I am sorry that the Booker judges were thrilled to be seen as champions of the jolly good read. I wish they had championed the power of literature instead. The so-called literati aren’t insular – this from a woman who ran the security service – but we aren’t going to apologise for what we believe in either. There is such a thing as art. There is such a thing as literature.
Considering the vast amount of hype around the Man Booker Award (possibly around its hefty prize money, but also because of the drama around it) this is a brave thing to say. Considering the Man Booker has always been seen as an award for high-quality (though perhaps obscure) books, the change in nominees and their subject material is something of a 180 degree spin. In many respects I do agree with Winterson: why should literature (in the most abstract sense of the term) only be something for English literature students at university? Why are the mainstream easy reads getting more marketing and publicity when there are some amazing ‘highbrow’ titles languishing for lack of attention? Personally, I would recommend titles like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Absolutist by John Boyne, The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa and Feynman The Graphic Novel by Jim Ottoviani. These are the kind of titles that challenge and expand rather than just pass the time.
Perhaps part of the problem (and this is what Winterson was challenging) is the attitude of the judges. As mentionedelsewhere at the Guardian, the criteria has become decidedly shallow.
Was Stella Rimington joking when she compared the publishing world with the KGB at its height, thanks to its use of “black propaganda, destabilisation operations, plots and double agents”? …A quick recap for those who have been living under a stone for the past month: this year’s panel has been telling the world that they think “readability” and the ability to “zip along” are crucial criteria for judging books. Literary critics, in return, have suggested that there might be more important things to take into account, such as quality. To back up their argument, the critics have cited this year’s shortlist – which, most seem to agree, was the worst in decades.
While the Man Booker Dozen are still fine books, I still think some room could have been made for interesting material that was more than just ‘readable’. But in the meantime, it is a good starting point for picking holiday reads!