Submitted by SimonSingleton on Sun, 20/11/2011 - 16:32
"Good evening and welcome. In a moment Jon Aisbitt will be adding his words of welcome. Jon is the Chairman of the Man Group which is the generous, supportive and farsighted sponsor of the Man Booker Prize.
Well, it has been the usual quiet, sedate and uncontroversial year for the Man Booker Prizes. You will recall that earlier this year the International Prize was awarded, not without considerable discussion, to Philip Roth.
Since its start 42 years ago the objective of tonight's annual prize has not changed. It is to recognise and celebrate the best novel of the year, in the opinion of the judges, and by extension to encourage generally the reading of contemporary fiction of the highest literary quality.
One indicator of success, but not necessarily the most important one, is book sales. Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, the winner last year, has sold just under 600,000 copies in the English language and he has just secured his thirtieth overseas publication and translation deal by selling the Arabic rights to a Lebanese publisher. However this year's shortlist has been by far the strongest selling in the history of the prize and is more than double last year.
But as I've said, book sales are not the raison d'être of the prize and readership of literary fiction of the highest quality can be encouraged and promoted in other ways. Our programme of assistance for public libraries, which are facing very challenging times has been expanded with the provision of more materials and support for reading groups. In the last few days shortlisted authors have said or written how much they owed to local libraries. As Julian Barnes wrote ‘the cost of our free public library system is small, its value immense. To diminish and dismantle it would be a kind of national self-mutilation.'
Perhaps less well recognised are the other ways we continue to spread awareness and reach new audiences. The website hs attracted almost a million users. Facebook followers have increased by over 200% in the last three months and Twitter is fast growing.
Our partnership programme with universities continues successfully and freshman classes at six UK universities will be given a Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel to read, discuss and argue about and will meet the author whether they are studying Physics, Biology, Economics or whatever. With the Man Group we are also reaching blind and partially sighted people through the RNIB which is making available brail and talking books including all the longlist. A blind reader wrote saying ‘it's imperative that the Man Booker Prize longlist should be available for blind and partially sighted people to enjoy. It goes beyond simple reading. The Man Booker Prize takes literature into art; people want to read them and appreciate them. Everybody should be allowed to appreciate art.'
At the announcement of the longlist in July the New York Times reported that the Man Booker Prize is ‘the most prestigious award for fiction in the English speaking world'
We will keep it that way.