Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Who cares about the Booker Prize?

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When Patrick McGuinness's debut novel The Last Hundred Days was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in July it had sold 64 copies. By September it was nudging 4000 sales.

The previously unknown English writer didn't make the six-book shortlist, but his experience does illustrate the power of the £50,000 prize, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow morning.

There's been so much controversy about this year's choices that a rival group in the UK has announced it is creating a new competition, The Literature Prize, because it believes the Booker "now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement".

Andrew Kidd, the agent leading the charge for the new prize, told the Guardian that the Booker was too lowbrow and should be an "utter snobfest".

The chair of the Booker judges, Stella Rimington, whose own spy thrillers are in no danger of making the longlist, argued that the aim of the competition was to appeal to the "average intelligent reader".

It's not a new debate. Twenty-five years ago author Julian Barnes called the Booker "posh bingo" and declared that the judges no longer had literary pedigree. This year Barnes is tipped to win the prize so perhaps his views are softening, as his shortlisted book The Sense of an Ending (our October feature read) zooms up the charts. "It's much better to be on the list than off," he told the BBC.

Snobfest or not, the prize is evidently a useful tool for most of you (as it is for me). Our October reader question - about whether competitions such as the Booker influence your reading choices - drew a record number of answers.

Two-thirds of you declared (most with enthusiasm) that literary prizes did influence you.

A common comment was that they were a useful filter to ensure you spent wisely your precious reading time - and money! The rest of you either didn't take any notice of prizes - many preferring personal recommendations - or treated them with caution.

Leah from Papamoa says she always looks for books recognised by the Booker. "I've just had great luck with them - they are generally beautifully written, a little different and always memorable."

Kevin from Christchurch says literary prizes influence his choices "in the same way as a prize-winning wine does. It's been judged as a winner and my curiosity then takes over".

Centaine from Dunedin says the Booker gives him a good starting point to find new books, authors and genres.

"Previous winners of literary prizes were so far out of my normal reading zone that I almost didn't read them at all but I am so glad I did. Just because it's not exactly what I normally read, it doesn't mean I won't enjoy it!"

A few of you enjoy pitting yourselves against the judges. Lorain of Glenfield says, "I like to see if I agree with the judges, who are by and large an interesting, intelligent and diverse group of people who also love reading and books."

Suzanne of Onetangi says that even if she doesn't enjoy reading a particular winning book she will still enjoy pondering why it won.

Christine from Whangarei was gloriously blunt. She said prizes helped her narrow her reading choices. "When you get to my age why waste time on reading crap?"

The sceptics among you are wary of reading too much into it all.

Marina of Dunedin says: "Choosing books is an intensely personal process for me - who to invite into my mind is a serious choice I make based on personal criteria not shared, necessarily, by the Booker judges."

Many thanks for all your interesting comments. Congratulations to Marina Moss, Suzanne Miller and Christine Goyen - copies are on their way to you of our October feature reads, The Sense of an Ending and Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table.

Stop by on Friday afternoon, when we'll post our Q&A with Ondaatje (who won the Booker in 1992 with The English Patient). From next week we'll start to round up the month's adventures in reading.

- Herald online

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