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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, February 23, 2007 3:23 pm
Who is Britain’s greatest living author?
Posted by: Keir Graff

Ian McEwan? Salman Rushdie? Harold Pinter? A. S. Byatt? Doris Lessing? Alan Bennett? Iain Banks? David Mitchell? Ian Rankin? Pat Barker? Alasdair Gray? Philip Pullman? Nick Hornby? Martin Amis? Muriel Spark? Terry Pratchett?

J. K. Rowling?

In the Guardian (“Who is the greatest of them all?“), Stephen Moss assesses the field — and the concept.

One early respondent attempts to kill the debate at birth: “‘Best’ is a game for six-year-olds and consumers with the minds of six-year-olds. The convenors of this daft vote should grow up and get a life.” A fair point, echoed by some of those I talked to, and especially by female critics who see this desire to establish a pecking order among writers as a male phenomenon. Men, seeking absolutes, are keener to carve a literary Mount Rushmore, to pay homage to idols. Men are natural fans; women perhaps better readers.

While I completely share the above respondent’s belief that such things are unmeasurable, I agree with Moss when he calls it “harmless fun.” Lighten up, already, people.

Trying to establish Britain’s GLA, or even a leading group of contenders, is a hazardous undertaking. But it is at worst harmless fun, and at best might provoke us to consider what constitutes great writing, whether a canon has any validity, and who determines what work survives.



2 Responses to “Who is Britain’s greatest living author?”
  1. maggie Says:

    Unfortunately, Muriel Spark may no longer compete as of April 2006. :(

  2. Keir Says:

    I could have counted on you to catch that, Maggie. As the Guardian noted, “Muriel Spark also made the top 20, even though she had died two months previously.” Of course, she probably doesn’t seem dead to anyone with a shelf full of her books….

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