Man Booker prize judge Colin Thubron has complained this week that star endorsements bully readers into admiring books, but it’s long been standard practice.
Setting cats among pigeons has long been an unofficial part of the contract for judges of the Booker prize. Remember Chris Mullin’s insistence on “zip–along” novels, or, way back in 1992, AN Wilson’s condemnation of the prize itself as “essentially trivial”?
This year’s flurry of fur and feathers was provoked by a tirade from Colin Thubron on celebrity endorsements. Some blurbs, said the veteran travel writer, “almost blackmail” readers into feeling that “you’re either intellectually or morally incompetent if you don’t love this book or you’ve failed if you haven’t understood it”. Some people, he felt, “seem to earn their living … saying: ‘This is the most profound book of our generation.’”
While he’s right to point out that “blurbs are outrageous in certain places”, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. The novelist Nathan Filer confronted the issue with disarming honesty at a festival three years ago. In a blogpost about the incident, he recalled “a kindly interviewer”, who hadn’t had time to read his debut novel, quoting a rather better-known novelist, who had. Filer’s The Shock of the Fall was “engaging, funny and inventive”, the interviewer assured the audience, in the words of Joe Dunthorne.
I tore through Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics over a weekend in 1973. At the time I was in my second year at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, studying English, which was in many respects a deeply conservative course. But after a friend lent me the book, it was as if an explosion had gone off in my head.
My politics had always been of the left, but I’d never really encountered a feminist perspective before. Sexual Politics allowed me – it forced me – to look at the world in a different way.
I was on fire with what I had read. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I went into my tutorial the next week and launched into a 10-minute rhapsody about the book and how it had transformed the way I looked at the canon. My tutor, Anne Elliott, a distinguished middle-class English Christian who specialised in The Faerie Queene, listened patiently, then said:“Ah yes, dear Kate. I supervised the thesis that became Sexual Politics.” It was as if Margaret Thatcher had claimed responsibility for Simone de Beauvoir.
Iconic Scottish buildings are the starting point for a dozen leading crime writers in this brilliant collection, writes Louise Fairbairn The Bloody Scotland crime writing festival turns six this weekend, and to celebrate it has produced this anthology in association with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
A dozen top Scots crime writers celebrate 12 of the country’s greatest built sites by setting a story in each place. In his introduction to these 12 tales tall and true, HES publisher James Crawford describes the collection as “a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets”, and the selected authors showcase both the breadth of Scotland’s built wonders and the myriad styles and sensibilities that make up its flourishing crime writing scene.