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Booker, book awards and bestsellers

22 September 2003

The announcement this week of the shortlist for the 2003 Man Booker has surprised many in the book world. Only one of the big literary names entered for the prize, Margaret Atwood with Oryx and Crake, made it to the shortlist. Luminaries such as Martin Amis, Graham Swift and former Booker winner J M Coetzee were excluded in favour of relative unknowns, three of them first novelists and three published by independent publishers.

John Carey, chair of the judges, said 'This is a giant killers' year in the Man Booker. Three first novels and only one big name left.' Much attention has focused on Monica Ali's Brick Lane, a much-heralded debut novel from the publishers Transworld, who have got a book onto the shortlist for the first time. Editors at the other part of the Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing Group, better known for its literary publishing with such imprints as Cape, Chatto & Windus and Secker, must have mixed feelings about their colleagues' success.

The publisher of Clare Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour, tiny Tindal Street Press in Birmingham, with a staff of two and only 15 books published to date, will see a big change in its fortunes. The shortlist is a real boost for the new and the small, displacing the established authors and publishing houses and showing that new writers can break through at the very highest level.

In the States there's been a mixed reception to the news that horror-writing super-seller Stephen King is to receive the National Book Awards' annual medal for a distinguished contribution to American letters. Former winners are such literary stars as John Updike, Arthur Miller and Toni Morrison. Harold Bloom, self-appointed definer of the literary canon, is outraged: 'That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.' But just where do you draw the line between the literary and the commercial, and how do you decide what is really good? The Man Booker judges seem to have come up with an interesting answer.