Confessions of A Judge

Katharine Viner talks about what it’s like to be a judge for the Orange Prize.

When I was asked to be a judge, I thought there was no way I could find the time – I have a full-time job, for a start – but then I was told that Helena Kennedy had already said yes, and she’s a QC, a Labour peer, chair of the British Council, chair of the Human Genetics Commission, president of the School of Oriental and African Studies, and she’s doing a book tour. If she had the time, what was my excuse?

So she agreed, and then read eight (!) books a week. She seems to have started out fairly compassionate, and then got progressively angry. Consider:

There were two particularly low points. One was when I had a run of books about nothing. These were usually by authors from the US, who have attended prestigious creative writing courses, often at the University of Iowa. They are books with 500 pages discussing a subtle but allegedly profound shift within a relationship. They are books where intricate descriptions of a man taking a glass out of the dishwasher, taking a tea-towel off a rail, opening out the tea-towel, then delicately drying the glass with the tea-towel, before pouring a drink into the glass, signify that he has just been through a divorce. At one point, I rang a friend and shouted at her, “I wish some of these bloody writers would write about Iraq!” Or anywhere with a bit of politics or meaning. Luckily, we settled on a shortlist of books that featured Soviet Russia, Nigeria, Jamaican immigration to Britain, the second world war, the New Zealand gold rush and the end of the world, so I got my desire for substance in the end.

I’d have been curious to see which books she meant, so that one could actually have an idea whether she has a point, but she’s too cagey and doesn’t name names.
Link via The Periscope.

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