Friday, July 11, 2008

Does Rushdie's Midnight's Children add value to the Booker Prize?

Much is made of the fact that Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children has, for the second time in history, been judged the best ever winner of the Booker prize. [Link]

Victoria Glendinning, a member of the panel that drew up a list of 6 books for the shortlist, said that "the readers have spoken - in their thousands. " That is right, the honor was decided by a public vote via the internet and SMS text messaging (with a small charge).

I was rooting for Disgrace knowing that its author, J.M. Coetzee, stands no chance against the celebrity figure in Rushdie. I did not even dare contemplate J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur because public popularity contests are usually skewed against dead people. (Farrell passed away in 1979). Well, at least the others got the honor of being shortlisted. It seems like that is not a given any more.

Midnight's Children may be a fine piece of work. Yet I cannot help but wonder if the internet-based voters (a self-selected population) really read all six books on the shortlist before they voted for their favorite.

According to John Mullan, another judge in the panel that drew up the shortlist:

...the value of the Best of the Bookers is wider than its simple identification of a single winner: “It looks at what qualities of books survive the fashion that gives them their temporary celebrity.” [Link]

Given that there were only about 8,000 public votes in all (and 36% or 2,880 votes went to Midnight's Children), that seems like a tall claim. But this can be put to test very soon--after all, we are only 10 years away from the next major anniversary of the birth of the Man Booker Prize.

The books may all be good but the award is beginning to sound cheap.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Like me, if you happen to be one of the few people in the internet world who hadn't heard of Dancing Matt until today, you are in for a charming treat. Matt Harding seems to have a quirky writing style and a quirkier dancing style. But in the third version of his simple but original and creative video 'Where the hell isMatt?' he has cemented his reputation for excellent taste in music. The lyrics are from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore; vocals by Palbasha Siddique, 17. You can read more about the music, lyrics and Siddique here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cheated out of being shortlisted

Imagine you have worked hard for several years to produce a collection of short stories and it has been nominated for a top prize. You are hoping to make the shortlist and would welcome the accompanying perks: publicity in newspapers, increased sales, prestige of calling yourself a shortlisted author and having your name attached to the historic record of the prize. But then you read this:

The judges for the Frank O'Connor award have dispensed with the ritual of issuing a shortlist, announcing today that Jhumpa Lahiri has won the world's richest honour for a short story collection. The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner, and have awarded Lahiri the €35,000 (£27,000) prize. ...

"With a unanimous winner at this early stage we decided it would be a sham to compose a shortlist and put five other writers through unnecessary stress and suspense," explained the award's director, Pat Cotter. [Link]
I don't know about you, but I would feel cheated out of a potential recognition that doesn't come around very often. Especially since some of the nominated books this year may actually be better than the winning book from another year, considering that the quality varies from year to year.