Before Julian Barnes won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, he had famously described the prize as ‘posh bingo’. I guess you can’t really blame him when he had been shortlisted three times before The Sense of an Ending scooped the award - and then went on to sell over 300,000 copies in hardback in the UK alone.
Describe the Man Booker however you will, one thing is for sure. It matters. It matters to the writer who wins it and to the other authors who are highlighted through the longlisting and shortlisting. It matters to the publishers who are behind the books, to the booksellers, to the media – and to the reading public, many of whom use the judges’ lists as the basis of their own annual reading lists.
Paul Beatty, the 2016 winner, is a case in point. The first ever American to win the prize, he was visibly moved when the news was announced at Guildhall last Tuesday night and said in his acceptance speech that writing had ‘given him a life’. I suspect he’s only just beginning to see how his life will change over the weeks and months to come as he is feted internationally as the winner of this increasingly important global prize. The fact that his publisher, Oneworld, immediately put in place a reprint of 170,000 copies of The Sellout may also have given him pause for thought.
Prizes also matter when they shine a light on issues, as the Women of the Year awards do every year. The 2016 awards, announced at the annual lunch a couple of weeks ago, went to six amazing women who had all done something of significance.
Liz Clegg, who has over the last few months worked tirelessly on behalf of the women and children in the Calais jungle was one truly worthy winner, as was Margaret Aspinall, who accepted her Women of the Year Special Award from Prime Minister Theresa May on behalf of the Hillsborough families.
And then we have the Groucho Club’s Maverick Awards which I have had the pleasure to chair since 2010. The shortlist announced last week is as anti-establishment as you would expect from the club and again it shines a light on issues that touch all of our hearts.
Other highlights of October include David Campbell’s glittering Spencer House party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the revival of Everyman’s Library. And then there was the much anticipated publication of an anthology of four new Winnie the Pooh stories. Called The Best Bear in All the World, it is required reading for everyone regardless of age and the answer to all your Christmas present dilemmas.
On which happy note I will say goodbye for October. More next month!