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Shaking up my reading: The Man Booker Prize nominees

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?

9 thoughts on “Shaking up my reading: The Man Booker Prize nominees

  1. I’ve heard really great things about State of Wonder and The Tragedy of Arthur.
    I loved Galore! It was one of my favourite books of the year so far! If you’re going to read any of the books on these list I definitely recommend that one.

  2. I’m not a big Booker fan, but I read The Finkler Question last year and was surprised by how much I liked it. I tend to think of the Booker prize as going to some sort of “commercial literary” work, the kind that might not be a lot of fun to read but doesn’t quite give the satisfaction of a novel by someone who’s mastered the form. (I doubt that makes sense to anyone but me. Maybe “reaching for high brow and not quite getting there” better describes my view of the list, which seems to be books with the potential for commercial success.) I’d like to expand my reading some too, though, so I’m gonna keep an eye over here to read your reviews, if you do end up going through any of the booker long listees.

    (I’m surprised by how few books I’ve heard of on these lists, too. Not so much the Booker list, but on amazon’s list I only know galore, the tiger’s wife, and the lovers’ dictionary. yikes!)

    • Sometimes these books that get the most literary acclaim are just a little on the dull side. It seems to me like “what we ought to be reading”. Still, there are enough books I love on the previous lists to give a few a try, and I like that this year’s list seems to be a little nontraditional. I can live with “almost high brow” if it means helping to publicize some great new authors.

  3. I just finished State of Wonder and can recommend that as a good read. I had a few issues with it but overall it was very good. I’ve read a lot of good reviews on The Tiger’s Wife but haven’t read the book yet. As for the Man Booker Prize List, I’m not familiar with any of those.

  4. The Booker longlist this year hasn’t really inspired me, and I’m not attempting to read even a subset of the list, for the first time in about six years.

    Amazon’s list, on the other hand, looks very very tempting.

    I loved Tiger’s Wife, so would heartily recommend that.

  5. There was a time last year when I read a couple of books that had won the Booker one after the other. Without fail, they made very dull reading. Couldn’t enjoy them at all. it was sad. Perhaps I should now look at the long lists rather then the winners.

    • Looking at the long lists, or even the short lists, is probably a better idea than just looking at the winners. Most of the actual winners are books I don’t have too much interest in, although I do love Possession and I enjoyed Vernon God Little. I’ve decided to give Pigeon English a try.

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