The shortlist for the leipzig book fair prize is currently being selected. For the next three years, the seven-member jury will be chaired by the berlin journalist jens bisky.
In an interview with dpa, the new head of the jury explains how the spring book festival is organized, how the best 15 books in three categories are selected from 359 books, and why literary criticism does not work according to a points system.
How many hours a day do you read books at the moment??
Jens bisky: it changes from day to day. But you can’t get through in less than four or five hours. 359 titles have been nominated and we in the jury try to take note of all of them.
Everyone reads all the books?
That is not possible at all. We divide it up.
The prize has three categories – fiction, non-fiction, translation. How do you solve this three-way split in the jury??
Everyone decides in the discussion. But there are, for example, colleagues who look more closely at the non-fiction book. But they also read fiction and translations.
The division of the prize into three categories seems complicated. What do you think about it?
That is what is special about the prize. I therefore consider it to be one of the most important prizes in this country. It leaves a great deal of freedom and one is not bound to individual genres. You can only nominate one novel for the frankfurt book prize, because it’s about finding the best german-language novel of a year. In leipzig, you can nominate a poetry group or a story group. In the non-fiction/essay category you can read controversial works, biographies, and historical accounts. This meets the needs of the readers.
How does a jury member judge a good translation??
First, you look to see if it’s a good book in the german language. If it is not, then it is of no interest for this translation prize. Then there are some languages in which colleagues on the jury have knowledge and can compare. And then the jury has the possibility of commissioning expert opinions if it is unsure about something. But in the end, of course, it has to be said: the idea that one can judge translations objectively according to fixed point systems is just as erroneous as the idea that one can find the best novel according to a fixed set of criteria. Literary criticism does not work according to the principle of stiftung warentest. There is always a margin, even the necessity of the critics’ dispute.
Literary criticism doesn’t have it so easy anymore. There is a lot of competition, for example from bloggers. How do you see the value of literary criticism??
There is a great need for literary criticism to be debated. And the decisive question is not whether someone raises or lowers the thumbs. But the crucial question is that people come to an understanding about books. Literary criticism is always a social event. The fact that she has more forums than 20 years ago is wonderful. In the end, however, the importance of literary criticism is as rough or as small as the importance of books for society as a whole. I have the feeling that essential debates are still conducted on the basis of books.
And it doesn’t hurt that the book, as the borsenverein recently noted, is getting strong competition from cell phones, tablets, or whatever else you can talk on?
It is not the task of literary criticism to worry about the business figures of the publishing houses. Of course I register the discussion. These are wave movements. Competition for reading also existed in the past. I believe, one makes itself something before, if one verklart past times as golden times of the reading.
What trends are there in this spring of books??
It is a very interesting spring. Thank god there is no rough trend. There are continuing lines of tradition. This includes the fact that there has been an intimate connection between contemporary literature and contemporary history for many years, and that this has led to a constant stream of new and interesting attempts to explore the history of the 20th century. Century to be counted. There are a lot of themes and subjects and a lot of artistic handwriting. The leipzig prize can try to reflect that.
Why do not you miss the one rough trend?
It would be boring if everyone followed a trend. The broad themes of literature remain similar over the centuries anyway: love, violence, disappointments, hopes…
When you took over the chairmanship of the jury, did you intend to give the prize your own signature??
The prize already has its own profile. It’s important to me to show the different handwritings that exist on the book market. And what is very important to me: the leipzig book prize should try to bring books into the conversation.
About jens bisky (52): journalist and book author. He works as an editor in the feuilleton of the "suddeutsche zeitung". He will chair the jury for the leipzig book fair prize for three years.