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Tag: Book Awards

Book-related thoughts

This is a grab-bag post of things I’ve been mulling over.

Goldsmith Prize: My favorite fiction prize was awarded to a very deserving book. Yes, Lucy Ellmann won for Ducks, Newburyport. There were other novels that I would have been happy to see win, e.g. Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, but Ellman’s work is such an amazing accomplishment. I’ve only read 50 of the 1000+ pages so far but even that short section made it clear to me that something important was going on. This doesn’t change my general attitude to prizes, but I’m very glad that both Ellmann and her publisher, Galley Beggar, will reap the financial rewards that come with a major prize.

Also, reading Ellmann’s interviews as she did her Booker publicity tour has been a hoot. She is completely unapologetic about her dedication to Literature with a capital L and to her belief (one I share) that too many men fail to take women’s work seriously. A man writing a 1000-page book about whatever is brilliant. A woman writing a 1000-page book about a middle-aged married woman in suburban Ohio who bakes pies and thinks about the world around her is doing something weird and unnecessary. Some of the more prize-obsessed readers I follow online were distressed by her answers to questions. She was insufficiently respectful of readers, etc. My reaction: You go, Lucy. You write what you want and you treat the publicity tour crap however you want. It deserves very little respect, frankly, and if writers of literary fiction can’t write what they want and expect readers to come to them, we are truly doomed as a civilization. Which we probably are anyway.


Jeannie Lin has a new book out! It’s a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Gunpowder Alchemy series. It’s her first publication in quite some time, and she made the difficult decision to keep the ebook off Amazon. Lin talks about it at AAR and more extensively at her blog (buy links are at the bottom of her post). This is a major instance of putting your money where your mouth is, given how thoroughly Amazon dominates the book market, especially in the US. Kudos to AAR for hosting her explanation, although of course they don’t miss the opportunity to point out that they make all their money from Amazon (as most blogs with referral links do) and will continue to keep that relationship. And of course there’s that one commenter who spends many, many words explaining how important and wonderful Amazon is for self-published authors. Great place to make that pitch, author-person.

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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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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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ReaderWriterLinks

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. In the arts prizes. Richard Powers won the fiction award for The Overstory (I was not a fan) and the finalists were The Great Believers and There There. I was very pleased to see Carlos Lozada win the criticism award since he’s a book critic. How often does that happen? And Darrin Bell became the first African-American to win the editorial cartooning prize. I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet I am.


I really enjoy Tim Parks’s posts in the NYRB blog. He is an novelist, translator (of Italian) and essayist, and I’ve been reading him since I came across his book on Italian soccer. This is a departure from his more recent essays on global literature and translation issues. It’s an exploration of the relationship between modes of travel and the novel:

I want to go further and suggest that there is actually a deep affinity between a book and a means of transport, just as there is an evident analogy between a story and a journey. Both go somewhere. Both offer us a way out of our routine and a chance to make unexpected encounters, see new places, experience new states of mind. But without too much risk. You fly over the desert, or race across it, but you don’t actually have to experience it. It’s a circumscribed adventure. So it is with a book. A novel may well be shocking or enigmatic or dull or compulsive, but it is unlikely to do you too much damage.

He closes with an unabashed love note to the way trains and novels go together, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about the pace and sound of rolling stock that goes with a big, thick novel. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and reading everything from romantic sagas to Henry James has been an integral part of the experience. Ereaders have made traveling with books a lot easier, but I kind of miss sitting in a train compartment with a big fat book, working my way through the chapters as the miles roll by.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Christian Lorentzen articulates a lot of my concerns with the current state of book reviewing in a new article in Harper’s, Like This or Die: The Fate of the Book Review in the Age of the Algorithm.

I talked about these issues in a previous links post, in which editors bluntly said that reviewing wasn’t enough, book conversation was what people wanted. I call it “book-adjacent” conversation, since most of the time, as Lorentzen points out, we’re either praising the authors for having written the book (which we aren’t talking about in any detail) or we’re asking them what’s on their nightstand or who they want to invite to a bookish dinner party. Not that those aren’t fun questions — hey, I read the NYT’s “By The Book” column most weeks — but they’re not reviews.

There’s a good discussion of the Lorentzen piece on the Three Percent Podcast (it starts at the 50 minute mark). I agreed, sadly, that the space for reviews which are neither raves nor hatchet-job pans is going away, and when the few outlets for booktalk that are still around focus on shareability of content over other aspects, it makes for a much less vibrant discussion space.

The content maw is a terrible thing for culture, not just politics. It’s basically a terrible thing for humanity. Not as terrible as climate change or white supremacy, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrible.


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