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Erin Wilson
Features Writer
8:14 AM 14th August 2020
Opinion

Making a Difference: The Booker Prize 2020

Over the past few months, and in full view of unfolding events, something I have heard too much of in the realm of books is that ‘reading cannot create change’, ‘reading cannot make a difference’, ‘you need to do something more’.

Perhaps something in this sentiment makes sense: reading alone may not have the power to effect change, though I would argue differently. For me, reading equals knowledge, learning and education. Reading fiction is shown to greatly expand empathy and the potential for social understanding, whilst non-fiction is highly instructive and informative. Reading expands our mental universe, opening perspectives and rendering our bookshelves infinitely more diverse. The Booker Prize seeks to encourage such a mandate by bringing together the best fiction writers from a broad range of backgrounds to showcase diversity in fiction.

Reading for this year’s Booker nominations has possibly seen the most eclectic long-list of the past few years – nine women have been nominated, five nominations are for authors of colour and all authors stretch the nominations from around the globe.

The list also includes several debuts, such as Gabriel Krauze’s Who They Was, a first-hand account of a young man who has lived a life of crime, and Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which is a highly anticipated read for me because I have heard nothing but good things about this book since its publication. Reid focuses on the experiences of Emira Tucker, a babysitter to a white family, who is accused of kidnapping the child she is looking after when they are out shopping one night. The book explores transactional relationships, performative activism and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong person.

The Booker prize for 2020 has garnered general approval for its inclusive stance, at least compared to previous years: the nominations for 2016 and 2018 were beset by criticism for being ‘white-washed’ and thereby not widely representative, whilst the 2019 shortlist featured writers like Bernardine Evaristo and Chigozie Obioma, as emblematic of the wider writing community.

Many of the writers making the longlist for this year’s prize are women and many of them are launching their career in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The nominations this year have also received huge praise for the themes and approaches they embody. In a recent article,The News described the long-list as:

‘Novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre and post-dystopian society’.

Bearing a currency which yet remains mindful of the past, the books examine race, homosexuality, gender and gender identity, poverty, class, homelessness and climate change, and it is worth reminding prospective audiences that some were written during the unprecedented crisis of a pandemic.

The list of this year’s nominations is one that I eagerly anticipate, not only to enjoy fiction at its finest, but also to learn about varied narratives and perspectives. My own attempts to diversify my shelves over the past few months has yielded a cornucopia of books, by authors as disparate as Yaa Gyasi, Toni Morrison, Khaled Hosseini and Reni-Eddo Lodge.

Besides the benefits conferred by lists like these, the ripple effect which may flow out from the centre is of inestimable value: children may one day see and read these books, and then perhaps be inspired to write too. Being exposed to a breadth of world-class writing may make young people of every walk of life feel more represented, encouraging them to read more. The transformative effects of reading are well documented, and are made outwardly manifest in everyday behaviour and social engagement.

Reading does make a difference.