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'A remarkably reliable guide'

3 September 2007

'Just as there are more new books published than ever before (close to 200,000 per annum in the UK alone), so there are more sources of opinion than ever before. If there ever was a consensus... it has gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre.

In this blizzard of commentary, from blogosphere to talk radio, it's odd to discover that literary prizes now stand out as a remarkably reliable guide...

The literary prize has many well-rehearsed drawbacks, but it has one great virtue: it is conducted in public and is answerable to scrutiny... On the plus side, the winners of this year's Orange, Booker and Samuel Johnson etc will take home cheques of variable value and attract varying quantities of press. Their books, now recognised, possibly for the first time, will attract new readers. Then the final and supreme act of judgment will begin. This is immune to the pressures of hype or favouritism. It's called reading alone for oneself.'

Robert McCrum in the Observer