On July 23, this year’s longlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced — and it immediately stirred up controversy. It’s been called out for under-representing female writers, totally omitting Canadian authors and including of a large number of yet-to-be-published titles, which seems to violate one of the prize’s own rules: “Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have no fewer than 1,000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist.”
In response to that last snafu, publishers are scrambling to move up release dates. Ali Smith's How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton) and Howard Jacobson's J (Random House) have been moved to mid-August, and Fourth Estate, the publisher behind Joseph O'Neill's The Dog, is rushing its release to hit stores at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, booksellers have been outraged, worried that the nominations cut the literary community off from its readers. Simon Key of North London’s The Big Green Bookshop has spoken out about his frustrations as a bookseller, stressing that the whole point of getting the nomination is to sell books:
What’s the point in keeping it just for the publishing industry? How are booksellers able to make a song and dance among customers when we can’t offer them the books? They have changed the rules so that Americans can enter, why don’t they change the eligibility to ensure the books have to be published?
It’s easy to reduce some of these frustrations to growing pains (this is the first year the Man Booker accepted nominees from beyond the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe), but it’s difficult to justify them when globalization has reduced the prize’s diversity. Last year’s longlist included authors from Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Malaysia; this year, there isn’t even a Canadian. If anything, these controversies are a sad confirmation of last year’s skepticism that the new rules would “turn out to be the Americanization of the Booker” and “eliminate one very important diversifying influence on the average American’s reading habits.”
The Man Booker’s shortlist will be revealed on September 9, and the winner will be announced by October 14. All of the nominees will be in stores before then, with enough time — hopefully — for readers to make their own judgements before a winner is named.