cast of characters, poignant reflections on racism, and messages about humanity and how we treat one another.

Need More Winning Ideas?

If you want a little more info on book awards, we’ve got a handy dandy guide to major book awards to help you with that! On the more local level, you can learn about individual states’ book awards or get some tips on how to host your very own book awards at your local library.