Well, stone the crows - an academic text has won the Guardian First Book Prize.
Alexandra Harris, author of Romantic Moderns and University of Liverpool lecturer, has snagged £10,000 and certainly made some impact within the public arena. Judges hailed the book, a study about English writers in the 1930s-1940s and the impact of art on culture, as "comprehensive and coherent", telling a "compelling story". Somewhat distressingly, though, they also called their decision to award Harris the prize as "counterintuitive", presumably battling with the common conviction of academic texts as dry, exclusive and altogether too niche for wider consumption. (Have a look at the BBC's coverage of the award, and Adam Foulds' views on Romantic Moderns as he writes for the Guardian to find out more.)
Almost every research training session I have attended on publication has centred on the near impossibility of academic texts "going mainstream". How has Harris, with her first book no less, managed such a feat? Has she set the bar a notch higher for researchers to generate public engagement with their work? And does Romantic Moderns hold its own academically - that is, can it and will it be read as a solid, rigorous text within the academy of researchers? Is it even possible to satisfy the needs and desires of a non-academic and academic reader within the same text? Will this award and publication be enough for Harris to secure future funding, forward her career - and even be financially profitable for her personally? For some reason, I can't see Romantic Moderns as the next big publishing event, or Harris a nascent J. K. Rowling...
Sadly, I have yet to read the book, but am eager to get my hands on it as soon as possible, perhaps just to figure out whether I love it or hate it. Has Romantic Moderns set the new standard of academic writing? Something, as an early-career researcher I can fall in love with, feel jealous of and ultimately learn from? Or, with a critical eye, will I be able to demolish the book, poke holes in argumentation, referencing, logic and style? Oh well, I suppose that's what Christmas is for...muttering to oneself whilst poring over the latest Guardian prizewinner. (Or is that just my house?)
If anybody has read the book, I'm keen to hear your views, so get in touch in the comments section or over email.