Sometimes it’s good to shake up your reading list. So when the “longlist” for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced on July 26, 2011, and I hadn’t heard of a single one of the books, I thought it was time to extend myself a bit. According to the Booker website, they’ve shaken things up a bit themselves. The 13 books on the list include four first time novelists and only one previous award winner.
- Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending
- Sebastian Barry On Canaan’s Side
- Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie
- Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
- Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues
- Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats
- Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child
- Stephen Kelman Pigeon English
- Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days
- A.D. Miller Snowdrops
- Alison Pick Far to Go
- Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb
- D.J. Taylor Derby Day
In case you’re interested, here are the rules for the Man Booker awards:
The rules state that a longlist of 12 or 13 books – ‘The Man Booker Dozen’ – are selected, followed by a shortlist of six. Each year UK publishers may submit two full-length novels written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe and published between 1 October 2010 and 30 September 2011. In addition, any title by an author who has previously won or been shortlisted for the Booker or Man Booker Prize may be submitted.
This list will be whittled to six on September 6 (the “shortlist”) and the winner will be announced October 18. Last year’s winner was Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question.
I can’t say I’ve read most of the Man Booker winners or shortlist nominees. It’s a weighty list (some say pretentious, but then that’s probably a U.S. perspective – if it doesn’t include us, we don’t like it). The judges seem excessively fond of Ian McEwan, who I think is a bit overrated. Still, a few of my favorites have made the shortlist in recent years: Oryx and Crake, Cloud Atlas, Notes on a Scandal, and Never Let Me Go. The Booker list favors the same authors over and over again, so the number of new authors on this year’s list does seem to be unusual.
Several of these books aren’t available on the U.S. version of Amazon, but I looked up the others and downloaded sample chapters for three: Pigeon English, The Sisters Brothers, and Jamrach’s Menagerie (see comments on these samples below).
After reading about the Booker list, I then meandered over to Amazon’s “Best Books of 2011 So Far” in Fiction/Literature. Again I hadn’t read any of these books, and had only even heard of two.
- The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Albreht
- The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
- 22 Brittania Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
- Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
- The Adults by Alison Espach
- Galore by Michael Crummey
- Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
- Open City by Teju Cole
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
- The Lovers’ Dictionary by David Levithan
I downloaded sample chapters of Please Look After Mom, The Adults, and The Lovers’ Dictionary.
After reading the six samples, here are my thoughts:
Please Look After Mom, The Lovers’ Dictionary – drew me in immediately. These may be my next reads. Please Look After Mom is about a Chinese family whose mother goes missing in the subway station. I thought it might be hard to relate to a book about China but I didn’t find that at all. The Lovers’ Dictionary is a strange book, written as actual dictionary entries but telling a love story at the same time. I didn’t expect to like it but did.
Pigeon English – written from the perspective of a boy from Ghana living in London. I love the way his perspective is written. The language is challenging at times (words like “hutious” and “chook” appeared frequently) yet it was all understandable. I love English slang anyway so this seems like a fun read.
The Sisters Brothers – this is supposed to be a sort of humorous Western, but I couldn’t get through the sample for one reason. The two main characters are these rough cowboy types, yet the dialogue is written mostly WITHOUT CONTRACTIONS. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother any other readers on Amazon, but I couldn’t get past dialogue written like: “I will ask you to watch your words” and “You are like Mother in that way” and “You should not chase someone like that.” Is this deliberate or just careless? The book is supposed to be hilarious, but I found this too distracting.
The Adults – a coming-of-age from the perspective of a fourteen year old whose parents are about to get divorced. I may be able to relate to this one.
Jamrach’s Menagerie – didn’t make an impression in the short part I read. There’s nothing I disliked about the sample, I just have so many others to choose from.
Of course I won’t have time to read all these books, when there’s so much I already want to read. Have you read anything on these lists? Recommendations?