Held a fascinating event tonight. Orange Prize 2011 judge, Liz Calder came to Browsers to talk about the experience of being on the panel of five and reading from a list of 150 titles to choose this year's winner.
Actually, she didn't read all 150 (although the head of the judges, Bettany Hughes, did apparently). Each of the judges had 30 books given to them in December, and had to report back to the panel in March. From this discussion, the longlist was chosen, and all the judges then had to read these books.
Liz said that she learned as a publisher that the only way to get through a big pile of books was to get up early and, before the business of the day is started, do your reading. Now retired (although still involved in organising the annual literature festival in Brazil and running a new publishing company based in Suffolk), she found she was able to clear the decks and read constantly for the six months, and some books she read two or three times in order to be sure she had made the right decision. She believes she has read 70 books and it has been 'exhilarating'!
When I first saw the shortlist, though, my heart sank. There was nothing there that appealed to me. I thought I ought to read them in order to be better informed for Liz's visit and what a treat this turned out to be.
I've read four of the six titles (pretty poor considering Liz's tally), and they all surprised me. 'Room' was amazing. I really didn't want to read it, but thought it was very well done. But my favourite - so far - is 'The Memory of Love'. Every time I picked it up I was transported. Not that the subject or location was a particular draw for me, but the writing and the pace was so relaxing and enjoyable. I felt that I was being looked after by someone clever and gifted. It felt a privilege to read it every time I turned the page.