From Devon to County Down, from steel workers to bakers, the finalists of The Booker Prize Book Club Challenge were celebrated last night, September 6, at the Booker Prize 2022 shortlist announcement at the Serpentine Pavilion in London.
The Booker Prize has partnered with the national charity The Reading Agency to select six groups who will each be reading and discussing a different book on the 2022 shortlist, and competing for places at the winner ceremony for the first time.
The six shortlisted book clubs were selected by this year’s judging panel, chaired by cultural historian, writer and broadcaster Neil MacGregor, from over 100 entries cross the country. Representatives from each club attended last night’s shortlist party where they met the judges and were paired with one of the shortlisted books. Over the next month the clubs will be reading, discussing and reviewing their book, sharing their views online on social media, as well as with The Reading Agency’s community of readers and the Booker Prize website. Two members of the club that shares the most original and engaging reviews will then be invited to attend this year’s Booker Prize winner ceremony on October 17 at the Roundhouse, a fully in-person event for the first time since 2019.
‘We’ve always known that being alone with a book is one of the great pleasures of life. But the number and the range of entries for this first Booker Prize Book Club Challenge shows that for thousands of us, being with a group of friends discussing a book is even better. From all over the UK, people from different worlds get together to build friendships as they chew over the books they have recently read. This year’s shortlist gives them lots of good things to sink their critical teeth into. Bon appétit!’
From all over the UK, people from different worlds get together to build friendships as they chew over the books they have recently read.
‘We launched this competition – in collaboration with The Reading Agency – in the hope that book clubs all over the UK would want to discuss the books shortlisted for Booker Prize and share some of the thrill Booker judges experience when reading together.
Little did we know that people all over the world would want to join in! Or that the hundreds of book clubs who did apply would have such incredible stories to tell, offering a window not only onto the reading nation but (it was just possible to feel) onto humanity.
I hugely look forward to hearing more from the six clubs the judges have chosen, and on behalf of those of us who read all the entries I’d like to thank every single book club for allowing us a glimpse of your lives. Please keep in touch!’
Weegie BeeGee, Glasgow – Glasow-based Weegie BeeGee (‘weegie’ being slang for a Glaswegian; BeeGee for book group) tell us they ‘started up in the book group boom of the early 2000s and since then members have come and gone… and come back again’. In that time, their 18 readers have read 172 books by 165 authors and have eaten 113 cakes. These baked goods are an integral element of their club, so much so they even managed to deliver individual slices of cakes to each member for their online meetings during the pandemic. They try to match the cakes to the books, often by location or theme. And while this group favours historical fiction, they often read crime, self-help and even graphic novels. They say they often ‘have quite different opinions’ on the books they read and frequently find their views differ from literary critics.
The Royal Devon Culture Club, Devon – Born out of lockdown, the Royal Devon Culture Club was set up by three founding members who bonded over books and feminism on Twitter in September last year. The group is run by NHS staff who work at the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and aims to provide an inclusive space where members read, discuss and listen to books, as well as poetry, podcasts and comedy. They first met formally in November of that year through Microsoft Teams and Twitter, to ‘talk about the things that matter to [them] most’ and their numbers now vary between six and 30 attendees every month. They are passionate about showing how beneficial books can be for wellbeing and mental health.
Bridge Books book club, Co Down – Bridge Books, a small bookshop in Dromore, County Down, has been serving its loyal local customers for over 25 years. And while its book club has only been going for six months, it is already 14 members strong and boasts a broad mix of readers who are looking to discover something new. They often challenge themselves to read outside their own preferred genres and told us their favourite book so far has been The Island of Missing Trees by Booker-shortlisted Elif Shafak. As the little shop is bursting at the seams with books, the club meets in a local bar each month, where they discuss a selected book and choose from three titles to read at their next meeting.
Casual Readers Club, London – The east London-based Casual Readers Club encompasses readers from a range of different backgrounds, who are aged from 19 to 40. Theirs is an inclusive and safe space where members have an ‘earnest and honest connection over books’. With 20 regular members — and nearly a hundred on their mailing list — they say it often takes them ‘quite a while to decide on a book because there is just SO much to read’. They read across genres and chose to highlight books by women of colour for the first six months of this year. While shared experience is important to the club, one of the things they enjoy most is picking up a novel written by authors they don’t share experiences with.
Scunthorpe Pageturners, Lincolnshire - The Scunthorpe Pageturners have been gathering to discuss books for an impressive 18 years and told us their club of seven has a wonderful mix of ‘enthusiasm and experience’. The group comprises a self-described ‘eclectic’ mix of individuals, including a civil servant, a steel worker, a shop worker, a dinner lady and two retirees. Between them, they have survived four changes of venue and the pandemic, to which they adapted by moving online. They pride themselves on a wide range of reading tastes, and regularly dive into literary fiction, crime and sci-fi. They aim to help fellow readers discover new authors and broaden their horizons.
Shelter Cymru Chwaeroniaeth, Swansea – Shelter Cymru Chwaeroniaeth, which translates to ‘sisterhood’ in Welsh, are a group of readers committed to social justice and making a difference. But most of all, they just love books. They told us their club in Swansea gives them ‘the freedom to speak freely, behave badly, and embarrass ourselves… free from identities as mothers, daughters, sisters, grandparents, professionals, carers, partners, neighbours, activists’. They use books to explore a range of ideas, stories and perspectives and look ‘for that which unites us, rather than divides’. The members originally met many years ago while working for the charity Shelter, and with ages ranging from mid-fifties to early seventies they have kept in touch for 40 years, supporting each other through births, deaths and career changes, ‘with tears and laughter’.
The 2022 winner will be announced on Monday October 17 in an award ceremony held at the Roundhouse and fully in person for the first time since 2019. The winner receives £50,000 and can expect international recognition and a dramatic increase in global book sales.
The announcement will be broadcast live as part of a Front Row special on BBC Radio 4 from 9.15-10.00pm, with TV coverage expected to run on BBC News at Ten and news channels.
Ahead of the winner announcement, there will be two opportunities for readers to hear from the shortlisted authors in person. In an event held in partnership with Waterstones, the writers will appear in conversation at the Shaw Theatre in Kings Cross, London, on Friday October 14. Chaired by broadcaster and journalist Bidisha, the six authors will each deliver a reading from their shortlisted book.
The following day, on Saturday October 15, the shortlisted authors will be take part in The Times & The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. The Booker Prize shortlist event will be chaired by Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, Gaby Wood.
The 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction was won by Damon Galgut with The Promise. In the two weeks after it won the 2021 Booker Prize, Damon Galgut’s The Promise sold 1,925% more copies in the UK than it had in the previous two weeks. According to The Bookseller, in the 12 weeks after his win, Galgut sold more copies of his books that he did in the previous 17 years since first being published in the UK. Rights to The Promise have been sold in 35 territories.
The first public event with the Booker Prize 2022 winner takes place on Thursday October 20 at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of London Literature Festival 2022, alongside Galgut who will hand over the baton. The 2022 winner and Galgut are in conversation with novelist and former lawyer Sara Collins.
First awarded in 1969, The Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction written in English. The list of former winners features many of the literary giants of the last five decades: from Iris Murdoch to Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul to Hilary Mantel.
The Booker Prize is supported by Crankstart, a charitable foundation.