Monday, February 01, 2010

Man Booker Prize does it again!

It was announced today that a Man Booker Prize will be awarded for the year 1970 - when a whole year of books were lost in a changed format. The prize went from celebrating books published in the previous year to books published in the current year. Therefore, the 1970 Booker Prize celebrated books published in 1969, and the 1971 prize celebrated books published in 1971, leaving 1970 in the cold. It only took 40 years to figure that one out.

But I think they're on to something here. The longlist consists of books that were published in that year and are still in print today. This is a key component. There are two factors to consider: first, does the fact that these books are still in print have to do with the author or the book? Is David Lodge's Out of the Shelter still in print because it's a classic read or because David Lodge has worked his way into the canon of modern British literature? On the other hand, how many books published in 1970 may have been kept in print if it had been nominated or won the prize in that year? How many people are going to remember Adam Foulds in 40 years? Will his book still be in print? Will it remain in print because he was nominated? Will he have a multi-book lease on life because of his nomination? How many authors in 1970 did not get that chance?

So my proposal is this: that we only give awards to books 40 years after they are published. Only then will the power of the novel itself will be truly revealed. The author will fight and scratch his or her way through a career based purely on merit, regardless of how many Oprah appearances he or she makes. Then, after 40 years, a panel of people too young to remember the author outside of the novel, will make a decision based on the merits of the individual novel. Of course, if a novel is no longer in print, well, that's an indication that it shouldn't win the prize anyway, right?

Incidentally, my vote for the 1970 Man Booker Prize is The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence

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