New Booker rival announced

I was interested to see today that a new Literature Prize is being established, possibly from next year, with the intention to rival the Man Booker Prize. I wasn’t aware of the controversy about the Booker apparently prioritising readability over artistic achievement. The two shortlisted books I’ve read so far have certainly had plenty of artistic achievement, and overall I think the Booker has done a good job over the years of selecting some of the best novels to read. I was also pleased to see that, on the longlist particularly this year, there was more diversity and inclusion of smaller publishers than usual. So as a reader, I’m not sure of the need for a new prize.

Nevertheless, as a writer, I’m all for the idea of more prize money being given out to writers 🙂 So welcome to the world, Literary Prize! May I win you one day. On a more serious note, I do like the idea of establishing a standard of excellence, with the judging panel influenced by what they call the “French model” of a permanent “academy” of judges, rather than the Booker’s system of appointing quite varying panels each year. It’s quite old-fashioned, and some would say elitist, but I personally like the idea of a body of experts producing a view on the best novels of the year, especially since there are so many avenues these days for us to be more democratic and agree or disagree, pour scorn or praise on their decisions.

What do you think? Has the Booker lost its old priorities of excellence, as the Literature Prize founders claim? Is it a good thing for it to have a rival? Do you follow literary prizes closely, or tune them out? Do they affect your reading choices?

Read my reviews of Booker-shortlisted books Half Blood Blues and The Sense of an Ending.

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There are 7 comments

  1. This is interesting news, Andrew! More prizes for writers is definitely wonderful! It is interesting that there is a controversy that the Booker Committee is looking at readability over artistic achievement while shortlisting. I read the article at the link you have given, and found it quite interesting. I was also quite surprised at the absence of Alan Hollinghurst’s book from the final Booker shortlist. But the article is also vague about who will be part of the judges panel for awarding the new literary prize. Something tells me that the same kind of people will end up being there, because agents, publishers, academics, public personalities all want a part in the decision-making.

    I remember reading about the James Tait Black memorial prize, which is older than the Booker prize, where the shortlist and the winner are decided by the Professor of English literature in the University of Edinburgh with help from the Ph.D students. I have always been puzzled on why the Booker prize has a bigger brand than the James Tait Black memorial prize. Also, these days because of the international name recognition that the Booker has, literary prizes from other regions are informally known as Bookers – for example there is the Arab Booker and the Russian Booker. It will be interesting to see how the Booker folks tackle this new challenge.

  2. Great point about the James Tait Black prize, Vishy! It hardly gets any attention, and yet it’s been around since 1919. I suspect, sadly, that it’s because it’s an academic institution and doesn’t have a lot of money to market itself, whereas the Booker is sponsored by Man Group, which has a market capitalisation of £4.5 billion. The prize fund is also larger, at £50,000 versus £10,000. For all the talk about excellence and standards, I think any new prize will have to grapple with the issue of funding if it wants to dislodge the Booker.

    Are prizes in other countries held in such esteem as here in the UK? I remember when Aravind Adiga won the Booker in 2008, his publisher immediately rushed through a 50,000-book print run – this for a book that had only sold a few thousand until then. The impact is huge.

  3. Have you read the comments to the article? Oh boy, same old argument, and yet it never seems to get any less vicious, over the perception of ‘readability’ in books and what it means. Whether a reader prefers fast-read or slow-read texts is purely a matter of taste, I think, and yet it is always dredged up as a barricade between elitist critics and salt of the earth ordinary people. One thing’s for sure: no writer ever produced a book that s/he considered to be unreadable. It’s such a silly argument and yet so hypnotic. If this prize goes ahead, I guess it will be rehearsed countless more times….

  4. @Andrew Blackman

    Yes, funding for the new prize definitely will be a huge issue. I hope the administrators of the prize are able to rope in sponsors. The Russian and Arab Booker prizes seem to be supported by the Booker Prize Foundation, which is quite interesting!

    I remember Aravind Adiga’s book coming out of nowhere and winning the Booker prize a few years back.

    I hope the James Tait Black Memorial prize gets higher visibility. When I checked the list of prize winners, it reads like the who’s who of 20th century English literature.

  5. Hi litlove,
    I read the article shortly after it came out so there weren’t many comments, but the ones that were there did depress me. I find that of most articles, though – on blogs, they’re usually constructive because it’s more of a personal space, but on a newspaper or magazine site, people seem to feel that anonymity gives them the opportunity to say things they’d never say in real life.

    Hi Vishy, you’re right – the James Tait Black prize certainly has a lot of great winners, but doesn’t get the attention. Reading the winner list would certainly be a great experience!

    Thanks for visiting, Celawerd. Do people pay much attention to the Booker Prize in the US, even though American writers are not eligible to win?

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