By MICHAEL CAINES
In general, I'm not a fan of the annual literary shortlists and prize hype, being hopelessly biased as I am in favour of readers taking guidance, should they need it, from book reviews rather than "Shortlisted for" stickers, and preferring to pose as an individualistic grouch rather than a group reader.
But I have had to admit to myself that this suspicious attitude doesn't stop me rooting for the (very) odd friend who's shortlisted for something or taking a gossipy interest should I happen to meet a prize judge or hear a good story about the hype, the manoeuvring for position etc (like the fine anecdote the wife of a Man Booker judge told me about the arrogant novelist who dramatically transformed into a kowtowing creep the moment he worked out "who she was").
And much as I loathe the idea, I'll certainly take note yet again of the difference an award can make the next time I go into Foyles on Charing Cross Road: after a certain announcement was made last night, at an altitude nearer the top than the bottom of London's heavily scaffolded Centre Point, I went to the bookshop just out of curiosity, to see if the winning book was there . . .