The Spectator: Amanda Foreman’s diary: My inspiration as a Man Booker prize judge

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Andrew Walker/Getty Images for CHANEL BeautŽ

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Andrew Walker/Getty Images for CHANEL BeautŽ

So far my responsibilities as the 2016 chair of the Man Booker prize have been rather light. We’ve had our first meeting, received our first batch of books, and I’ve bought a smart notebook for record-keeping. I shall take a step back from journalism this year, including my Sunday Times column, but that doesn’t mean I shall be less active in the fight for freedom of expression. Some things are non-negotiable.

I’ve just read Open Letter by the late Charlie Hebdo editor Charb. He finished it two days before his death in the massacre on 7 January 2015. The book is aimed at both religious extremists and their apologists. ‘No form of discrimination,’ proclaimed Charb, ‘is better or worse than any other.’ If only the 145 writers who publicly protested against the 2015 PEN America award to Charlie Hebdo could be made to read his book. Perhaps it would shame them out of their smug self-righteousness. There is something disgusting about writers who defend the assassin’s veto. It’s such a perversion of power and victimhood. PEN refused to be intimidated. But it remains to be seen whether other institutions, such as universities, will stay true to their enlightenment values when we have a new generation of politicised purity trolls banging at the gates.

I served on my first literary prize jury almost 20 years ago. Yes, a few of the horror stories about them really are true. Some people take part because they think it will make them look good. Others do it out of a vague sense of duty that doesn’t extend to reading all the books. Then there are the bullies who make each meeting feel like an interrogation session. And let’s not forget the spoilers. Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: Charlie Hebdo and a Rubicon Moment for Free Speech

Source: Gerard Biard, right, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, second from right, accept the Freedom of Expression Courage Award at the PEN American Center ceremony in New York on Tuesday. Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS


On balance it would have been awkward if the boycotters of the annual awards dinner of PEN American Center had changed their minds and attended on Tuesday night. At the very least their presence at the literary gathering might have been an unnecessary distraction. At worst it could have been taken as an insult to the memories of the 12 members of the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo who died on Jan. 7 while exercising their right to free speech.

The heartfelt standing ovation for Gerard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret—who accepted the Freedom of Expression Courage award on behalf of the magazine—had its own eloquence. Unusually, the many writers in the room didn’t need to say anything to make themselves heard. Simply being at the dinner was a statement, a Rubicon moment for those who believe that universal human rights is a cause worth dying for. Just as boycotting the awards has become the rallying event for those who believe that it comes second to other considerations.

Continue reading…