2016 Man Booker Prize judges
Judges Jon Day (far right) with (left to right) Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Dr Amanda Foreman and Abdulrazak Gurnah

By Jon Day  Oxford Today
(St John's, 2003)

This weekend I reached an important milestone as a judge for the 2016 Man Booker prize. At 2ft 8in, the height of my book stack has matched that of my eighteen-month-old daughter. My book pile will grow far quicker than she will – last year the judges read one hundred and fifty six books; I’ve just closed number twenty nine – but it felt like a significant moment.

When I was asked late last year whether I’d consider judging the most prestigious literary prize in the English-speaking world, it was the reading I first thought of. When Philip Hensher reflected on judging the prize, in 2001, he recalled that the reading load (which works out as something like a novel a day) had been no problem: he had read five novels a week since he was five years old. But I worried about fitting it around teaching; around writing; around parenthood. I spoke to past judges, who recalled snatching reading time wherever they could: actors had special book-pockets sewn into their costumes; other judges recalled snatching a few pages between courses at dinner parties. 
I asked my long-suffering partner if she’d suffer even longer. I asked my head of department if he’d mind me shirking my marking duties. In the end I decided it was too irresistible an opportunity to say no to.  MORE