Friday, May 24, 2013

Confessions of a Booker judge

Being on the jury of the Man Booker Prize is no mean feat. With 150 books to read, Natalie Haynes barely has time to sleep. But, she says, the popularity of historical fiction means she now knows a lot more about world history

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Brought to book: Natalie Haynes at home, surrounded by Booker contenders
I have hit the halfway point. Four months in, 75 books read, 75 left to go. Ju

Judging the Man Booker Prize, to paraphrase Bette Davis, is not for sissies. I did the Orange Prize last year (about 50 books for each judge), and it ate up all my free time: during every bus journey, every moment sitting waiting for a film to start, every interval of whatever play I was reviewing, I'd whip out a book and cram a few more pages in.

This is different. We had 50 books to read in the first three months, and a book every other day is fine. Then publishers submitted more. A lot more. My reading speed had to double overnight: between March and July, I will have read the final 100 books in 100 days. You get ahead sometimes (a couple of short books in a row), and then a 900-page monster lurks behind them on the shelf, gobbling up the spare day and spitting out its bones. It's like running on sand, but less healthy.

It robs you of the chance to talk about books, too: I'm not allowed to tell you which books have been submitted for the prize, so I can't discuss them with anyone but my fellow judges. And I don't have time to read the books everyone else is talking about (what's the plot twist in Gone Girl? I hate not knowing). Not that this has stopped publishers sending over other books with a jaunty note, suggesting it might make a nice break from the Booker reading. I'm tempted to write back, telling them that I'm already using that time to sleep.


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