Every year a group of people who don’t know each other very well are told to read hundreds of novels very very quickly, and then come up with a list of a dozen or so that they all agree on. These people will all have different tastes, of course, because people do, so coming up with this list will involve many compromises; and there have to be other considerations at work, too. This group of people have been asked to judge the Booker Prize, which, according to the prize’s website, is for “the very best book of the year”, written by a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth. So if, in the opinion of the judges, the dozen or so best books were all written by English authors, they would have to think again – they’d be slaughtered, quite rightly, for ignoring the rest of the world. Nor could they choose an all-male list, or an all-female list. When Michael Portillo, this year’s chair of the judges, expressed satisfaction with a “good spread”, some of the more excitable bloggers felt that he’d revealed a dark secret, the politically-correct sham at the heart of the process – IT SHOULDN’T BE ABOUT SPREADS, JUST GOOD BOOKS! – but of course he’d done nothing of the sort, because without a “good spread”, the prize is meaningless.
The excitable bloggers get cross because they still think – incredibly – that you can prove one book is better than another, that an official ranking would actually be attainable were it not for the idiot judges with their execrable tastes and their dubious political gerrymandering. It’s not true, of course. I have said it before, and, as nobody ever listens, I’ll be saying it again: there is no such thing as an objectively good book, and there is certainly no such thing as a “best book”; there are only books we love, for reasons too complicated and personal ever to articulate convincingly. And any attempt to maintain otherwise always leads you down a dark and disagreeable path towards a community that believes the general reading public is stupid for liking the books it does. Don’t go there, as they say.