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