Crowing over the Booker shortlist

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The bookies are frantically recalculating after yesterday's announcement of the shortlist for the prestigious Man Booker literary prize failed to include any of the following (all viewed as likely winners) from the long list: Salman Rushdie ("The Enchantress of Florence"), Michelle de Kretser ("The Lost Dog") or Joseph O'Neill ("Netherland.")

The British press didn't hesitate to express a certain amount of satisfaction. "Not one stinker" in the bunch proclaimed the Times, glorying over the titles that remain. "Rushie 'not good enough' " gloated the Guardian, quoting head judge Michael Portillo who said discussion of Rushdie's novel was brief simply because "The Enchantress of Florence" "was not one of the top books for us."

Sebastian Barry ("The Secret Scripture") seems now to be everyone's favorite for the big prize, which will be announced in October.

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The BBC does a good, quick roundup of all the names remaining on the list, which include Amitav Ghosh ("Sea of Poppies"), Steve Toltz ("A Fraction of the Whole"), Philip Hensher ("Northern Clemency"), Aaravind Adiga ("The White Tiger"), and Linda Grant ("The Clothes on Their Backs").

But is any of the fuss generated by these prizes worth the ink that gets spilled over them? For those who wonder, I would suggest taking a look at the comments of Adam Begley in the New York Observer.

Begley quotes various authors who have served as judges in literary contests. From Jonathan Coe to John Sutherland, everyone seems to agree that panel discussions by "expert" judges are dispiriting at best. However, perhaps New Yorker critic and Harvard prof (and 1994 Booker judge) James Wood said it best.

Here's what happens, according to Wood, when judges discuss: "[J]udge A blathers on about his favorite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favorite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides.... Some wonderful books win the Booker, of course, just as the flypaper occasionally catches some really large flies. But it means – or should mean – nothing in literary terms.”

Don't tell the bookies.

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