Thursday 14 August 2014

And the 2014 Indie Hotlist Longlist

Alongside the German Book Prize there's also the independent publishers' Hotlist, which is perhaps slightly more transparent. As in: they show you all the submissions (143 of them - one per publisher) and then they choose thirty of those, and then you can vote on your favourite. The three books/publishers with the most votes get a spot on the final hotlist, along with seven books/publishers selected by a jury. And then that jury announces the actual winner at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. At a party that anyone can go to, not like the German Book Prize announcement (although to be fair, that one is broadcast on the radio).

Voting's open until 18 August, so you can still join in if you like. To be honest, though, how can anyone possibly decide between thirty books they've never read? Seeing as the €5000 prize goes to the publisher rather than the writer/translator anyway, I've just picked my favourite publisher out of the thirty in the running. Because, hey, everyone else is voting on equally dubious premises, I assume.

The hotlist will be announced at the beginning of September, at which point I'll report back.

I've been thinking, arguing, trying to form an opinion, by the way, about women on prize lists and women on prize juries. Because a lot of people said yesterday, Jeez, the German Book Prize longlist only has five women on it! And I think, yes, OK, that's a pretty crummy percentage. In fact, clever translator and writer Clemens J. Setz worked out that over the past ten years (?) of the prize's existence, women have occupied 5.77 out of the 20 longlist spots on average. On the other hand, women have won the prize itself more often than men. What we don't know, however, as clever translator and writer Isabel F. Cole pointed out, is the gender ratio of the writers whose books were submitted by their publishers, 176 of them. So we don't know whether the jury had fewer books by women to choose from or just happened to prefer the ones written by men.

Part of the reaction, if you ask me, comes from critics needing to find a hook for their speedily written news items and being convinced they could do better than the respective jury. But whatever the case, the German Book Prize is doing one thing really well: its seven-person jury is made up of four women and three men and is chaired by a woman*. That, for me, is where quotas make sense – for individuals, not for works of art. Because I think what I ultimately think is that in this kind of competition – which will only ever be subjective, of course, because how could there ever be a "best book of the year"? – it has to be the quality of the novels that counts, not the identity of the people who wrote them.

*The Hotlist has five men and two women, but hey, we don't know how that happened either.

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