I’ve become a bit obsessed with the Booker Prize this year – writing for the Datablog and the From the Archive blog, and reading all six just in time for the ceremony tonight (I’m glad it’s “too readable” this year, they’re all cracking reads!).
So I was delighted to attend a Man Booker/British Library event last week in support of public libraries. Shortlisted authors Carol Birch, Stephen Kelman and AD Miller took part in the Q&A session for public librarians and reading groups, alongside Tony Durcan from the Society of Chief Librarians.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three authors spoke about their love of libraries. Birch recalled weekly trips to the library, which was “just what everyone did” when she was growing up. Kelman, nominated for Pigeon English, grew up on a London estate like the one in his debut novel. He credited his local library with fostering his love of reading and getting him to where he is today.
Miller, another first time fiction writer, said libraries had played different roles at different times in his life, from feeding an early Agatha Christie obsession to researching his books and now, with a three-year-old daughter, getting him acquainted with the “Julia Donaldson empire”. He called libraries “a hugely important part of my life that I take for granted, until perhaps it is almost too late.”
Bookies’ favourite Julian Barnes, nominated for The Sense of an Ending, could not attend but sent a message of support, saying: “The cost of our free public library system is small, its value immense. To diminish and dismantle it would be a kind of national self-mutilation, as stupid as it would be wicked.”
A message from nominee Esi Edugyan echoed the panel, calling libraries “a place where people can encounter their possible lives between the covers of a book.” I love that description, what a world of possibilities libraries offer!
The writers also took questions on their nominated novels. It was really fascinating, having just read them, to hear from the authors themselves. I won’t detail everything here, in case of spoilers!
Asked about the criticism from some quarters that selections for this year’s Booker are “too readable”, the panel confessed to not having read the shortlist (understandably, not wanting to know how strong the competition is!), though Miller pointed out that “those carping often haven’t read them either.”
And the pigeon? Kelman said he thought his narrator should have a father figure, but he understood it might not work for everyone.