News

New Literature Prize to establish "standard of excellence"

A new literary award, The Literature Prize, has been set up to "establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence", with the advisory board claiming that the Man Booker Prize no longer does the job.

The board, for which agent Andrew Kidd of Aitken Alexander is spokesperson, said the prize "will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of these expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition", with judges selected in rotation from an academy of experts in the field of literature.

"For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement," the board stated.

"We believe though that great writing has the power to change us, to make us see the world a little differently from how we saw it before, and that the public deserves a prize whose sole aim is to bring to our attention and celebrate the very best novels published in our time."

The Literature Prize, for which funding is "currently" being procured, will be awarded to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year, with the writer's country of origin not a factor.

Authors including John Banville, Pat Barker, Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay, Nicole Krauss, Claire Messud, Pankaj Mishra and David Mitchell are cited as supporters, as are "numerous people in the publishing industry".

This year's shortlist for the Man Booker has drawn criticism for its omission of much-praised novels including Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and Edward St Aubyn's At Last, with the judges saying "readability" had been high on their list of priorities in making their choices.

Chair of the judges Stella Rimington poured scorn on critics of the shortlist in the Guardian last week, saying: "It's pathetic that so-called literary critics are abusing my judges and me. They live in such an insular world they can't stand their domain being
intruded upon."

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller comments policy. Comments go direct to live please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive. Report any "unsuitable comments by clicking the links"

I welcome any new literary prize, great to have people celebrating books in any way shape or form.

I would argue though that a book that lacks 'readability' has actually failed artistically.

It is a book, you should be able to read it.

For crying out loud. Andrew Kidd and those involved should be ashamed of themselves. So the latest Booker Prize includes a few thrillers on its shortlist and suddenly Kidd cries foul. How ridiculously snobby - and a kick in the teeth to all authors on the current shortlist (Barnes included).

And how ridiculous of Mitchell to be a supporter given he has been longlisted for the Booker before - for a novel so readable that the Richard and Judy Book Club included it in one of their Summer Reads.

All this Literature Prize does is prove to me that there are still people working in publishing who are more obsessed with a work's literary merit than any sales potential and are more concerned that a novel contains many words of four syllables than whether or not anyone actually enjoys reading it.

The Man Booker is fine as is and I hope this ridiculous Literature Prize dies on its arse through lack of support.

I am sure this has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the fact that Edward St Aubyn (one of Kidd's authors), didn't get on the Man Booker longlist/shortlist this year.

"The Literature Prize, for which funding is "currently" being procured" - yes, well, let's see who's going to stump up for this one.

Exactly, Scott. I'd have thought 'readability' was the most bleedin' obvious qualification in a book. To put anything else first borders on pretentious twattery.

Maybe they can call this "The Sniffy"

"All this Literature Prize does is prove to me that there are still people working in publishing who are more obsessed with a work's literary merit than any sales potential."

Bloody hell, let's hope so!

Don't feel too sorry for Barnes: his view on the prize has been clear from his refusal to get involved with any of it, from the Booker site interviews to the pre-announcement readings and appearances which all the other shortlisted/longlisted authors have done.

"Many words of four syllables" - what a fascinating and extraordinary comment. (I used two words of four or more syllables in that last sentence.) Is this the school of thought which believes that 'great' works of literature have lots of big words? Ever read Kelman, Ishiguro, Coetzee? (To remain simply with authors who have won the Booker.)

"Snobby" is another favourite. I think what it means is to accuse people of caring deeply about literature and of thinking that some books offer better reward than others. I'd certainly plead guilty to that, and I hope Andrew Kidd and the cited authors would too.

But in the end, why care if a prize which doesn't support your own view of literature is established? What harm does it do to you or your own reading choices?

John...

Because I care when some disappointed agent whose author didn't get on the longlist starts bashing the Booker.

And yes I have read Ishiguro, Kelman, Coetzee (over-rated). My point, which you clearly have missed in your desire to patronise, is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Booker Prize. It is simply that this year Kidd has decided to trash it 'cos the shortlist contains a few works with a few thrilling elements. And Kidd can hardly call this year's shortlist "popularist" or criticise it for putting readability over artistic achievement' because two are débutants and three are works by authors who can hardly be called 'bestselling'.

Perhaps, his desire for a new award has something to do with the fact that AAA haven't had an author on the longlist since Scudamore in 2009. (I guess if you publish literary fiction and you don't make the Booker two years in a row best thing to do is moan about the prize, rather than re-assess the kind of stuff you're publishing).

P.S. Love the fact you obviously spent time on thesaurus.com looking up synonyms for "intriguing" that contain four syllables or more.

The whole issue about the word "readability" is that people use it to promote their choice of books when other people don't think their choice is very good. Not that literary "snobs" - or in John Self's words, people who care deeply about literature - actively seek out "unreadable" books in order to impose them on people in some de haut en bas education of the masses.

It's just a silly, silly word used as a euphemism. When people claim they want readability, what they really mean is easy-to-readability. Nothing wrong with that - but not, surely, what the Booker was originally set up for, and not the type of book that is currently under-catered for in newspapers, magazines, other prizes, on telly etc.

PS Nobody else think it's slightly mad that you can't have this conversation without being accused of "twattery", "arsery" and pretension within about two minutes?

I didn't even know who Andrew Kidd was when I read this piece, and I certainly don't keep count of which agents have had titles on the Booker lists and which haven't (!). But he is justified in calling into question some aspects of this year's judging process, on the basis that two of the judges have explicitly said that they wanted to seek out what they called 'readable' books to the exclusion of what they call books that people 'admire'. This by definition is prescriptive and wrong, because if you're charged with finding "the best book of the year" within the eligibility criteria - as the Booker judges are - then some of the right candidates are going to be 'readable', some are going to be 'admirable', others might be both, and to narrow your sights before you've even begun can lead only to the sort of criticism which has been levelled at the Booker this year.

That's a fair point - to state before you've even dipped into the 180 submissions that you're looking for "readability" and will therefore discount anything slightly taxing is ridiculous. But I still do genuinely think Kidd is over-reacting - particularly if next year's panel of Man Booker judges includes, say, Sarah Churchwell, Will Self, James Daunt, Mary Beard and is chaired by Stephen Fry. Then you could be left with a Man Booker Prize shortlist consisting of "high art" heavy-weight literary epics and a Literature Prize shortlist that consists of, err, exactly the same books. In which case the Literature Prize (and anyone associated with it) could very easily become a laughing stock.

This is all so wonderful and funny and had made my day. Who'd have thought Andrew Kidd had such a sense of humour. x

I'm unclear why readable should mean easy to read, I think that is your interpretation Alex, not the current Booker judges. The idea that books, which are somehow hard to read, are better than other books is a nonsense. If an author can't express it in a readable manner then they have no business being a writer. Most books, even classics or literary books, are in fact very easy to read, the problem is that literature has become incorrectly associated with being hard to read by people who want to feel superior to other people.

I just don't see the two as mutually exclusive.

Readability is not only used to excuse or explain less literary works, although I accept it can be.

Lots of great works of high literary merit are hugely readable. Many aren't.

Nothing wrong with both. Surely the best books of the year are usually both?

I think I'm saying that the word "readable" is being used in all sort of ways to justify all sorts of positions. There is no book that is unreadable if you are literate, ie you can actually read. You might, however, have a hard job arguing that Finnegans Wake or Tristram Shandy or a novel by Thomas Pynchon were easy to read. And why should they be? And who's saying that they are "better" than other classics?

The problem seems to be less the people who think that novels shouldn't be readable than the argument that says that if something's challenging or not immediately accessible then it's pretentious and elitist. It's a false opposition and it's reductive.

Why should I want to feel superior to other people? Why should anybody? It's about allowing all kinds of literature to flourish, not cutting out whole swathes of it to justify some old-fashioned (and probably class-based) idea of who can read what.

I agree with Alex Clark on this one - if you want (easy)-readability it's the Costas - if you want a serious literature prize, it is, or was, the Booker. The line have got blurred somewhere, this year's shortlist seems deliberately wilful with few exceptions and it doesn't help to have a chair of the world's most recignised literary award who is deeply antagonistic to 'so-called literary critics' - it has lost the Booker much credibility.

I'm with Scott, sorry Alex, Tristram Shandy is a classic example of a book that should be hard to read but which is very readable. By labeling books that are readable pulp, and those that are hard, serious, you are just perpetuating a divide that does little to help the industry, or send readers to 'good' books.

"By labeling books that are readable pulp, and those that are hard, serious, you are just perpetuating a divide that does little to help the industry, or send readers to 'good' books."

Who's doing that? Not Alex Clark, not Andrew Kidd, not anyone else that I can see. The 'divide' here is between people (me, Alex, Scott Pack, Andrew Kidd so far as I can tell) who think 'readability' is something which may or may not be present in brilliant books, and the presence or absence of which doesn't determine whether or not the book is brilliant; and those (two of this year's Booker panel, based on public pronouncements) who think 'readability' is a required criterion. It doesn't take much to see which is the more blinkered opinion.

For an opinion on innovative fiction (and readerly and writerly), from a canadian perspective, check out

http://www.thewinnipegreview.com/wp/

Something like the same argument is going on over here about a prize and a judge's comments.

Jeff Bursey
author of
Verbatim: A Novel

I welcome any new literary prize, great to have people celebrating books in any way shape or form.

I would argue though that a book that lacks 'readability' has actually failed artistically.

It is a book, you should be able to read it.

Exactly, Scott. I'd have thought 'readability' was the most bleedin' obvious qualification in a book. To put anything else first borders on pretentious twattery.

I LOVE this comment, it made me laugh loudly - thank you!

For crying out loud. Andrew Kidd and those involved should be ashamed of themselves. So the latest Booker Prize includes a few thrillers on its shortlist and suddenly Kidd cries foul. How ridiculously snobby - and a kick in the teeth to all authors on the current shortlist (Barnes included).

And how ridiculous of Mitchell to be a supporter given he has been longlisted for the Booker before - for a novel so readable that the Richard and Judy Book Club included it in one of their Summer Reads.

All this Literature Prize does is prove to me that there are still people working in publishing who are more obsessed with a work's literary merit than any sales potential and are more concerned that a novel contains many words of four syllables than whether or not anyone actually enjoys reading it.

The Man Booker is fine as is and I hope this ridiculous Literature Prize dies on its arse through lack of support.

"All this Literature Prize does is prove to me that there are still people working in publishing who are more obsessed with a work's literary merit than any sales potential."

Bloody hell, let's hope so!

Don't feel too sorry for Barnes: his view on the prize has been clear from his refusal to get involved with any of it, from the Booker site interviews to the pre-announcement readings and appearances which all the other shortlisted/longlisted authors have done.

"Many words of four syllables" - what a fascinating and extraordinary comment. (I used two words of four or more syllables in that last sentence.) Is this the school of thought which believes that 'great' works of literature have lots of big words? Ever read Kelman, Ishiguro, Coetzee? (To remain simply with authors who have won the Booker.)

"Snobby" is another favourite. I think what it means is to accuse people of caring deeply about literature and of thinking that some books offer better reward than others. I'd certainly plead guilty to that, and I hope Andrew Kidd and the cited authors would too.

But in the end, why care if a prize which doesn't support your own view of literature is established? What harm does it do to you or your own reading choices?

John...

Because I care when some disappointed agent whose author didn't get on the longlist starts bashing the Booker.

And yes I have read Ishiguro, Kelman, Coetzee (over-rated). My point, which you clearly have missed in your desire to patronise, is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Booker Prize. It is simply that this year Kidd has decided to trash it 'cos the shortlist contains a few works with a few thrilling elements. And Kidd can hardly call this year's shortlist "popularist" or criticise it for putting readability over artistic achievement' because two are débutants and three are works by authors who can hardly be called 'bestselling'.

Perhaps, his desire for a new award has something to do with the fact that AAA haven't had an author on the longlist since Scudamore in 2009. (I guess if you publish literary fiction and you don't make the Booker two years in a row best thing to do is moan about the prize, rather than re-assess the kind of stuff you're publishing).

P.S. Love the fact you obviously spent time on thesaurus.com looking up synonyms for "intriguing" that contain four syllables or more.

I didn't even know who Andrew Kidd was when I read this piece, and I certainly don't keep count of which agents have had titles on the Booker lists and which haven't (!). But he is justified in calling into question some aspects of this year's judging process, on the basis that two of the judges have explicitly said that they wanted to seek out what they called 'readable' books to the exclusion of what they call books that people 'admire'. This by definition is prescriptive and wrong, because if you're charged with finding "the best book of the year" within the eligibility criteria - as the Booker judges are - then some of the right candidates are going to be 'readable', some are going to be 'admirable', others might be both, and to narrow your sights before you've even begun can lead only to the sort of criticism which has been levelled at the Booker this year.

That's a fair point - to state before you've even dipped into the 180 submissions that you're looking for "readability" and will therefore discount anything slightly taxing is ridiculous. But I still do genuinely think Kidd is over-reacting - particularly if next year's panel of Man Booker judges includes, say, Sarah Churchwell, Will Self, James Daunt, Mary Beard and is chaired by Stephen Fry. Then you could be left with a Man Booker Prize shortlist consisting of "high art" heavy-weight literary epics and a Literature Prize shortlist that consists of, err, exactly the same books. In which case the Literature Prize (and anyone associated with it) could very easily become a laughing stock.

I am sure this has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the fact that Edward St Aubyn (one of Kidd's authors), didn't get on the Man Booker longlist/shortlist this year.

"The Literature Prize, for which funding is "currently" being procured" - yes, well, let's see who's going to stump up for this one.

Maybe they can call this "The Sniffy"

The whole issue about the word "readability" is that people use it to promote their choice of books when other people don't think their choice is very good. Not that literary "snobs" - or in John Self's words, people who care deeply about literature - actively seek out "unreadable" books in order to impose them on people in some de haut en bas education of the masses.

It's just a silly, silly word used as a euphemism. When people claim they want readability, what they really mean is easy-to-readability. Nothing wrong with that - but not, surely, what the Booker was originally set up for, and not the type of book that is currently under-catered for in newspapers, magazines, other prizes, on telly etc.

PS Nobody else think it's slightly mad that you can't have this conversation without being accused of "twattery", "arsery" and pretension within about two minutes?

This is all so wonderful and funny and had made my day. Who'd have thought Andrew Kidd had such a sense of humour. x

I'm unclear why readable should mean easy to read, I think that is your interpretation Alex, not the current Booker judges. The idea that books, which are somehow hard to read, are better than other books is a nonsense. If an author can't express it in a readable manner then they have no business being a writer. Most books, even classics or literary books, are in fact very easy to read, the problem is that literature has become incorrectly associated with being hard to read by people who want to feel superior to other people.

I just don't see the two as mutually exclusive.

Readability is not only used to excuse or explain less literary works, although I accept it can be.

Lots of great works of high literary merit are hugely readable. Many aren't.

Nothing wrong with both. Surely the best books of the year are usually both?

I think I'm saying that the word "readable" is being used in all sort of ways to justify all sorts of positions. There is no book that is unreadable if you are literate, ie you can actually read. You might, however, have a hard job arguing that Finnegans Wake or Tristram Shandy or a novel by Thomas Pynchon were easy to read. And why should they be? And who's saying that they are "better" than other classics?

The problem seems to be less the people who think that novels shouldn't be readable than the argument that says that if something's challenging or not immediately accessible then it's pretentious and elitist. It's a false opposition and it's reductive.

Why should I want to feel superior to other people? Why should anybody? It's about allowing all kinds of literature to flourish, not cutting out whole swathes of it to justify some old-fashioned (and probably class-based) idea of who can read what.

I agree with Alex Clark on this one - if you want (easy)-readability it's the Costas - if you want a serious literature prize, it is, or was, the Booker. The line have got blurred somewhere, this year's shortlist seems deliberately wilful with few exceptions and it doesn't help to have a chair of the world's most recignised literary award who is deeply antagonistic to 'so-called literary critics' - it has lost the Booker much credibility.

I'm with Scott, sorry Alex, Tristram Shandy is a classic example of a book that should be hard to read but which is very readable. By labeling books that are readable pulp, and those that are hard, serious, you are just perpetuating a divide that does little to help the industry, or send readers to 'good' books.

"By labeling books that are readable pulp, and those that are hard, serious, you are just perpetuating a divide that does little to help the industry, or send readers to 'good' books."

Who's doing that? Not Alex Clark, not Andrew Kidd, not anyone else that I can see. The 'divide' here is between people (me, Alex, Scott Pack, Andrew Kidd so far as I can tell) who think 'readability' is something which may or may not be present in brilliant books, and the presence or absence of which doesn't determine whether or not the book is brilliant; and those (two of this year's Booker panel, based on public pronouncements) who think 'readability' is a required criterion. It doesn't take much to see which is the more blinkered opinion.

For an opinion on innovative fiction (and readerly and writerly), from a canadian perspective, check out

http://www.thewinnipegreview.com/wp/

Something like the same argument is going on over here about a prize and a judge's comments.

Jeff Bursey
author of
Verbatim: A Novel

It's always good to have a new prize but Kidd's announcement rests on two massive critical fallacies: 1) That a literary novel cannot and should not be 'readable', and 2) that readability - the pace and flow - is not 'artistic achievement'.

I read for pleasure, full stop, whether I read something 'literary' or 'commercial'. And it is much hard to write a good, coherent story, that someone would want to read, than to write an obscurantist 'literary' mess. I can't agree more with Scott that readability - pace, flow, and turning coherence into a song - IS artistic achievement.

"It's always good to have a new prize but Kidd's announcement rests on two massive critical fallacies: 1) That a literary novel cannot and should not be 'readable', and 2) that readability - the pace and flow - is not 'artistic achievement'."

Surely you're making a logical leap on Kidd's behalf here. At no point does he say that readability and artistic achievement may not coexist. The point is surely that the Booker should focus on artistic achievement regardless of the form that achievement takes - no matter what demands it places on the reader. The pace and flow of a narrative may or may not be part of its artistic achievement. But stipulating that a book has to 'zip along' in order to qualify for a prize prioritises one particular conception of storytelling at the exclusion of all of the other weird and wonderful forms fiction can take. Perhaps this is why Coetzee won the Booker with the (ostensibly) political realist novel Disgrace, but didn't make the longlist with the equally wonderful but more formally challenging Diary of a Bad Year - a book whose artistic achievement happens not to rest on its 'readability'.

Surely the following is the most pertinent sentence in the whole article....

"The Literature Prize.....will be awarded to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year, with the writer's country of origin not a factor."

Whatever the merits or demerits of the prize, and whatever reasons may or may not have hastened its introduction, it is not, emphatically, a direct competitor to the Booker.

Philip - I don't actually disagree with Scott, so you can agree with us both if you like. But do show me where I've labelled books that are readable pulp and books that are hard serious.

I doubt you can, because I haven't. In fact, it's the labelling of books that is driving me mad. This word readable seems to be an active encouragement to stupidity.

It's interesting that those who seem in favour of it keep wanting to define what a novel is and what it should be, what makes it good, whether it should win this or that prize. Be my guest - but don't moan when you've got a bookshop full of identikit novels. I don't suppose that will help "the industry" much either.

OK. "It's just a silly, silly word used as a euphemism. When people claim they want readability, what they really mean is easy-to-readability." And again: "This word readable seems to be an active encouragement to stupidity."
I don't think that is right. When I use the word readability I mean books that people can be read by all, including serious books. Or as Ion Trewin puts it: "I think I have gone on record in the past as saying that I believe in literary excellence and readability—the two should go hand in hand."

I'm quite partial to the Lexile framework myself - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readability. "The Lexile Framework uses average sentence length and average word frequency as found in the American Heritage Intermediate Corpus to predict a score on a 0–2000 scale."

Hang on - when did readability come to mean "read by all"? And why should it? Not every book is designed to be read by every reader (and probably can't be), just as every song is not designed for every listener, film for every viewer, etc. Not everyone has to love football. Not everyone has to go bird-watching. We can eat MacDonalds and Dover sole.

To argue that is not, in my view, elitist. It's arguing for a distinctive, various, plural culture. And in a culture like that, it seems perfectly plausible and acceptable for there to exist a prize to reward a particular kind of art-form, as there are prizes for all sorts of things. You can see this kind of discussion as being about broadening reading - but you can also see it as both a dilution of excellence and a narrowing of the kind of books that will come to be on offer.

Incidentally - I agree with a lot of Ion says, but that "should" is the essence of the matter, I think. They might go hand in hand, but why "should" they?

Is this the online editor of the book trade's journal arguing for a lowest common denominator in prizes for literary excellence? God help us.

I don't actually see a distinction between 'easy to read' and 'can be read by all', since by definition the latter must include people with low literacy levels, poor motivation towards reading or little spare time. Otherwise, 'readable', if you drill down far enough, just means 'books which I like reading'. I find lots of books unreadable, including some of those which would be considered by Stella Rimington to be 'readable'. Books which I find readable, indeed addictive, include ones others would think boring. Let's not forget that this story arose largely as a result of Chris Mullin, one of this year's judges, explicitly saying that he was only interested in supporting books which "zip along". That anyone interested in variety in the literary marketplace can go along with such ridiculous comments is extraordinary.

Er, no, John, and by the word 'all', I mean adult readers with an average level of literacy, as I think would be pretty obvious to anyone not wishing to make cheap points. I do agree that "readable" should not necessarily mean "zip along". Books can be easy to readable, hard to readable or somewhere in between, but all books, even literary ones, should at least be readable. Though where a book scores on the readability scale should not define its greatness for sure. In fact, I think John's own definition works pretty well: it's one part of the judgement, as Ion Trewin suggests. To launch a literary prize that sets its face against that seems counter-intuitive. Alex, we may be talking at crossed-purposes. For me it's not about whether it's good, it's about whether it is accessible. Books need to be accessible, readers can then judge for themselves whether the book is any good or not. To try and make out a book like Tristram Shandy is difficult to read and therefore inaccessible undermines the skill of the author.

"Easy to readable... hard to readable..." This seems to me to blur all notions of what 'readable' means. Can you give some examples of books which aren't readable? The opposite of readable, as Leo Robson points out in today's New Statesman Cultural Capital blog, is not 'difficult' but 'unreadable'.

One of my favourite novels of the last decade was Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, a typical Booker winner in some eyes. I was riveted by the beauty of the prose, the contrast with the ugliness of the social climbing and the illusion that aesthetics are more important than life itself. Anyone who witnessed the deaths of several of their friends of Aids would have understood its social relevance, played out against the background of Thatcher's Britain. By contrast, I have never been able to finish a 'readable' John le Carre with his dense plots, pedestrian pose and increasing didacticism. So I have no idea what is meant by 'readable.' A novel finds a resonance within reader, or it doesn't. Many people were tempted to read Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate after the recent radion dramatisation. It is a huge project to take on, but few can be more rewarding. Sometimes appreciation requires effort, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the Macdonalds burgers of the book world make you want to spit them out after one bite.

Philip, I'm really not trying to score cheap points and I don't think John is either, though I can't speak for him. I'm just genuinely bemused by these words - readable and accessible - and why they are used so unquestioningly - as if they are entirely positive.

Once you say it's not about whether it's good, it about whether it's accessible, don't you see that you put something at risk? And that it might mean you lose something?

As for the new literary prize - I just can't see that it's set its face against anything, has it? It seems more broad-minded than the Booker has been this year. On which note, I think Stella Rimington and Chris Mullin's comments are so illogical that they almost entirely undermine what they're saying (see Leo Robson in the NS).

Another thought: much of the vehemence being expressed here and elsewhere seems to turn on a disdain for critics. Why?

I just remembered that I read a Jilly Cooper for the first time 18 months ago. I found myself skipping chunks of it because in a novel that size, the formula became repetitive. Does that make it 'unreadable'?

Alex, I think you are arguing against your own definition of what readability means rather than mine. Or perhaps Chris Mullin's. I don't see it as a negative that a book is readable - or that a Booker judge wants it to be one factor in how this year's books are judged. If you insist on readability meaning 'easy to read', then I don't think we are miles apart. But there is another definition of readability the opposite of which, as had been pointed out, is indeed being 'unreadable'. Andrew has specifically defined the new prize as being against what the Booker has supposedly become, a prize that "prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement". But as we've already agreed: the two should not be mutually exclusive.

Linda you are saying literary judgment is subjective. Aw'right, we get it already.

Not really. The experience of reading is not about literary judgement because it is not related to the reality of the text but whether you are bored, gripped, etc. I rarely can finish a thriller, though that would seem to be the very definition of 'readable'.

That's you. It's not the experience of the many who buy these books. You could argue, using your logic, that readability is a skill that should be rewarded, though?

"Much of the vehemence being expressed here and elsewhere seems to turn on a disdain for critics. Why?" Strange you need to ask that question: look at the books you review? Look at the books which sell? Slight disconnect n'est ce pas?

I think too much emphasis on big high-brow books is a no no for Kindle and other e-readers! Short and entertaining reads are a must. More and more people seem incapable of long-term concentration. The three-minute TV scene span is now par for the course, and one can read a novella on a Blackberry whilst commuting to or from the workplace. The gem novella' selling fastest happens to be historical romances.

Perhaps literary prizes should reflect public readership rather than a few judging for the majority what is readable, saleable ec., because I and many more like me (educated readers) are selecting self-pubbed novels as opposed to hyped novels put out by publishers on Kindle. I don't really care about a few minor typos, the odd grammatical error, I can read through/past them in a self-pubbed novel in the same way I do in a badly edited novel by the big boys of publishing, but what I'm getting from self-pubbed novels is more than a darn good read. I'm getting new and original voices!

Emma Harvey said: " like me (educated readers) are selecting self-pubbed novels as opposed to hyped novels"
As someone who considers themselves an educated reader, I'll take a swerve from being like you due to the reading of self-published books. Never read a good one. Anyway, there's a way to get around hyped novels and save yourself the equally poor quality you are going through with self-published books, and that's to ignore the hype, get thee to a bookshop, have a browse from A to Z free of hype, and just pick u something that interests you. That's how I, an educated reader, avoid hype and tripe: I keep on educating myself as to what's available.

Linda, you just read the saucy bits, like the rest of us. very readable they are too.

No those were the boiler plate, slap in a sex scene here to keep the readers happy bits, I skipped. Creak, clunk, now let's get the plot moving again.

Lit Agent - well, I've reviewed two of the books on the shortlist, very favourably as it happens. I quite often review books that sell quite well and I certainly don't try not to. I don't review genre fiction much, not because I don't rate it, but because I'm not expert enough. I don't review very much highly commercial stuff because I think a lot of it is rubbish and my life is finite. And when I say that, I'm not being dismissive without having read it - I think a lot of mass-market women's fiction, for example, is misogynist and has had a terrible effect on literature and publishing. But what's the point in banging on about that?

In other words, I work in an area that interests me, which is what we all try to do, don't we? Why would that lead to disdain?

And I think Linda was actually saying something about bad writing as much as subjectivity.

And Philip - I *know* you don't see readability as a negative. That's what we're talking about! Of course I don't either, but I think it's a vague and dangerous word that's obscuring something else.

You are an uncommon reader, to be sure.

Ah! You didn't want to have a discussion. You just wanted to be rude. I see. Much easier from behind a pseudonym, of course.

Of course. The comment was directed at Linda for skipping jilly cooper's sex scenes, however ;-)

Then apologies for being over-sensitive.

As if by magic. Booker judge Susan Hill is compiling a list of unreadable books on Twitter as I type. Thus far: Ulysses, War and Peace, The Waves, Finnegans Wake, Underworld, the Faerie Queene and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

I'm assuming she's being satirical, just in case...

Dislike any or all of these, but tell me why they are unreadable.

Anyway, I think that explains why we're having the conversation. This year's judges appear to be absolutely obsessed with some weird notion of readability when what they mean is they didn't like a book. And rather than worrying about appearing philistine, they seem actively delighted by it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was certainly longwinded and unreadable at the same time - a feat so impressive feat Bloomsbury paid a six figure some for it.