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Nobel and Booker prizes 2019: You had one job!

The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced last week and the Booker Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. Both organizations awarded two winners, for different reasons. The Nobel double award was made up of the 2019 prize and the delayed choice of the 2018 prize, the latter having been suspended because of the discovery of corruption and worse on the part of (some members of) the committee and its allied participants. The Booker two-fer resulted from the jury’s inability to reach a decision on a single winner despite having an odd number of jurists, which rules out the possibility of a tie vote. Its decided, against both the stated rules and the exhortations of the Booker organization, to flout their terms of reference. Good times all around.

The Nobel committee awarded the 2018 prize to Olga Tokarczuk, who seems eminently deserving of the recognition. So are a lot of other authors, but that’s always the case. And hey, if the Nobel crowd can get the number of women up to 15 by choosing Tokarczuk, I’m all for that.

But then there’s the 2019 winner, Peter Handke. I have read none of his written work, although I’ve seen some of the films for which he’s written the screenplays, and they are superb. But in the Year of Our Lord 2019, why are we giving an award to someone who spoke sympathetically at Slobodan Milosevic’s funeral? Who was skeptical that massacres of Muslims by Serbs in Bosnia were actual massacres, and posited that there may not have been a genocide? It’s one thing to separate the art from the artist to recognize great art, it’s another to elevate and celebrate the artist for an entire body of writing, which is what the Nobel does.

The Booker jury’s decision is simpler and less, well, stomach-churning. A massively popular and critically acclaimed novelist, one who has been frequently mentioned for the Nobel, was recognized for a sequel novel which no one believes is as good as the original (which itself was shortlisted but did not win in its Booker year). She shares the prize with Bernardine Evaristo, whose book has been widely acclaimed by critics and Booker-focused readers, and who is highly regarded but not that well known by the reading public (much like Anna Burns, last year’s winner).

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Weeknote 20

I should just have a standard opening for September: “work is kicking my ass. again. I’ll be back to more regularly blogging soon.”

WORK

We are almost done with the month, which means I might just get my midday hours back. Classes are going reasonably well; the students are engaged and for the most part I am managing not to lecture them in the seminars. I’ve found a rhythm for my law school JSD class, which helps.

I’m almost done with my immediate administrative responsibilities (how often have I typed that sentence?) and now it’s about making sure the stuff that’s been planned is implemented properly. Luckily we have a great staff to support us so it should be fine. I have a few more meetings to set up and a bunch of job talks to attend in October, but at least the faculty meetings are slowing down. Did I mention I had all of three free lunchtimes (our usual meeting and department event time) in September? One got filled at short notice so I went down to two. Come on, October.

I did get my paper revisions done so that it can be sent out, again. Let’s hope for a smooth review process and that it isn’t desk-rejected as not appropriate for the journal. It is turning out to be harder to place than I expected, for a variety of reasons, although it’s morphed into something that looks like other articles in a literature I didn’t foresee, so that’s promising.

With that paper gone I can turn to revisions on another piece of work that I’m refashioning to present in a seminar in early November. It will undoubtedly wind up taking more time than I think it will. Oh, and I have two dissertations to read for defenses in the next two months, neither of which are in political science. Good times.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I’m reading more from the Booker shortlist and I’m about two-thirds of the way through Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte. I’m enjoying it immensely, far more than I thought I would. It’s been ages since I read Rushdie and I’d forgotten how joyous his writing can be. The reviews have been mixed and I can see why, but I’m along for the ride and the bagginess and occasional literary self-indulgence doesn’t bother me. It is very much a novel about where we are now, but written by someone who has seen a lot of life and is coming to terms with age. So the Quixote angle makes sense.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for September: A Spanish Affair by Helen Brooks

I read this at the very beginning of the month and had planned to read something else for the challenge, but work keeps intervening and I’m way behind on all my non-required reading. Luckily, this entry on the Harlequin TBR fit September’s challenge, which is “Kicking It Old School,” i.e., a romance published ten or more years ago. A Spanish Affair was first published in 2001, so it definitely qualifies. I like Brooks’s Presents books as a rule; they mix sweet and steamy in a way that works for me. The heroes and heroines tend to fit the Presents formula but are not OTT. This particular novel falls on the sweeter side, by a lot, and it felt almost Burchell-like in terms of the plot, characters, and romance.

Cover of A Spanish Affair

Georgie has left her job to come and take care of her recently widowed elder brother Robert and his two young children. Robert’s business was neglected during his late wife’s final months and it’s now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Georgie is combining PA and other office duties with childcare, and she’s in the office when a badly needed client comes in. The client, our hero, is Matt de Capistrano, who gets off to a bad start with Georgie when he overhears her disparaging him before she’s even met him. But to give him credit, he sets that aside and deals straightforwardly with Robert and the potential business deal they are considering. Matt makes some calls which enables Robert to continue taking on customers and Georgie swallows her initial reaction to help out her brother.

Matt finds Georgie charming despite her hostility, as one does when one is a Presents hero. He works with her and also pursues her, and she rebuffs him, as one does when one is a Presents heroine. But they continue to be thrown together, including by Robert, who befriends Matt, and by his children, who find him as charming as George eventually will admit he is.

The story cooks along in a workplace-romance, getting-to-know-you way. Then there is a sharp turn and acceleration to the romantic storyline, which is precipitated by Matt’s need to go to his family home in Spain (he is half Spanish, half English). Georgie learns more about his background and family, Matt deals with his feelings for Georgie, etc. etc. All too quickly they have their realization, retreat, return to each other, and HEA.

Overall I enjoyed this quite a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual happening, Georgie is one of those sensible, pretty, and quietly competent heroines, and Matt’s Spanish-ness is quite dialed down from the usual “Latin Lover” approach, which I appreciated. It was just the timepass I needed when I read it, and it reminded me of how often Helen Brooks writes satisfying categories.

A Spanish Affair is #373 on the Harlequin TBR.

Weeknote 19

I meant to write a post at the beginning of the week. Hah. It’s already Friday and I’m not sure where the days went.

WORK

It’s he start of school, which means finishing up the syllabi (always at the last minute for me, always), remembering to hit the “publish” button in Canvas if you want the students to have access, and negotiating a waitlist that is almost as long as the size of the seminar. I drove a few students away with the class requirements, but not enough. I’m almost there, though. The annual meetings always disrupt this process because we teach a class or two and then go away for the rest of the week and then come back and have Labor Day off. I wish we started on the Tuesday after, the way sensible east coast universities do. But the midwest schools have a long semester calendar. Thanks, annoying accreditation association.

I don’t always go to the meetings because they’re disruptive, but this year I had to go and I wound up having a good time. Did the work I needed to do and got to spend time with old friends.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for my committee’s work, at least for this iteration. We’re not done by any means but we’re winding down for a while. But there are still visits to confirm and plan (so many emails) and memos to write. But I’m not behind. It’s a miracle.

My grad classes are starting out well and the students look interesting and engaged. One of them is half lecture, half seminar, and the other is all seminar. Come to think of it, I’m mostly teaching in seminar format this semester. That’s unusual for me.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Reading, what is that? I did not come anywhere near finishing my 20 Books of Summer challenge, although I enjoyed what I did read and I started a bunch of the books on the list. Barb was so right when she said it was a challenging list. I’m not sure why I read less this summer than last year. Part of it was that our holiday didn’t have much reading time, and I think the other part is that I was working more this summer than I was last year, so there was more academic reading in my schedule. And the Booker reading swallowed a big chunk of time. Still, I enjoyed the challenge and I’ll definitely keep on with the list. I’ll write up a separate post soon.

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Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

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