Chris Smith, a member of British Parliament and director of an arts foundation, will chair this year’s Booker prize committee. He talks with Claire Armitstead about last year’s selections and his strategy for the coming year:
“I like the fact that in last year’s shortlist there were some very new and undiscovered writers, but whether this will be the case this year I really do not know because I want to go purely on the intrinsic merit. I don’t bring any preconceptions about what type of book I want to win.”
Cynics might argue that this absence of preconceptions is merely a spin on an absence of knowledge. After all, how much time does your average MP have to keep up with even a fraction of the 10,000 or so novels published each year? What sort of books does he have on his bedside table?
As a dedicated climber and hill walker, Smith admits to a partiality for books about mountains. And at the moment he is deep into Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo trilogy, which he began while spending Christmas in Egypt. “Oh and the potboiler that I read on the plane going there was Douglas Hurd’s political thriller The Shape of Ice. It wasn’t great writing, but being Douglas Hurd it was relatively elegantly done. Of course, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting it for the Booker.”