[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Booker judge gives novel advice
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Monday's announcement of this year's Man Booker longlist marks the beginning of a countdown that will end on 10 October when the overall winner is revealed.

John Sutherland (photo Sarah Lee)
Sutherland has twice been on the Man Booker Prize committee

If the members of the 2006 panel need any help wading through the selected titles, they need look no further than John Sutherland, chairman of last year's committee.

Under his guidance, the UK's most prestigious literary prize was controversially awarded to The Sea, by Irish author John Banville.

How the judges came to that decision forms part of his latest work How to Read a Novel, an instructional tome offering consumers tips on how to gain the most from the wealth of published fiction on offer.

"When I started my reading career books were hard to come by," the critic and columnist tells the BBC News website.

"Now it's the opposite. Sometimes you feel you're being crushed by the weight of books available.

"There is so much choice, all of it tempting and much of it good," he adds.

"What I wanted to do, as much for myself as anyone else, was find strategies to get through this extraordinary thicket."

'Thundering cattle'

To maximise the enjoyment of reading fiction, Mr Sutherland argues, the reader must develop individual criteria based on personal preferences.

These can be hard to establish when every bookshop's shelves come groaning with instructions, exhortations and endorsements.

"I get slightly worried when everyone buys The Da Vinci Code," he says. "It's like a herd of thundering cattle, all heading in the same direction.

Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobsen's comic writing may have a Booker 'handicap'

"If there is a message in the book, it's choose for yourself - find out who you are and what fiction works for you."

Prizes like the Man Booker can prove a valuable pointer for readers, Mr Sutherland argues.

"Some say the Booker is only there to stimulate book sales, but I don't believe that," he says.

"What will happen is that people will look at the novels that are nominated and say, 'Do I agree?'

"At their best, that is what prizes do - they give people signposts."

"People don't necessarily have to follow them. But if they do, they can get to interesting places," he adds.

'Interesting places'

But one criticism the author has of the Man Booker is the way it tends to prioritise serious novels over those of a more comical bent.

"There are some terrifically good comic writers around at the moment, such as David Lodge and Howard Jacobson, are in some respect running with a handicap.

"But I know from experience that when you get into that committee room, it's extremely hard to argue that a trivial book is more important than an earnest one."

John Banville
Irish author John Banville won last year's Man Booker with The Sea

With its playful references to Jacqueline Susann, Jeffrey Archer and Star Trek, earnest is not a word that readily applies to Sutherland's latest work.

But while the book displays an admirable lightness of touch - not least by having a glowing rave from its own author emblazoned on its jacket - the writer has a serious point to convey.

"Novels can enlarge your life," he says. "The more you read, the more you discover about yourself.

"You can't eat or breathe them, and they won't solve our problems. But they do define our problems in a way that makes it easier for us to solve them ourselves."

How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide is published by Profile Books on 17 August, priced 9.99.

Booker Prize strikes up 5m deal
23 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Actress Shaw joins Booker panel
10 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Hermione Lee chairs Booker judges
13 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Banville's Sea takes 2005 Booker
10 Oct 05 |  Entertainment


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific