Today, the winner of the prize receives £50,000 and the shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 (there’s no extra cash award for moving from the short- to the longlist) but there wasn’t always a cash prize for the shortlist. Elsewhere in the film, the English writer Michael Holroyd recalls his discomfort with that fact, and how he asked Michael Caine, a businessman who helped found the prize (and not the actor with whom he shares a name), if maybe the runners up should get cash, too. He also recounted Caine’s response:

“Michael, why do you think this prize is so popular?” [he said]. I said, “Well, it’s rather like the French prize, you know, [Prix] Goncourt—” He said, “No, no, forget all that; it’s popular because it’s so unfair! That’s what people like!”

This remark was apparently conveyed in jest. “The people involved with the Man Booker Prize have always had a healthy sense of humour and I must stress that when Michael Caine said the prize was popular precisely because it was unfair, he was joking,” Gaby Wood, the Booker Prize foundation’s literary director, writes by email.

The inescapable truth of book prizes is they’re unfair and arbitrary. Caring too much is a way of feeding the machine of celebrity and fandom, and detracts from the simple rewards of reading.

“The past judges interviewed about prize’s history don’t relish the suggestion that it’s unequal,” Woods writes, “they are just honest about the fact that all literary criticism is subjective.”

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