And the Winner Is...
We on an award tour...
Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question won the Man Booker Prize. (Think of it as the British National Book Award, except people pay attention to it.)
However, the commentary surrounding the award is more interesting than the winner.
Salon says that Booker is the best of all literary awards because of its selection process, which includes more than professional writers:
There’s a lot to be said for including the civilian perspective, which is just what the Booker does by routinely bringing in nonwriters as judges -- not as the only judges, but as an essential part of the mix. The book world is perpetually in danger of becoming too insular, of speaking only to itself. A literary culture in which the only people who read novels are other novelists is neither healthy nor, ultimately, sustainable. Any literary prize that wants to be valued by a wide variety of readers must, like the Booker, be willing to return the favor.
Meanwhile, former Booker jurors told The Guardian about the occasionally iffy judging that happens behind the scenes. Samples:
1992 Victoria Glendinning
Every book on our shortlist had one passionate supporter and one furious antagonist. When at the final meeting we locked horns over the frontrunners, it was suggested that we should reach our decision by taking into account second choices - proportional representation.
1995 Ruth Rendell
I used to lie and say I read every word of every book. The truth is that I did my best, but I am a judicious skipper.
1997 Jason Cowley
I believed then as I do now that the Booker is essentially a jamboree, little more than a kind of sport, with its own roster of winners and losers. It shouldn’t be dignified or taken too seriously.
Meanwhile, MobyLives talks about problems behind the selection of the “Not the Booker” prize.
The “Not the Booker” prize was awarded in a purely democratic fashion and like most democracies it was far from amicable–indeed, it often turned downright nasty. Sam Jordison, the event’s moderator, lone literary critic, and sole authority figure was so displeased with the initial Not The Booker” shortlist that he called for a recount in hopes that another, more conventional, list of titles be considered. When the original shortlist was again selected, Jordison proceeded to write scathing reviews of each title, his critical tone wavering between vague dismissal (”I was less than convinced by this story of family dysfunction and feline fantasy.”) and snide condescension ( “Written for teenagers – one hopes – this novel reminded me why I avoided such books even as an adolescent.”).
Finally, National Book Award nominees have been named. Naturally, I haven’t heard of any of them except for Mockingbird.
(No, in case you were wondering, there’s no Franzen in sight.)
-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com