Women, booksellers, readers — many people have felt snubbed by the 2014 Man Booker Prize, which makes The Guardian’s annual Not the Booker prize a tempting alternative (even if the only award it comes with is a mug).
Just as the Man Booker Prize did this year, The Guardian has opened their competition to contestants beyond the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe; unlike the Man Booker, which has become more homogenous, The Guardian award’s globalization actually yielded more diversity, indicating that the issue with Man Booker may not be expansion, but a lack of democracy.
Not the Booker’s longlist debuted on July 28, with 100 books. The shortlist that followed on August 6 consists of six finalists: Kenyan Mahesh Rao’s The Smoke is Rising; American Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch; Australian Louis Armand’s Cairo; Scottish Iain Maloney’s First Time Solo; British Tony Black’s The Last Tiger; North Irish Simon Sylvester’s The Visitor.
It’s a list that will likely prove more diverse than the Man Booker’s shortlist (due September 9), considering its longlist included only 13 titles, amongst them six British writers, four Americans, one Australian, one Irish author and one more Irish or American author, depending how you count Irish-American Joseph O’Neill.
Sam Jordison, Not the Booker’s administrator, spoke playfully about this year’s Man Booker controversy:
These [complaints] mainly centred on the fact that people called David appeared to be almost as well represented as women and better represented than people from Asia. Good points. Curiously, no one pointed out that the longlist wasn't actually that long.
So does the Man Booker longlist need to be longer? More open to public vote? Not the Booker leaves a great deal of power in the hands of the collective intelligence (and chaos) of the Internet: All nominations for the longlist and shortlist are submitted as comments on the respective Not the Booker blog posts. Even the final panel of judges are selected from readers:
Three readers will be selected by The Guardian to form a panel of judges from those readers who have made substantial contributions to the discussion of the shortlisted books. The process by which these readers are chosen is left studiously vague and is at The Guardian's discretion.
Yet even the Not the Booker has its issues. The competition erupted in chaos and controversy in 2012 when one of the nominees reached out directly to the judges asking for their vote. The prize has adapted since, ruling out foul play from its contenders.
Still, this year’s shortlist has noticeably less female authors, a strange turn from last year’s 5:1 female-to-male ratio. Administrator Sam Jordison responded to complaints somewhat helplessly: “I guess we can conclude from that that prize shortlists are more random than people may think?”
The Not the Booker winner will be announced on October 13, just a day before the Man Booker announces its own. Will the Internet prize steal attention from the “real” award? Probably not. But who knows, its selections may win many readers. We’ll certainly be following the results just as closely.