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The Man Booker International example

The Man Booker International example

It appears that America’s premier literary awards, the National Book Awards, are taking a leaf out of the Man Booker book. From this year, the NBAs – which were started in 1950 to “celebrate the best of American literature” – will also recognise works in translation. The model clearly references the Man Booker International Prize, which has been running since 2005. As with the Man Booker International, the NBAs will split the $10,000 prize between author and translator and, as the chair of the awards noted, “This is an opportunity for us to influence how visible books in translation are. The less we know about the rest of the world, the worse off we are.” This is the first time in two decades that the NBA Foundation has added a new category and it is hard to believe that without the example of the Man Booker International prize that the change would have been made. The inaugural winner will be announced on 14th November, with the Man Booker International once again leading the way, announcing its winner on 22nd May.

George Saunders, the reigning Man Booker laureate, is not one to put his feet up. Recently listing his current cultural highlights he revealed that he is “addicted” to Beyoncé's Lemonade album: “The mix of music and visuals and poetry and politics has really gotten under my skin. I’m drawn to certain cultural products because I can feel them affect and change my artistic approach . . . it’s almost like it’s clarifying my vision of what’s beautiful.” Blimey. By way of an unlikely counterpoint he is also reading all of Shakespeare's plays in order: “I’m not even at the good plays yet – I’m up to Henry VI, Part One.” His reasoning is not just self-improvement but technical, “I’m trying to figure out how to mimic the way he could get so many people in a play so fully realised, and I’m learning some tricks.” Frustratingly though, “I won’t say what they are.” So the next Saunders project should be a case of Shakespeare and Single Ladies.

Monica Ali, shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2003 for Brick Lane, has also been showing her cultural chops. She was tasked with selecting 10 sites redolent of music and literature for Historic England’s “A History of England in 100 Places”. Her guiding principle was to choose “not only places in which to learn about the past” but also places that “invite contemplation, reflection and – just maybe – inspiration, thus passing the creative baton to future generations”. So a tick for Shakespeare's birthplace and the Brontë parsonage at Haworth, but Ali also went for the 100 Club in London, home to the Sex Pistols at one point, and the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester because it “was the first nightclub I ever went to in the 80s. No club ever topped that for me. It was the coolest place I’ve ever been.”

An interesting insight about how dust-jacket designers go about their business was offered recently by Suzanne Dean, the creative director at Vintage publishers and the woman behind the cover of The Only Story, the latest novel by the 2011 Man Booker winner Julian Barnes. Her method, she says, was to work up “several themes in response to lines within the novel”. So a description of Susan, one of the two lead characters, sitting on a chintz sofa in a floral dress led to a search for period images of such a pattern-rich woman. Susan is described as having unusual, lobeless ears, which sent Dean on a hunt for croppable images of a similar lughole. The other main character, Paul, keeps a notebook in which he jots down phrases about love and in one instance crosses them out, so Dean started to experiment with crossed-out typography. And so on. In fact it was this last idea that was eventually chosen, but it is clear that almost as much work goes into getting the covers of books right as goes into the writing of them. You should, it seems, judge a book by its cover after all.