Friday, October 14, 2011

a new literary award?

So this news is a bit old, but I just discovered it:  I suppose that all the hoopla concerning this year's Booker Prize judges and their longlist submissions and shortlist omissions made an impression -- I just read that a new literary prize called simply "The Literature Prize" is now a reality. Below is the article in full, taken from The Bookseller.

 While I'm all about readability -- face it -- there are some books that I've given up on -- , my take on a literary award is that it should be based on literary merit, not just how easy a book is to read.  But unlike some people, I think there's plenty of room outside of the "literary fiction" label for books of other genres to be included in awards for good literature.  A couple of years ago I read a book called Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts that was considered science fiction, but which I thought had literary merit as well.  And it was readable!

anyway, here's the article. Go to the website and read the comments, especially from John Self, one of my favorite book reviewers on the web.

New Literature Prize to establish "standard of excellence"

A new literary award, The Literature Prize, has been set up to "establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence", with the advisory board claiming that the Man Booker Prize no longer does the job.

The board, for which agent Andrew Kidd of Aitken Alexander is spokesperson, said the prize "will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of these expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition", with judges selected in rotation from an academy of experts in the field of literature.

"For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement," the board stated.

"We believe though that great writing has the power to change us, to make us see the world a little differently from how we saw it before, and that the public deserves a prize whose sole aim is to bring to our attention and celebrate the very best novels published in our time."

The Literature Prize, for which funding is "currently" being procured, will be awarded to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year, with the writer's country of origin not a factor.

Authors including John Banville, Pat Barker, Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay, Nicole Krauss, Claire Messud, Pankaj Mishra and David Mitchell are cited as supporters, as are "numerous people in the publishing industry".

This year's shortlist for the Man Booker has drawn criticism for its omission of much-praised novels including Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and Edward St Aubyn's At Last, with the judges saying "readability" had been high on their list of priorities in making their choices.

Chair of the judges Stella Rimington poured scorn on critics of the shortlist in the Guardian last week, saying: "It's pathetic that so-called literary critics are abusing my judges and me. They live in such an insular world they can't stand their domain being intruded upon."


  1. A very interesting debate... I will have to be more careful next time I describe a book as 'easy to read' in one of my reviews! ;)

  2. That's another issue I hadn't thought of -- what different people say is easy to read varies on the individual. This book I'm reading now, for example, 12 Who Didn't agree is imho very easy to read, but I like history and politics. Someone who doesn't may find it less readable. Another example is Visitation, by Erpenbach. I found it very readable (again a novel based on hiistory) once I figured out what the author was doing, but other people I know thought it was difficult and didn't have a clear enough story. I loved that book, mainly due to its literary appeal and the way the events mirrored history. So the question really is, what defines "readability?"

  3. Great post. Missed all the hoopla about this in past months. Readability, I think, might mean "not difficult to read." For instance, have you ever read any Richard Powers books? His stuff I love, but every time he publishes a new one I have to swallow hard and try to find a quiet period of time in which to even begin. His stuff is the opposite of what I would call "readability." However, his work has exceptional literary merit.


Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.