Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sausages, Laws, and Booker Prize Winners

Amit Verma blogs about an article in the Guardian on how the Booker Prizes are awarded.

James Wood from that article:

it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins. I remember that one of the judges phoned me and said, in effect: “I know that you especially like novel X, and you know that I especially like novel Y. It would be good if both those books got on to the shortlist, yes? So if you vote for my novel, I’ll vote for yours, OK?”

That is how our shortlist was patched together, and it is how our winner was chosen.

So, how should one make such a choice? Could it be that the reason this happened was that the Judges had no stake in the outcome other than their vanity? Would Chris Dillow's demand revealing referenda be a better way?

Again, if a small group of specialists cannot agree on such a simple question- choosing one book among many- isn't that evidence that democracy may be a good mechanism to keep governments in check, but a lousy way to make complex decisions involving the kind of trade-offs we face in government today?

Limited government, anyone?

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