Tuesday, 28 July 2009


So, the Booker longlist is out. It doesn't seem ten minutes since the last one. Lots of places you can find out who's on it, but I'll copy and paste a list too... stole this from dovegreyreader, who has quite a few Booker-related posts for you to peruse, including her predictions before the longlist was announced.

Byatt, AS The Children's Book

Coetzee, J M Summertime

Foulds, Adam The Quickening Maze

Hall, Sarah How to paint a dead man

Harvey, Samantha The Wilderness

Lever, James Me Cheeta

Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall

Mawer, Simon The Glass Room

O'Loughlin, Ed Not Untrue & Not Unkind

Scudamore, James Heliopolis

Toibin, Colm Brooklyn

Trevor, William Love and Summer

Waters, Sarah The Little Stranger

Quelle surprise, I have read none of 'em. In fact, the only ones I've been at all tempted by are the AS Byatt (very tempted) and Sarah Waters (slightly tempted), both of whom must have known they'd be on the longlist from the moment they signed the publishing deal. At least it's a year free of new books from Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie, both of whom are also guaranteed Booker spots, whatever they write.

Every year the list generates discussion about the Booker - do you follow it? Does it influence your reading? Is it a waste of time or a great part of contemporary literature? Well, I think a list is always fun, and there's no harm in it. It will line the pockets of a few rich authors, and bring some new ones to notice. Yes, it's a bit silly to stratify literature to the extent of calling one the best of the year, and this fascinating article (with interviews with 40 judges from 40 years of Booker prizes) is very revealing about the compromises and third-horse winners the prize entails.

For me, the fact that a book has won a Booker prize is more likely to put me off than not. I'm interested in an outsider's sort of way, but since I read so little contemporary fiction, especially not the sort of fare which attracts Booker nominations, I just know I'd fail with most of these. When I do read modern fiction, I like it to be quirky and surreal, or studying the minutiae of human life - Booker nominations tend to be gritty and all about 'real life', or edgy (not the same as quirky!), or about enormous events. I prefer the James Tait Memorial Prize (which I wrote about here) based on their back list of winners.

Huge generalisations? Should I give them more leeway? Well, I know I don't have time to read all the longlist, or even the shortlist, but perhaps one of my book groups will read the winner. And, at the moment, having read none of them, I predict that will be... The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. I don't know anything about it, but the popular authors never win, and I like that title, and his name is Simon. I wonder if that will reasoning enough to sway the Booker panel...

Thoughts, please! What do you think of the Booker in general? And the longlist in particular? I'd love to hear.


  1. I do follow the Booker list, but only because it brings books to my attention that might have slipped past me otherwise. I am not particulary influence by who wins or who loses, however. Like you, this year I am interested in the Byatt and the Waters books, also William Trevor. But I shall investigate the others. Thanks for posting them.

  2. Go half and half on the AS Byatt?

  3. I'm mildly interested but in a detached sort of way. I happen to have read two on the list but have no plans to read the others (excepting the Trevor) unless they drop into my hands in the ordinary run of things.

  4. I don't really tend to pay any attention to the Booker Prize as most of the time the books on the list aren't my cup of tea. In my experience, when I've inadvertently picked up a Booker winner, they tend to be very stylised and overly arty which I just don't like. Kind of like films that are obviously asking to win Oscars. Where's the soul?!

    I do have A S Byatt's The Children's Book on my shelf waiting to be read though, saying that. I loved Possession so much and I work at the V&A so I couldn't resist. I hope I'll enjoy it, though from a casual flick through it does appear very dense.

  5. I've read none of them. This is mainly because I don't buy new books on the whole because i am such a cheapskate. Instead I have the delight of reading books that others have discarded for one reason or another. I have a feeling that most people in this world treat books as disposable objects that should not be allowed to clutter a home.
    The next decade may well find me reading one of the books on this years Booker list but only after someone else has decided to release their copy out into the wild.

  6. I made my terse comment regarding the Booker on Cornflower here http://www.cornflowerbooks.co.uk/2009/07/and-here-they-are.html

  7. I love the Booker prize and am going to try to read the entire long list this year - I've read five already!

    I'm really hoping The Wilderness wins as it was one of my favourite reads so far this year.

    The Glass Room does sound good though - I'd be happy if it won, but I have a feeling Byatt will win this year.

  8. I like just about anything in list format so I look at the booker list as a bit of sport, but rarely go out of my way to read one. I kind of agree with Rachel, many of them seem to be "overly arty".

    So if you like books that look at the minutiae of daily life, do you like Anita Brookner? I love Brookner but to be honest the 21 novels (of her 24) that I have read all seem to be so much about minutiae that they all blur together in my mind. I think she won a Booker in 80s for Hotel du Lac.

  9. I absolutely love the Booker, mainly because the books they pick are ones that are to my liking. I wasn't aware of this before. While younger, I never paid much attention to prize winners but a few years ago when I looked at prize winning lists, I noticed that a lot of my favourite reads are in fact Booker winners (a pleasant surprise). So, yes, I will read almost all of the longlist but not at this time. I usually read after when they come out in paperback, or when I have the inclination to do so, when the mood strikes, depending upon the book.

  10. Simon-

    I'm with you. Have not read any and am not tempted. And have not read any other books by these authors. Don't have any sense that they have great charm or rapture or seduction or all the other qualities I look for in a book.

    What are the criteria for Booker? Or judges?

    AS Byatt--the most over-publicised author on the planet (except for perhaps Rushdie)...and unreadable. Got such a headache!
    Bought the new Ishiguro from Hatchard's (signed!) and everything after the first page (which was utterly engrossing, so much so that I read it twice) was downhill and dull.
    Cheers, www.thestylesaloniste.

  11. Oh Simon I am slightly shocked that you arent more of a fan. I have my money on A.S. Byatt or Colm Toibin winning in all honesty. I am for the first year ever going to give the longlist a go!

  12. Thanks for all your thoughts!

    Mum, I'll definitely go half and half - which of us should buy it? I shan't read it before I see you, so you could get it and read it before then, and I'll pay you and borrow it then?

    Thomas - Anita B is an author I keep meaning to read. I do have Hotel du Lac on my shelves... one day, one day!

  13. My comment on Cornflower's Booker post was that I've never read any of the authors and the only book I've even heard of is Brooklyn. If I ran the lists, Alexander McCall Smith would rule them. :<) I keep thinking of the old Kinks song - 'you can keep all your smart modern writers.'

  14. I might give the Byatt a whirl. Loved Possession which one the booker some years ago, but came a cropper after trying to read some of her other stuff. Why not just put on the title page in capital letters SEE WHAT A CLEVER WRITER I AM. I will not repeat my views on the Booker here - Simon knows them well and I don't want to bore you all....


I've now moved to www.stuckinabook.com, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at www.stuckinabook.com.