Saturday, March 1, 2008


Several months ago I agreed to be a judge in the Rooster, a literary competition on the Morning News. The competition is set up as a knock-out - each judge in the first round is sent two of the books under consideration, of which one goes on to the next round.

In most competitions the judges must work their way through a very large number of books, which does take up time; on the other hand, if a brilliant book has been entered for the competition the judge will certainly have the chance to read it. In a knock-out you get your two books, look at the complete list of entries and discover that some other lucky sod got Robert Bolanos' The Savage Detectives AND Tom McCarthy's Remainder. If you had been reading from a pool that included The Savage Detectives, you could be pretty sure of reading at least one brilliant book, and then you could confine your public comments to enthusiastic remarks on the brilliance of X (and possibly Y and Z which you reluctantly decided where not QUITE as brilliant as X). In a knock-out, you may find yourself not only reading two books you would never have chosen to read, but forced to say something about them to justify sending one on to the next round. The two correspondents with whom I shared uncensored anguish asked whether it was actually necessary to vote for one of the books; as the competition is set up, yes. Perhaps it would have been better to refuse to cooperate, perhaps it would have been better to toss a coin. I was tired.

A week ago I got an e-mail from the organiser explaining that they would be announcing the names of the judges the following week and would need a brief bio, as well as any conflicts of interest relating to the books in the competition. The e-mail explained that any conflict of interest must be mentioned because the prize, unlike other prizes, made a point of transparency. It then explained that it would be nice if those with blogs were to mention the competition, but they must not mention the fact that they were judges.

A reader has asked in a comment why I have not been publicising this competition. I would have been happy to mention the competition if I had not been asked to conceal my participation as a judge. The other judges include Maud Newton, Mark Sarvas of the Elegant Variation and Mark Liberman of the incomparable Language Log, all well established, highly regarded bloggers; I'm sure they too felt they could not mention the competition until their participation was a matter of public knowledge.

The winner of my first-round pair-off will come up against the winner of The Savage Detectives and Remainder, and the two books will be judged by Mark Liberman.


springer said...

Savage Detectives and Remainder were paired in the FIRST round? Terrible seeding. Those were two of the best books of the year.

Ithaca said...

Well, I thought it was a bit strange; haven't read either but have heard they're brilliant. I gather all the judges read the books that make it to the final round, though, so I might yet get to read one.