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Weekly Roundup: A new look judging panel, high places for The Lowland and more votes for Catton

Weekly Roundup: A new look judging panel, high places for The Lowland and more votes for Catton

To mark the new look Man Booker Prize there is a new look judging panel too. In 2014, for the first time ever, the panel will consist of six judges rather than the traditional five. Bunches of five became the norm after 1976 when there were only three. Indeed, the 1970s saw the number of judges switch from three to four to five. And the fact that two of this year's panel, Sarah Churchwell and Erica Wagner, are both Americans by birth should not be read as a sign that the USA is now being given privileged status: both have lived in the UK for many years and are deeply imbedded in the indigenous literary culture.

Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, MB shortlisted this year, has been given the presidential seal of approval. The novel was one of 20 books bought after Thanksgiving by Barack Obama. Lahiri, who sits on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, thinks she knows what attracted him to her novel: “He has a sort of double vision of America as I do, as many people do, many people who have been both brought up and bred within America but also have a different perspective of the country. In a sense, part of him comes from outside America and he embodies both that contradiction and that richness.” Possibly . . . or he might just have wanted a cracking read.

There is still time to vote on the Massey University in New Zealand's Quote of the Year poll. Among the contenders are “That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer” (from the emphatically-titled Cats to Go campaign), “In New Zealand nobody takes you seriously unless you can make them yawn” (from the author James McNeish), and MB winner Eleanor Catton's take on gender and literature: “Male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel.” Voting is open until 19th December.

Catton is on another list too – the New Zealand Herald's shortlist of 10 for the New Zealander of the Year. She faces still competition from, among others, the all-conquering All Black rugby player Kieran Reid, three surfer boys (one aged 12) who saved a man from drowning, and the 16-year-old female golfer Lydia Ko whose efforts to win the award mean she practises a mere 35 hours a week.