It’s Not Just the Arabic Booker: World of Book Prizes ‘Too Cozy’

At some point in the controversy-riddled process of selecting this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF for short, or Arabic Booker), I sent an email to a fellow blogger-critic, M.A. Orthofer, whining about the whole she-bang.

I sum up his response as: Yawn. They’re all like that.

Orange-prize judge Daisy Goodwin seems to concur. According to a piece by Arifa Akbar in The Independent:

Her [Goodwin’s] view on book prize panels is that there needs to be an open-doored system in which jurors are mined from other worlds, rather than from within the constipated bowels of the industry. If the usual suspects were always sitting on prize panels, she argues, the agenda for selection will be stale and morally compromised.

“If it’s the usual suspects, they tend to know the novelists, the editors and the publishers; they remember which (shortlisted candidates) reviewed them badly, which snubbed them at a party. Once all that comes into play, it becomes very difficult. I’ve judged lots of TV prizes including the BAFTA’s and if you are in the world, it’s very hard not to let professional and personal things come into play.”

I think it’s an interesting idea—mining professionals from other fields—although I feel a little squoozy about chemists judging a book prize. I doubt, after all, that I’d be very good at judging articles for a peer-reviewed chemistry journal.