This is from the Elegant Variation: an interview with John Freeman, the president of the National Book Critics Circle who has also published book reviews from time to time in the Times Union (and, yes, I am a member of the NBCC).
But to get to the point of your question, we should care about awards first and foremost because they help us decide what to read. There is an obscene number of books being published every year, every month, and awards are like these giant, all-reading, all seeing friends (we hope), which can whisper in your ear and say, hey, you gotta read this.
To stay valuable, though, they have to pick good books. They have to get it right, to put it crudely. I like to think the NBCC has got it right often enough to earn readers’ and booksellers trust. We awarded Toni Morrison long before the Nobel committee got to her, and Edward P. Jones before the Pulitzer tipped him. We awarded W.G. Sebald and John Cheever and Louise Erdrich when Love Medicine was passed over by other prizes and Frederick Seidel before he began to gather the cult following he has now. Richard Powers was a finalist four (!) times. We’re the only book prize organization to highlight the brave work of Robert Fisk or William T. Vollmann for Rising Up and Rising Down. None of our judges are paid. We do this because we love it and so the lists you see are the distillation of enormous passion and respect for the work that goes into writing a biography, a collection of poems, a novel, or, say, a 3000 page “essay” on violence.
For the complete interview, go here.