Book prizes prove they have the popular touch

Another day, another shortlist. There are around 300 book prizes in the UK and Ireland, so it is a rare dawn that does not tell us a little about the nation's reading habits - or at least about the preferences of publishers, authors and book prize judges.

Yesterday was the turn of the pounds 23,000 Whitbread Prize. It always enjoys cocking a snook at older brother Booker. So, authors surprisingly left off the Booker shortlist - Ian McEwan and John Banville - found their way on to the Whitbread list.

Melvin Burgess's novel Junk, about drug addiction in Bristol, was shortlisted for the children's book category, guaranteeing the necessary controversy upon which book prize publicity depends. (And in case that doesn't work, the judges have come up with an all-male shortlist in the best novel category, taking on literary correctness and giving producers of late night television arts programmes an easy debating point.

Best novel? Best children's book? This is an all-embracing prize isn't it? The answer is yes. The judges must weigh up not only best novel and best kids' book, but also best biography and best collection of poems, and decide an overall winner.

Is this intellectually feasible? Can Wordsworth be compared and contrasted with Dickens? Can this year's judges really decide between Ted Hughes and McEwan, who appear in the novel and poetry categories? Book prizes may have to be different from each other. But this is taking difference to a perplexing extreme.The comparison of unlike with unlike is worrying. But the other accusation always aimed at book prizes - that they bear little relation to what "real people" actually read - may not hold water.

Yesterday also saw the publication of an international survey of 5,000 people in 191 countries by The Good Book Guide. Most popular novel turned out to be The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day was second, and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient third - all books that have been made into films, which is probably not insignificant. Fourth was Gabriel Garcia Marquez with Love In The Time Of Cholera and fifth Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy.

Jung Chang and Nelson Mandela were one and two in the biography section. Only in children's books (Roald Dahl) and science (Stephen Hawking) did home grown authors top the charts.

The world's readers of English language books are not, it seems, choosing English authors in the main. But they are choosing books that have either won or been shortlisted for literary prizes. For all the knocking of these largely artificial events, they turn out to have more of an influence on public taste than is usually reckoned.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all