October 12, 2005



The only reason I can think of is the stereotypical one: many Americans don't read serious literature (hence little effect on the sales of Pulitzer or National Book Award winning books), whereas a majority of Brits--or at least a significantly larger portion than the Americans--do read seriously (hence the effects of the Booker Prize).


Hazard a guess? It's complicated phenomenom, but not a difficult question to answer.

Try the deep historical well-springs of American anti-intellectualism, exemplified by a reactionary evangelical religiousity drenched in cheap sentimentality; a secular worship of business culture with a corresponding emphasis on "practical" intelligence, as opposed to "elitist", impecuniary literature and other forms of art; and a faux populist political style, embodied by our current president, which exploits the above trends and, implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, denigrates artistic and intellectual achievement.

You can read all about it in Richard Hofstadter's 1964 classic, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life", or crib from a brilliant synthetic shortcut, Todd Gitlin's 2000 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The Renaissance of American Anti-Intellectualism."

This is America--we have many strengths, but championing and rewarding literary excellence is not one of them.


The Booker Prize is broadcast live on BBC television and the weeks leading up to the award are full of speculation on radio shows - the BBC also produces television programmes on each of the short listed book so there is a lot of anticipation. Add to that the newspaper's literary pages taking a keen interest, and the fact the winner of the prize makes front page headlines in the following days paper, is interviewed on breakfast TV and profiles are always run in the aftermath, its not difficult to see why the publishing industry covets the Booker so much.

Interestingly, other prizes like the Orange, the Whitbread, and the Samuel Johnson Award for Non Fiction also receive significant media, television and radio coverage - so there is always something going on, keeping literature in the news and general culture.


From my experience of reading both Pulitzer and Booker winners I'd guess it's because they choose different types of book. I'm not exaclty sure what it is, but I've never read a Booker winner I haven't loved while I've rarely enjoyed a Pulitzer winner.

Combined with what Luke says, I suspect that picking winners with popular appeal might have something to do with it.

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