When it comes around I won't be able to ignore it, the Booker Prize is sadly entrenched in my genes, I have to read the books and this year will be no different, so I was a cert to attend the Booker 40th event at the Oxford Litfest. Let's also hope we get an updated souvenir book to match the Booker 30th, because mine and Juliette's are always off the shelf. Things have certainly moved on in that time, Michael Portillo Chairman of the Judges now a blogger too.
Informatively chaired by Ion Trewin (who sat in my chair!) with Ruth Scurr and Peter Kemp to assist we were treated to a retrospective of the last forty years since the prize was established in 1969. That all happened on a golf course apparently and I'm sure Ion said Ian Fleming was involved. Booker had started to buy up book rights as an investment and it was gently suggested to them that they might like to put some of their profits back into the literary world.
Forty of the forty-one winners (there was a tie for the prize on two occasions, 1974 and 1992 ) remain in print which is seen as a test of the standard of the books and we, the book-buying reading public, will be able to vote on a shortlist of the Best of the Booker to be announced on May 14th.
There was some discussion about the impossibility of reconciling taste and fiction and the fact that the whole thing frequently generates rows and thereby its own valuable media oxygen.
Ruth Scurr and Peter Kemp then offered their own personal six favourites
The True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey
Offshore - Penelope Fitzgerald
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Then controversially decided to subvert the judges decision and award the prize to
The Master by Colm Toibin instead of The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingshurst
The Gathering - Anne Enright
Disgrace - J.M.Coetzee
The Bone People - Keri Hulme, a book that is "mad to page forty" and then comes to life and there were some fascinating anecdotes recounted both about the discovery of this book and the actual awards ceremony.
The Ghost Road - Patricia Barker
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
Rites of Passage - William Golding
Last Orders - Graham Swift
Staying On - Paul Scott
They forgot to ask for my choices.
So two fascinating lists and will this be the year that I lose my 100% record of never choosing the winner?
My head often makes the right choice (last year The Gathering by Anne Enright) but I always choose my winner from the heart, Bookerthon 2007, Darkmans by Nicola Barker, Bookerthon 2006 Carry Me Down by M.J.Hyland, the year before that 2005 and pre-blog, A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.
Whilst not wishing to preempt any final dovegreyreader decisions for Bookerthon 2008, I'm tempted to put £10 on His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, this early in the day, it's already strangely captured both my head and my heart.
There that was stupid, I've gone and said it now.