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I’m a Devoted “Booker”

My accident with The Sea, the Sea, which won in 1978, renewed my interests in pursuing books that either won or were short-listed for the Booker Prize. Among the three major literary awards—Nobel Prize, Man Booker, and National Book Award, Booker is the most consistent with my taste. Nobel prize is known for slamming American literature. “American literature is too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

My problem with Nobel Prize is that it’s rewarding out of a political motive. Most of 18 members of the Swedish Academy hold full time professorial jobs in Swedish universities. They call on scores of literary experts in scores of countries and pay them to put down a few reflections about possible winners. Such experts are supposed to remain anonymous, but inevitably some have turned out to be acquaintances of those they have nominated.

While the Nobel Prize awards to the author based on a lifetime or an oeuvre of works, Booker targets at a specific work. An author could be short-listed and awarded multiple times. Many writers think Nobel crowns your life effort and nothing that you do afterwards is as good—a kiss of death another word. While the credential of the Nobel judging panel is nebulous, Booker judges are not confined to any in-group of literary critics, authors and academics, but over the years have included poets, politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors. According to Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, Booker adopts this “common man” approach to the selection of Man Booker juries is, I believe, one of the key reasons why “the intelligent general audience” trusts the prize. For me personally, I greet Booker with great anticipation. It’s a mark of distinction for authors to be selected for inclusion in the shortlist or even to be nominated for the “longlist”.

The 2012 Booker prize Shortlist
The Lighthouse Alison Moore
Swimming Home Deborah Levy
Umbrella Will Self
Narcopolis Jeet Thayil
The Garden of Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng
Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel

The past winners are all on my reading list:
1969 P. H. Newby Something to Answer For (UK)
1970 Bernice Rubens The Elected Member (UK)
1970 J. G. Farrell Troubles (Ireland)
1971 V. S. Naipaul In a Free State (UK) Short-story (Trinidad and Tobago)
1972 John Berger G. Experimental (UK)
1973 J. G. Farrell The Siege of Krishnapur (UK)
1974 Tie
Nadine Gordimer The Conservationist (South Africa)
Stanley Middleton Holiday (UK)
1975 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Heat and Dust (UK)
1976 David Storey Saville (UK)
1977 Paul Scott Staying On (UK)
1978 Iris Murdoch The Sea, the Sea (Ireland/UK)* Just finished
1979 Penelope Fitzgerald Offshore (UK)
1980 William Golding Rites of Passage (UK)
1981 Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children (UK/India)
1982 Thomas Keneally Schindler’s Ark (Australia)
1983 J. M. Coetzee Life & Times of Michael K (South Africa)
1984 Anita Brookner Hotel du Lac (UK)* Review
1985 Keri Hulme The Bone People (New Zealand)
1986 Kingsley Amis The Old Devils (UK)
1987 Penelope Lively Moon Tiger (UK)
1988 Peter Carey Oscar and Lucinda (Australia)
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day (UK/Japan)* Review
1990 A. S. Byatt Possession (UK)
1991 Ben Okri The Famished Road (Nigeria)
1992 Tie
Michael Ondaatje The English Patient (Canada/Sri Lanka)* Review
Barry Unsworth Sacred Hunger (UK)
1993 Roddy Doyle Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Ireland)
1994 James Kelman How Late It Was, How Late (UK)
1995 Pat Barker The Ghost Road (UK)
1996 Graham Swift Last Orders (UK)
1997 Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things (India)
1998 Ian McEwan Amsterdam (UK)
1999 J. M. Coetzee Disgrace (South Africa)* Review
2000 Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin (Canada)* Review
2001 Peter Carey True History of the Kelly Gang (Australia)
2002 Yann Martel Life of Pi (Canada)
2003 DBC Pierre Vernon God Little (Australia)
2004 Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty (UK)* Review
2005 John Banville The Sea (Ireland)* Review
2006 Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss (India)
2007 Anne Enright The Gathering (Ireland)* Review
2008 Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (India)* Review
2009 Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall (UK)* Review
2010 Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (UK)
2011 Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (UK)* Review

8 Responses

  1. I can understand why people become a devoted Booker. Most of its longlists and shortlists are heavyweight and books that I thought deserve to be up there for this prestigious prize. I however have problem with the winner. I don’t like some of the books that I read which won the prize. As a Malaysian, I’m proud that my country man Tan Twan Eng has made it to the shortlist. Whether he wins it or not, it doesn’t really matter.

    • I noticed Tan Twan Eng’s first book and I cannot wait to read him. Now that his second book is out and shortlisted for Booker, I have to bring him to the top of the pile. If I remember correctly, he went to school in the UK so he reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro. I have been loyal to the Booker honor roll over the years and I think they are more well-rounded and balanced in their criteria.

  2. I’m with you. The Booker is the prize that I most look forward to, and am most likely to enjoy the winner. The Pulitzer winner on the other hand I usually have difficulty connecting with.

    • I always draw ideas from the longlist. Pulitzer has been accused of disrespecting writers for its omission of prizes for a couple years. I almost never pay attention to Pulitzer. National Book Award is worthy of note.

  3. I’m similarly smitten with the Bookers. For the past couple years I’ve been doing my own Booker Winner Prediction and I have to say I’ve been dead on! This year, I say it’s Will Self. So far…

    • I’m predicting Hilary Mantel this year, although I have yet to read any of the books on the short-list. Will Self is an author I need to read–soon.

  4. Another Booker devotee here. I like the Pulitzer, too, but I noticed that I gel more with Booker winners than with any other award’s winners, too, like you. I’ve read 19 of the Booker winners and truly loved almost every one. Three are on my shelves, waiting to be read. The rest are all on my to-read list. 😀

    • Claire! I’m glad you’re still around! 🙂 I’m glad to be in the company of another Booker devotee. So far the only Booker winner that I had a hard time reading was Anne Enright’s The Gathering. The above list is on my to-read list. On to The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twang Eng.

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