How many titles are you faced with in your average bookshop?! My guess would be in the thousands, although I’m more of a words than a numbers person. Between towering shelves, it can be hard to know where to begin. Do you stick to the section of your favourite genre, rifle through the renowned classics, or beeline the most eye-catching cover design? Established awards like the Man Booker Prize direct the general reading public to a diverse range of new, quality literature by publicising and celebrating the year’s best fictional work.
For 2015, the prize was presented to its first ever Jamaican winner, Marlon James, for ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’. The novel explores a fictional history of the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976, and has been spoken of for its violence and crude language as well as a difficult yet accomplished storytelling structure. Novelist James commended the award, it reminded him “how much of [his] literary sensibilities were shaped by the Man Booker prize”.
“The Scheme provides an invaluable opportunity for students”
Every year, “it suddenly increases your library by 13 books.” The Man Booker had just awarded him £50,000 and so he had to say something nice about it; but what he said was true, the prize creates a list of works which are more likely to be read because they have that shiny sticker of approval on their cover. The organisers of the prize recognise this too, stating that one of its main objectives is to create the “widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction”, which it achieves with great success; “the winner and the shortlisted authors now enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales worldwide.”
As well as book sale figures, the creation of the Man Booker longlist and shortlist inspires public cultural events such as readings at the Southbank Centre in London, and increases outreach by printing each of the shortlist books in braille and giant print. Even University events are created around the Man Booker Foundation, including a scheme where “students are given a winning or shortlisted Man Booker Prize novel to read and discuss followed by a visit from the author who takes part in a combination of workshops, lectures and reading groups.” Although a token gesture of community engagement, this scheme provides an invaluable opportunity for students – whether they aspire to have careers in writing, or whether they simply need to re-ignite their childhood pastime of reading.
“Promoting accessible, mainstream fiction to readers is the prize’s resounding success”
For many 21st century working adults, reading a book just isn’t part of their lifestyle. Our population is in danger of only reading when we are young or when we are old. This leaves a cultural crater in the middle of our adult lives when it’s easy to become disconnected from the multi-cultural education that we can gain through arts and literature. I’m sure I’d be amazed by how much this year’s winner could teach me about 1970s and present day Jamaica…
Promoting accessible, mainstream fiction to readers is the prize’s resounding success. However, this year’s winner, Marlon James, also hopes that it will help to promote the “spunky creativity” of under-represented literary communities – e.g. writers of Jamaican and Caribbean heritage. 2015 is the second year that the Man Booker has been open to writers of any nationality writing in English, and as a result the prize popularises an increasingly diverse range of works for the British public to explore. The wide scope of literature included in the short-list means that readers keep learning and experiencing writing from all kinds of places, instead of digesting repeated material from the same mainstream publishers.