Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The joy of judging the Costa Book Awards
The winner of the Costa Book Awards is announced tomorrow.
Judge Sandra Howard can bear the tension no longer.

By Sandra Howard writing in The Telegraph
Published: 26 Jan 2010

Left - Sandra Howard, one of the judges of this year's Costa Book Awards Photo: Paul Grover

Put-downs come in all shapes and sizes. I sat next to an engaging academic at a dinner party a while back, who asked very mildly how many books I read in a month.

"Oh, well," I said, coasting, trying to think honestly, "with my two book clubs and half-finished books by my bed in London and Kent, let's say about two and a half."
"Yes," he said, looking sad, "we read so little these days. I used to whizz through about 30, now I barely manage 15."

If I'd been asked that question now I could have kept my pecker up with pride. As one of the judges for the Costa Book Awards, both of the first novel section and the overall winner, I've just read nearly 40 books in under two months.

The Costa (which was called the Whitbread until 2006) awards a winner of five separate categories: biography, debut novel, mainstream novel, poetry and children's book. Then of those five – whose authors must be chewing carpets by now – we judges decide, in our humility, which one has that spark of genius that marks it as the book above all others.

The process for me began last autumn. Box after box of first novels arrived at my house. My pride and delight at having been asked to judge such a prestigious award knew no bounds. I unpacked them, revelling in that wonderful feel of a new book in my hands. Then, as the columns on the dining-room table began to rival Luxor Temple, I turned very, very pale. How was I going to get through them all?

My husband read one or two. He hadn't expected to enjoy a book about lesbian love in wartime (Days of Grace, by Catherine Hall) but it hooked him at once. And he adored The Finest Type of English Womanhood, by Rachel Heath, which was shortlisted and brilliantly melds a factual post-war murder into a dark fictional tale.
The full story at The Telegraph.

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