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Trewin slams "tosh" from Literature Prize

Ion Trewin, administrator of the Man Booker Prize, has hit back at the new Literature Prize over claims by its advisory board that the Man Booker no longer offers a selection of novels "unsurpassed in their quality and ambition".

In its launch announcement, the board claimed: "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."

Trewin said the idea that he or the prize preferred readability over artistic achievement was "tosh", adding: "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."

Trewin said he went along with a statement made by Booker Prize Foundation chairman Jonathan Taylor in response to the development: "Since 1969 the prize has encouraged the reading of literary fiction of the highest quality and that continues to be its objective today. We welcome any credible prize which also supports the reading of quality fiction."

The new prize has become a talking point at Frankfurt. Faber publishing director Lee Brackstone welcomed the new prize from the Fair halls. He said: "The Booker shouldn't feel threatened by another prize that rewards a literary novel. It does dominate but it would be stupid to say there hasn't been a lot of talk among publishers about the selection and that they haven't been feeling disaffected. There should be something that rewards literary merit and the Booker has slipped."

But one publishing m.d., whose novels have been shortlisted for the Booker, said that it was unfair to attack it. "The Booker judges pick the books they generally love and it's a reflection of their own tastes. I don't think they are being wilful and choosing to pick books that will piss off the literary establishment," he said.

Frankfurt Book Fair Daily: Day 2

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Do we take it, then, that the proper definition of literature is that it should be unreadable? I thought this kind of literary snobbery was a thing of the past. What is wrong with books that are written to be read? I can think of lots of good reasons for writing a book...but for it to be unreadable is not one of them, nor should it be a pre-requisite of literariness. Think Jane Austen? George Eliot? Charles Dickens?

Well in 2004, the Booker Prize shortlisted Cloud Atlas, a collection of genre fiction novellas.

("No it was a work of literature because the genre fiction novellas were linked by a wanky postmodernistic device... no, you're right.")

So you can see their point.

I wonder when Lee Brakstone reckons the prize slipped? When Life of Pi won, or Vernon God Little, both eminently readable books. Or when The Sea won. Urm . . .

As has been pointed out tirelessly by those who have actually read the comments which led to this debacle, 'readable' in itself is meaningless because the opposite is 'unreadable', which cannot by definition apply to any book written in English.

So we have to look at the individual judges' comments: Chris Mullin said of the books he backed for the prize, that they "had to zip along." Stella Rimington said "we wanted people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them." This seems to suppose some view that reading books and admiring them are two different things. Mullin's comments make clear that what he means is that he wanted page-turners.

I, like the first commenter here, am anti-literary-snobbery, particularly the sort of snobbery which says that the only book worth recommending to the wider public is one which 'zip[s] along.'

Hang on, David "Cloud Atlas" Mitchell seems to be a supporter of the new Literature Prize.

Not sure why, he doesn't write it.

Do we take it, then, that the proper definition of literature is that it should be unreadable? I thought this kind of literary snobbery was a thing of the past. What is wrong with books that are written to be read? I can think of lots of good reasons for writing a book...but for it to be unreadable is not one of them, nor should it be a pre-requisite of literariness. Think Jane Austen? George Eliot? Charles Dickens?

Well in 2004, the Booker Prize shortlisted Cloud Atlas, a collection of genre fiction novellas.

("No it was a work of literature because the genre fiction novellas were linked by a wanky postmodernistic device... no, you're right.")

So you can see their point.

I wonder when Lee Brakstone reckons the prize slipped? When Life of Pi won, or Vernon God Little, both eminently readable books. Or when The Sea won. Urm . . .

As has been pointed out tirelessly by those who have actually read the comments which led to this debacle, 'readable' in itself is meaningless because the opposite is 'unreadable', which cannot by definition apply to any book written in English.

So we have to look at the individual judges' comments: Chris Mullin said of the books he backed for the prize, that they "had to zip along." Stella Rimington said "we wanted people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them." This seems to suppose some view that reading books and admiring them are two different things. Mullin's comments make clear that what he means is that he wanted page-turners.

I, like the first commenter here, am anti-literary-snobbery, particularly the sort of snobbery which says that the only book worth recommending to the wider public is one which 'zip[s] along.'

Hang on, David "Cloud Atlas" Mitchell seems to be a supporter of the new Literature Prize.

Not sure why, he doesn't write it.