Cultivating an opinion on books can, sometimes, feel a bit mean-spirited. Six books arrived on my doorstep – six physical manifestations of intense graft and creativity – and here I was, a literal nobody in the world of literature, expected to judge them; to decide which ones deserved broader attention and which ones…well, didn’t. Of course, my judgements would by no means be taken into account (this was just a shadow panel, after all); but it still felt like a responsibility. Who am I to judge these writers? To recklessly cast out my opinion on something that may have been years, even decades in the making?
The answer: I am a reader.
While the judges of literary prizes may have esteemed reputations or established aplomb in the world of books, they are, by their very nature of being asked to judge a literary prize, atypical readers. They most likely received the shortlisted books with a seasoned nonchalance, not the stupidly smug grin of a student who had, somehow, managed to get six books entirely for free delivered to his front door. My value as a judge comes from the fact that I am a typical reader. I am the guy who might actually go out and buy these books and recommend (or not) that others buy them, too. So, here goes.
Buy The Passion of Harry Bingo, then give it to your auntie or sweet old Granny because it’s a book about diversity that’s crammed full of humour and strangeness and a resounding sense that we should value tradition, community and the eccentricities of real life. Buy Scotland: Mapping the Isles because it’ll look cracking on your coffee table and is full of cartographic wonder. Buy Waypoints if you like boats and myths. Buy Love of Country if you want a guided tour of the Hebrides with a friendly voice. Buy Border because it’s the oddest thing I’ve read in a long time. Buy Al-Britannia if you want a sensitive, if flawed, discussion of Muslim Britain.
And, most importantly, make up your own mind about these books. After all, your opinion matters just as much as mine.