Booker Prize joint winners sparks question: Do Scots still read books?

By Layla Maguire

Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo have won the Booker Prize worth $63,000 for the best novel written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. This is the first time the rule of having only one winner has been broken since the early 1990s, showing the fierce competition among the authors. This triggers the question of whether this is the time for female authors to excel in the industry and if readership of books is still as high in the new digital age as it once was.

Rae Raich is an Academic Support Librarian working across the arts and media education at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr. She described Atwood’s winning novel ‘The Testaments’ as “a novel of our times and a fantastic follow-up to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.”

Margaret Atwood is a 79-year-old Canadian who is a second-time winner of the award, having won in 2000 for her novel ‘The Blind Assassin’. Bernadine Evaristo is a 60-year-old Anglo-Nigerian living in London and is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize.

Rae Raich said: “The best thing about the Booker Prize was several years ago when they opened it up to American novelists, which widened the pool of writers. That’s been instrumental in meaning that more women are getting through to the finals for the Booker Prize.” This shows a successful development in the recognition of female authors and has potential to grow in a time like today where women are continuously fighting for equal rights and taking on male-dominant professions and sports.

One of the main causes of the changes in readership of books over many years is due to technology and the internet. In 2018, book sales in the UK dropped for the first time in five years. Physical book sales fell by 5.4%, while audiobook sales increased by 43% last year. Increase in audiobook sales and the rise of podcasts has helped keep readers engaged as publishers are investing in actors to be the voice of their books. This shows that books are still being read, but the way in which they are being consumed is adapting with the digital age to more audio platforms.

Duncan Laing, the manager of Waterstones in Ayr said: “In Britain it’s more physical books that are on the rise. We used to sell Kindles many years ago, but I think culturally books are coming back, publishing is better and Waterstones is better as a company.” He added: “The book Fifty Shades of Grey took off on the internet, as well as Mrs Hinch. If there’s buzz or word on Twitter or Facebook that’s probably the biggest difference where publishers are using that tool more, as well as book shops and authors.”

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