My fellow authors are too busy chasing prizes to write about what matters


Amit Chaudhuri in The Guardian:

The idea that a “book of the year” can be assessed annually by a bunch of people – judges who have to read almost a book a day – is absurd, as is the idea that this is any way of honouring a writer. A writer will be judged over time, by their oeuvre, and by readers and other writers who have continued to find new meaning in their writing. The Booker prize is disingenuous not only for excluding certain forms of fiction (short stories and novellas are out of the reckoning), but for not actually considering all the novels published that year, as it asks publishers to nominate a certain number of novels only. What it creates is not so much a form of attention but a midnight ball. The first marketing instrument is the longlist (this year’s was announced last month): 13 novels arrayed like Cinderellas waiting to catch the prince’s eye. (Those not on the longlist find they’ve suddenly turned into maidservants.)

When the shortlist is announced, the enchantment lifts from those among the 13 not on it: they become figments of the imagination. Then the announcement of the winner renders invisible, as if by a wave of the wand, the other shortlisted writers. The princess and the prince are united as if the outcome was always inevitable: at least such is, largely, the obedient response of the press. And the magic dust of the free market gives to the episode the fairytale-like inevitability Karl Popper said history-writing possesses: once history happens in a certain way, it’s unimaginable that any other outcome was possible.

More here.