Twitter 'stops children reading' says Man Booker 2011 judge
Children spend so much time on Twitter and mobile phones that they are losing their love of novels and reading fewer, the chair of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction has warned.
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, said she was concerned that pupils were missing out on the pleasure of books as electronic communications increasingly dominate their lives.
The judges yesterday announced this year’s longlist of 13 novels, including one of the shortest books ever selected for the 42-year-old award, four first-time novelists and one previous winner.
Dame Stella said that while she was confident a market for fiction would still exist in 100 years, she feared many children were not growing up to be book lovers. “I think much of the Twittering and emailing and texting and all that sort of stuff that children go in for now may be taking their eyes off reading fiction. When I was young we read more than the average child reads now.”
Teachers needed to find ways to instil a love of fiction in children, she said, although electronic “reader” devices that can store hundreds of books and newspapers, such as the Amazon Kindle, “could help turn the tide”.
The panel of five judges, who have read 138 novels since Christmas, were locked in a selection meeting for two hours yesterday before finalising the 13 titles.
Irish author Sebastian Barry has been given another shot at the prestigious prize after his book On Canaan’s Side was nominated. Mr Barry has been shortlisted twice but has never won the gong
By the judges’ own admission, the process involved heated discussions among the panel, which included Chris Mullin, the former Labour MP and diarist; Matthew D’Ancona, the writer and journalist, and Susan Hill, the author.
The fifth judge, The Telegraph’s head of books, Gaby Wood, said the “passionate” arguments had been “fantastic”. “It wasn’t just about [voting] numbers, it was about strength of feeling and opinion,” she said. “It’s for that reason that there is such a good range of books.”
The longlist ranges from post-Cold War thrillers to “high” literary fiction. Julian Barnes, who has been shortlisted three times, is being tipped as an early favourite for The Sense of an Ending, his acclaimed 160-page novel about the fortunes of a group of school friends.
Dame Stella said she was a personal fan of Barnes’s “spare and elegant” style, but would not be drawn on her favourite. The shortlist of six will be announced in September with the winner, who receives £50,000, to be decided in October.