Booker Prize 2012 – controversy free??

According to Sir Peter Stothard,  the chairman of this year’s panel,  the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be “controversy free.” By that he means free from the accusations of ‘dumbing down’  that surrounded last year’s awards when the judges announced they wanted books that had a high ‘readability’ factor.

So how are we meant to interpret the way this year’s prize will be determined?

Some academic heavyweights have been brought into the judging panel to lend gravitas but the figures from the entertainment world are still in evidence – presumably to ensure that the reading tastes of the ordinary man/woman in the street can still be reflected. Does that mean we will end up with a list of books that people actually want  to read – or feel they should read so they can keep up with conversation around the supper party table in some leafy London suburb?

The judges undoubtedly have  a difficult balancing act ahead of them –  if they choose books the academy world loves but are deemed ‘difficult’ to read, the sales boost much desired by publishers, will not materialise. Sales of the 2011 shortlisted titles – a list considered to have a higher ‘readability’ factor than previous years – were more than double the level of the 2010 short listed books.

Stothard’s comments may have been designed to placate the literary cognoscenti and in doing so, fend off the threat that a rival prize  will be established. Until we see the shortlisted titles, we won’t know whether he has succeeded. One thing is sure however, the idea of a controversy free year will not be all that welcomed by the publishing companies representing the authors of shortlisted titles. For them, all controversy (which translates into column inches in print or electronic ink) represents free exposure for their product. The greater the level of controversy, the more the reading public could feel compelled to go out and actually buy the book even if it’s merely to find out what all the fuss is about.

So a year in which the shortlist doesn’t attract comment, will not please the commercial interests that encircle award schemes like the Booker; the Orange Prize and the Costa Book Awards to the increasingly close tie up between entertainment world and books (think Oprah Book Club; Richard and Judy etc). Maybe Stothard is simply tilting at windmills?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 29, 2012, in Booker Prize and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Readability and literary merit can go together but lots of other things go into choosing the winners of the ManBooker or any other prize. Some people use these prizes as a way to make a wedge between so called “respectable” novels as opposed to those that anybody and everybody would pick up. I think the importance is that people read and that they love it! Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable experience and it doesn’t matter if it has the Man Booke or not. Lots of books are being published everyday that don’t get this high class recognition and some of them are surely worth it.

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    • So you belong to the school of ‘it doesn’t much matter what you read as long as you’re reading something?” I agree to some extent but if what they are reading amounts to chick lit or something more akin to a comic, is there any point?

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      • Sometimes people need to read those kind of books too. We can’t always read highly intellectual books. Not to mention some people only consider certain genre worthwhile reading. I used to think like you when I was at university but as I grew older I realized you can appreciate all types of literature. I say there’s a book for your every mood. I like to keep my horizons open. 🙂

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  2. I really think it’s a mistake to claim that readability and literary fiction can’t be found in the same books. I’ve read several good books from the Booker long and short lists and enjoyed them. I don’t know if last year’s judges missed the mark with the book they chose to win but they certainly did with the type of publicity they created for the prize.

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    • I read an interview with Peter Carey today in which he was pretty scathing about the choice of the word readability as well as the thought behind it.. I’m just wondering why something can’t be both readable and have literary merit. Having just started to read one book that was entirely in Scottish vernacular I know what I would choose!

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