Reading the Man Booker longlist

by Sunita

I know, I’m surprised too. I’ve followed the Booker Prize awards for decades, and I’ve read quite a few of the winners and nominees, but until a couple of years ago it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to read the long and shortlist nominees in real time. But I’ve really enjoyed Liz McC’s and Rosario’s posts on their reading experiences, as well as a few other readers I learned about. Last year I bought a number of the books but of course failed to read most of them before the prize announcement in October (I’d only read the eventual winner, which I loved and admired almost unreservedly).

This year, since I’ve been reading a lot this summer and following various litfic conversations and challenges, a number of the books were familiar to me and/or ones I’d been considering reading. I sincerely doubt I could read all of them by the time the shortlist is announced in early September, but here’s the full list and how they stack up in terms of my interests:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster. This was available at the library so I picked it up, but it’s 800+ pages of bildungsroman and seems to be based on the author’s life. I’m already in the middle of two 700+ page books about Men of Privilege and they are more interesting to me than the premise of Auster’s novel, so I doubt I’ll get to this one.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. I’m a sucker for dark literary westerns, so I almost bought this at the beginning of the summer. And it’s not long! It’s definitely on the must-read list.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I know nothing about this book, although apparently the author is an alumna of the university where I’m on the faculty. So I feel as if I should read it. But it’s a teenage-girl coming of age novel, a subgenre for which I have limited interest and patience (and I’m pretty sure I used up my quotient on Marlena). So unless other longlist readers’ reviews are persuasive, I’m reluctant.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I had lots of problems with Hamid’s highly praised earlier novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, so I didn’t plan to read this one. But it’s about refugees, it’s on the longlist, and it kept staring at me from the library’s New Fiction shelf. So I took it home and decided to try the first couple of chapters. I finished it in a day. Spoiler: it’s good. Post to come.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. Another book I’d never heard of but which sounds right up my alley. It hasn’t been published in the US yet so Book Depository will be getting my $$$.

Reservoir 13 by John McGregor. The effect of a girl’s disappearance on the Peak District village where she went missing. More about the people than the event, from the reviews I’ve read. I’m really intrigued by the sound of this one.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley. Another total unknown for me, which is what makes the Booker and other award longlists so interesting. The synopsis doesn’t sound like something I gravitate toward, but I’m looking forward to other readers’ reactions.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. You should take away my India card, because I’ve never read her Booker-winning debut (despite receiving more than one copy as a gift). I’ve tried, but we just don’t click. So, probably not unless my curiosity/guilt get the better of me.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. This was highly praised when it came out, and I’ve had Saunders’ short story collection, 10th of December, on my TBR for ages. I was waffling but then the audio, which is apparently so good it’s been reviewed separately from the text book, was available through the library so here we go. I plan to listen to it with TheHusband on the drive back to STL.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. Definitely. This sounds terrific.  An updating of Antigone featuring Pakistani-British characters. Again, not available in the US so Book Depository it is.

Autumn by Ali Smith. This has been described as the first post-Brexit novel, which intrigued me. Smith is highly regarded as a stylist, and I’ve been wanting to read this.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Again, someone I should read, someone who should be right up my alley, someone with more than one book on my TBR. And yet … I’m not sure this will be the one to break the string, but you never know. Put it in the middle of the reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. What to say? It’s won every award going except the Booker, which hadn’t come around yet. It even won the Arthur C. Clarke award, which admittedly has a fondness for literary SF. I’ve been waiting for the buzz to die down, but clearly that is going to be a very long wait, so I might as well get to it.

So there you have it. At the top of the list are the Barry, Hamid, McCormack, McGregor, Saunders, Shamsie, Ali Smith, and Whitehead. That’s eight, and I’ll be incredibly fortunate to get through all of them. If I do and have time left, then the Zadie Smith, the Roy, and maybe the Auster.

Yeah, right. 🙂 It will be fun trying, though!