Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Man Booker Ramp Up

The arduous Man Booker Prize process is underway. For the uninitiated, the Booker is awarded each October to a full-length novel by a citizen of the Commonwealth, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. I’m not sure exactly what "citizen of the Commonwealth" means, but I do know the prize is open to authors from Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, and India (but not the U.S.). Beginning in January, the Man Booker judges (there are four of them) are expected to read 115 books or so in the space of about 6 months and must decide a longlist of 12 or 13 books by the end of July.

Michael Portillo, chair of the judges panel for 2008, has this to say about the process:
[The books] began to arrive in earnest in March and April, literally by the sackful, the Post Office sending out a van each time as the loads were too heavy for its foot soldiers. … [T]he only thing we judges need to decide right now is whether we think a book should be on the longlist. Is it in the top ten per cent? There is no doubt that some titles just stand out. You could discuss criteria and put ticks in boxes against 'plot', 'characterisation' etc but it would miss the point. Some books have a combination of qualities that make them special and that is evident.
It’s not unusual to see traces of madness among the judges during the intense reading time leading up to the longlist announcement. This year is no different. Alex Clark, one of the four judges, appears to have a tenuous hold on her sanity in the face of such intensive reading:
Necessity has made a hermit of me of late …. For months now, every bus journey, solitary supper and early bedtime has been accompanied by a soundtrack of quietly turning pages, the only way to tackle the immense reading load that comes with judging a literary prize. … [O]ne begins by concocting delicious miniature casseroles and ends by eating toast out of a bowl with a comb …. [Q]uite quickly, one starts to regard personal grooming as an oppressive Western construct. Added to which, when one is truly lonesome, it is perfectly normal to conduct conversations - out loud, mind you - with imaginary television interviewers.

1 comment:

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