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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan/Feb 2019 > Marks out of ten?

Marks out of ten?

Can we grade works of fiction? Novelist and short story prize judge Benjamin Markovits thinks we can—and tells us how
© REX SHUTTERSTOCK

For six months in 2018, I was a judge on the BBC National Short Story Prize. This was not a full-time job. In May they sent me 60 anonymous short stories, and I was supposed to whittle them down to 10 or 12—in the privacy of my own home. Then, at the end of June, my fellow judges and I met in a conference room of the London Library and spent a pleasant afternoon (with platters of cheese, fruit and cakes on the table, which slowly yielded to partial assaults), coming up with a shortlist of five.

A few weeks ago, I showed my kids 12 Angry Men, the original Sidney Lumet production. Henry Fonda plays an architect who quietly persuades a panel of jurors to vote Not Guilty—a “slum” kid has been charged with knifing his father. But the movie is really about the personal feelings the decision-making process churns up, the way it exposes prejudice. Judging the National Short Story Prize might more aptly be called “Five Friendly Writers,” but it also raised uncomfortable questions about what the hell we were doing.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January/February double issue: A host of writers and personalities explain what they think will be the most important thing we need to learn in the new year. From Justin Welby arguing for new emphasis on learning to forgive and Lord Neuberger on the importance of a free judiciary to Hannah Fry on AI and Cathy Newman on what happens next for #MeToo—Prospect has it all. Elsewhere in the issue: Fintan O’Toole looks at Brexit from an Irish perspective, Wendell Steavenson dishes the dirt on what really happens to the waste you want to recycle, Frank Close questions why—half a century after our last visit—we’ve not been back to the Moon. Also, Michael Blastland argues that we’re ignoring the upsides of having an alcoholic drink and Clive James explores the life of Philip Larkin.