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Tag: Book Awards

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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The reading/reviewing/ranking rat race

This is a navel-gazing post so feel free to skip if the subject isn’t of interest. I’ll have a review for Wendy’s TBR Challenge up tomorrow.

I’ve been spending most of my discretionary time this winter reading and writing. I haven’t been blogging here for the same reasons a lot of people don’t blog much anymore. I really liked Brie’s post about starting up again; it encapsulates a lot of the reasons I resurrected the blog. But like her, I’m not blogging as much as I’d hoped to. It’s hard to blog into a void, especially when there aren’t many other people blogging regularly. I don’t mean that to be a whine, just an observation. I put a lot of book blogs back in my RSS feed reader but most of them rarely have new posts (Cathy at 746 Books is an exception, and Kay/Miss Bates posts pretty regularly as well). Despite being an academic and working on my own a lot, it turns out that like many other humans I like the validation of feedback and seeing other people devoting time to things I’m doing and care about. Quelle surprise.

Even if I haven’t been blogging much here, I have been reading. So I wind up at Goodreads a lot. I’m still at LibraryThing as well, but I’m way behind cataloguing my reading there because, again, no feedback. So I post my reading status at GR, write up reviews, and comment in various threads in groups I belong to. They’re mostly groups that follow major book awards and the Tournament of Books. Generally I enjoy these groups and I look forward to hearing readers’ reactions to books I’ve read or am planning to read or am happy to learn about. They spur me to read more and to try novels I might not otherwise know much about.

BUT. There’s always a but, right? After a couple of years of lurking at and then commenting in these groups, following members’ reviews and participating in mostly interesting discussions, I’m discovering that our interests are more divergent than I at first realized (or realized but didn’t want to acknowledge). If you’re organizing reading around book awards, then obviously there’s going to be a horse-race aspect to the reading and ranking process. But I guess I didn’t foresee how much it would start to bother me. Books are compared to each other because they’re on a list together (which makes sense), they’re evaluated as to whether they belong on a particular list, and they can be championed or denigrated to a degree I find both unexpected and off-putting.

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