Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Tense, Nervous Headache?

That'll be because they're announcing the longlist for the German Book Prize tomorrow.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - this prize is an absolute gift for the German-language publishing industry. Before 2005, there was no "book of the year" here - a book was a hit if Marcel Reich-Ranicki said it was good. Or Brigitte magazine. But now, we ignoramuses have a higher authority to sanction stickers on books.

And it's not just readers that snap up the shortlisted titles - famously, they are also sold to foreign publishers. Take a look at the 2006 shortlist: Stanisic's ubiquitous Gramophone, Hacker's Have-Nots, Trojanow's Collector of Worlds, Ingo Schulze's New Lives and Thomas Hettche's What We Are Made Of have all made it into English. Martin Walser is such a controversial character that I'm not surprised he hasn't. But Paulus Hochgatterer did slip from the longlist into translation with The Sweetness of Life.

A list like this simply makes it easy to pick out solid fiction without knowing a great deal about German books in general. The prize was partly designed to raise the profile of contemporary German fiction abroad - God knows something had to be done. And it's working. Of course, the German critics are disgruntled at its success - Christoph Schrödinger has an article in today's taz bemoaning the shift in power from one TV show (the now defunct Literarisches Quartett) to a hand-picked panel. But, really, so what?

I for one will be biting my nails in anticipation of the latest lovely longlist.

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