Judging the Man Booker Prize

LONDON — On the morning of Oct. 16, five judges will meet in a secret location here to decide the winner of the Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.

They will have about eight hours to pick a winner from the six-strong shortlist, which includes Rachel Kushner’s “The Mars Room” and Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black.” But the five — philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, crime writer Val McDermid, cultural critic Leo Robson, feminist writer Jacqueline Rose and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton — will have actually read 171 books over the last seven months to make their choice.

“We are paid, yes,” said Ms. McDermid when asked if she was compensated for such time-consuming work. “If you add up all the hours, I think it works out below minimum wage,” she added.

Why did she accept the offer to be a judge? For a simple reason: “Everyone said to me, ‘You have to do this. It’s an honor and you’ll enjoy it.’ They were right.”

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Val McDermid