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Middle class problems: The Booker list

Autumn's here, and so the middle classes stow their sand-speckled Jack Reachers and turn to the Booker shortlist.

Ah, the Booker: publishing's way of getting us to read literary fiction. By golly, it works: Howard Jacobson's 2010 win increased sales of The Finkler Question by 1,918 per cent. With book sales declining by the year, the Booker is worth celebrating. But that doesn't mean it's without its problems.

First, there's the guilt. Have you read them all? Indeed, have you read any? There's just over a month between the shortlist and the prize, which isn't long to form an opinion on six good and (whisper it very, very quietly) difficult books.

Hence the proliferation of digested reads to help us bluff our way through competitive dinner parties in a fug of half-forgotten humanities degrees and Pinot Grigio.

Then there's the gloom. The Finkler Question, The Gathering, A Sense of an Ending: all wonderful, but my goodness, they're depressing. When, in 2011, head judge Stella Rimington said that she was looking for "enjoyable" books, the literati went ape.

True, awards nominations often lead us to novels we'd never have otherwise discovered. But admit it: there are times when Booker enthusiasm turns to Booker despair: which of us hasn't toiled through a vast hardback, wrists sagging, pages drifting by as thoughts drift to lunch?

Still, it's great that we're talking about these authors. It's pronounced Collum Toe-Been, by the way. You're welcome.

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