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Chair of judges Claire Tomalin on the pleasures of reading as work

Chair of judges Claire Tomalin on the pleasures of reading as work

Claire Tomalin
Samuel Johnson Prize

I’m having a very happy summer, as great boxes of books arrive regularly for me to read - and reading is as necessary to me as fresh air and food. So every day is a pleasure as I immerse myself in another book, guilt free, because for the next few months it is my work.    

I am learning as I read,  history of all kinds, family history, political, social, cultural and religious history. Also literature, science and medicine, economics and politics. I’m learning about people, some laid out warts and all by biographers, others presenting themselves in  memoirs:  triumphs for some, occasional laughs, and  sorrows and tragedies that make chastening reading.  

Thomas Hardy said that real lives and histories are far more surprising and odder  than any fiction, and he was right. I decided when I was a girl that well researched and well told history was almost always more interesting than historical fiction, and I’ve never found reason to change my mind.

A terrific team of my fellow judges is working alongside, and we have a lengthy road ahead as we choose our longlist, shortlist and finally our single winner. I’m looking forward to our discussions, disagreements and shared enthusiasms - we come from different disciplines, and no doubt we’ll find a great deal to argue about. Already I have a small pile of titles I think good enough to win the prize, and I’m sad knowing that not all my favourites can win. Still, I hope that the long- and shortlists will attract enough attention to give all the authors who make it a boost.     They deserve it, because writing is hard work and good writing is precious and needs to be celebrated.

Now back to the books…



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