A ray of hope in the shadowy world of books

SHE IS blonde, slim and American, and has been to bed with at least one rock star. Who could be surprised, then, that Jerry Hall's appointment to the panel of judges for the Whitbread Books Prize has caused trills of outrage from the heart of the small and snobbish literary world?

In fact, the only shocking aspect of the whole business thus far has been that Whitbread, having made a sensible decision, were then panicked by the sneering cognoscenti into asking the former Mrs Mick Jagger to prove that she was not a bimbo by listing her favourite reading. With commendably good grace under the circumstances, Jerry revealed that her favourites included Blake, Pushkin, Joyce and Garcia Marquez.

No reading list, of course, will alter the view from the dark interior of the critical establishment.

"Where do you go after this? Do you get a Spice Girl?" asked Martin Goff, administrator of the Booker Prize. "It never works, putting celebrities on the panel. These people speak a different language. When the other judges talk about form and narrative dialogue, they are left in the dark."

These words, which neatly articulate the majority view among the professionals, are profoundly revealing. Literary prizes should not be judged by readers, Goff is saying. They are, culturally speaking, not quite our class, darling.

It is a position that explains why so often books proclaimed as masterpieces by the hired hands of the arts pages bewilder and disappoint those who pay money for them in bookshops. Influenced by this system of critical apartheid, the beadier and more ambitious authors are now writing with an eye not on posterity or on potential readers, but on a small gang of opinionated experts.

There is another reason why Jerry Hall will be a better judge than most critics. She is not part of the scene. She has not been compromised by years of friendship and rivalry, by favours given and received. She has not taught on a creative writing course. She does not need to ingratiate herself with a publisher. Cyril Connolly once argued that "critics in England do not accept bribes but one day they discover that in a sense their whole life is an accepted bribe, a fabric of compromises based on personal relationships" and an informed glance at the nominations for books of the year that have recently appeared in newspapers and magazines - an annual ritual in which writers exchange Yuletide gifts of puffs and plugs for each other's work - confirms that Connolly's words are as true today as they were 60 years ago.

But perhaps the strongest case for including well-read celebrities on book-judging panels lies precisely in the fact that they are famous. The last thing that they need is publicity. Unlike the ambitious would-be novelist, the grandstanding media academic, the copy-hungry columnist, they have no vested interest in stirring up a spurious media controversy in order to promote their own careers and profiles.

"Booker will not go down this route," said Mr Goff, but, of course, it already has. Among eminent past jurors for the Booker Prize are to be found the names of Trevor McDonald, Joanna Lumley, Mary Wilson and Robin Ray - all of whom, I would venture, were likely to be left in the dark by talk of "narrative dialogue", whatever that may be. The shortlists and winners to which these celebrities contributed were no less sophisticated or intelligent than those produced by Establishment intellectuals, though there was notably less leaking, whingeing and general showing off than in other years.

The modelling world from which Jerry Hall comes may not be the last word in integrity and straight-dealing, yet she seems likely to bring more grace, discretion and honesty to the judging process than would most representatives of the shifty, shadowy world of books.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor