How to Judge the Booker Prize in a Pandemic

“That was the negative for me,” Child stated about the PDFs. “I so much prefer an actual book.” He ended up studying them “lying on my sofa, staring at my laptop for six, eight, 10 hours at a time,” he stated.

Sissay stated lockdown, for all its issues, benefited the judges, since all their different plans had been canceled, from guide excursions to broadcast jobs. “There was nothing to do but read,” he stated. “There will never, ever, be a judging panel that has so much time to just focus on the books.”

Initially, the studying pile overwhelmed him greater than the pandemic. “There was a point when I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” he stated. “It was just shock and overload.” But Sissay taught himself to learn rapidly — he wouldn’t reveal his methodology — and shortly appreciated the distraction the books gave him.

None of the judges stated the pandemic influenced the kinds of books they favored. “If I hadn’t been judging this, I’d probably have been reading murder stories,” Wilson stated. “I’d have wanted some darkness where it was all wrapped up — some sense of closure. But with this I just enjoyed being taken to a different world every day, even if it had some darkness in it.”

Rahim agreed. “At a time when you couldn’t really see anyone, what I found great was being able to take a book every evening and get to know someone,” he stated. “It was like a blind date: sometimes great, sometimes not so great, sometimes indifferent. It was replacement socializing.”

The judges’ month-to-month conferences continued on Zoom. Busby stated she preferred the glimpses into the different judges’ lives that got here with it. “You can see who smokes,” she stated with a chortle.

But she missed being in a room collectively, she stated. “You can’t turn to someone and say, ‘What do you think?’”

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