Sunday Salon: Book Depository and Man Booker

TSSbadge3 My small contribution this week is an interview of me by Mark Thwaite over at The Book Depository, in which I say a little bit about blogging and recommend some excellent books. None of them, of course, on the Man Booker prize shortlist, which was announced earlier in the week.

Declan Burke pointed out the relationship between readers' choice and judges' selection from the longlist. The books in red below were shortlisted, the ones in black were not. The numbers at the end of each title are the numbers of copies sold in the UK by the end of July. The clothes on their backs sold 13 copies in the week ending 26 July and 144 in the following week (the longlist was announced on 29 July). Or, to look at it another way, by the end of July all the shortlisted titles combined had not sold as many as the top-selling two books, by a long way. Yet the top-selling two books - not mass-market titles but books that had been considered worthy of longlisting - were not shortlisted.

1. The Enchantress of Florence 15,433
2. Child 44 8,278
3. Sea of Poppies 5,034
4. Netherland 4,023
5. The Clothes on Their Backs 3,592
6. The White Tiger 1,852
7. The Secret Scripture 1,568
8. A Case of Exploding Mangoes 1,000
9. The Northern Clemency 916
10. A Fraction of the Whole 392
11. The Lost Dog 363

These figures allow the literati to have a good old preach at the expense of the great unwashed reading public, for example, The Independent: "In the five weeks after the long-list announcement on 29 July, the 13 titles of the “Booker dozen” sold fewer than 14,000 UK copies; on average, barely 1,000 each. This is, frankly, pathetic." I beg to disagree with this snobbish assessment. Perhaps readers buy books because they are (or look as if they might be) good, and not if they aren't. Perhaps the judges might have factored into their selection that more than 15,000 discerning readers had stumped up hard-earned cash to read Salman Rushdie, therefore the book might be considered rather good by quite a lot of readers. I cannot see a single one of the Man Booker shortlist on the top 50 sellers in the UK last week (week ending 6 September), in which 26,755 people paid up for no. 1 (still Linwood Barclay), ranging down to 5,080 for no. 50 (Clarissa Dickson Wright edged into last place by Bill Bryson). Similarly, none of the shortlist appears in the top 10 sales at independent bookstores in the past week. It is a long time since I gave up reading the Booker shortlist each year, as was my wont, because I found it to be such an unreliable indicator of the quality of a book. Clearly, things haven't changed: what people actually like reading is not partially but totally irrelevant to this top literary prize.