Sunday Salon: Why the Booker Short List Ruins my Reading and Other Bookish Items

13-man-booker-shortlist-w710-h473I’m one of those people who get excited over the Man Booker Prize.  Almost every year, once the long list is announced, I head over the my local library to get as many of the nominated books as I can.  Typically, there are a few not yet available in America, and there are a couple my library doesn’t have yet. So I check out two or three, reserve three or four more and head off the my local bookshop to buy one, just one, still in hardback.

Then I read.

This year I read five, loved  three, and abandoned two. One I didn’t like. One didn’t make the short list which was announced before I could finish it.

Which is why the short list always wrecks my reading.

It’s always hard to finish reading a book when you know it’s not going to take home the big prize.  Especially if it’s a difficult read in the first place, like Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones.

While I think Solar Bones is terrific writing, at least the forty or so pages I read were, it’s a tough book.  A single novel length sentence is quite a feat, but I found it difficult to stay focused without end marks.  I kept sort of going in and out of the action, like watching a movie when you’re on cold medication. When I was focused on the book, I found much to admire, but I kept losing focus.

So, since Solar Bones didn’t make the short list, it’s going back on my TBR shelf.  Maybe I’ll give it another go in a few years.

Which is also what happens to the books I have on reserve at the library that didn’t make the short list.


This time around, two of the three I liked made the cut, which is actually better than average.  Lincoln in the Bardo, one of my favorites for the year, by George Saunders and Ali Smith’s Autumn which I gave high praise to.  I marked A History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund DNF, but the Booker judges liked it better than Sebastian Barry’s wonderful Days Without End which was my other favorite.

So I guess I’m rooting for Lincoln in the Bardo.

I’ve been a bit silent here the past couple of weeks but I haven’t stopped reading. I’ve got four books to review this week: Anton Chekov’s novella, My Life; Victor Lavalle’s The Ballad of Black Tom; Becoming Charlemagne by Jeff Sypeck and one YA novel Mindblind by Jennifer Roy. I liked all four.

addtext_com_MTQyNjA2NDA2MTMyLater tonight, I’m off to Mansfield Park, Jane Austen’s third published work as part of the Jane Austen Read All A-long which I am hosting.  I’ll be honest, I’m approaching this one with a tiny sense of dread.  I think most Janeites list Mansfield Park as their least favorite.  I read it back in my undergraduate days which was such a long time ago now that all I recall from the experience is how difficult the book was.

We’ll see.

Finally, some bookstore news.

Yesterday, C.J. and I visited Swan’s Fine Books in Walnut Creek, California before meeting up with my brother for a crepe lunch.  Downtown Walnut Creek has become even more upscale over the years, upscale enough to support a high-end antiquarian bookstore like Swan’s Fine Books.

It’s a wonderful store.  Cases and cases of terrific books, interesting titles in both literature and non-fiction.  I think both C.J. and I will be making secret trips there between now and Dec. 24 to buy each other gifts.  He doesn’t read my blog so I can tell you all that hell be getting the giant tome on ancient Egypt published in the 1850’s full of Victorian era drawings of Egyptian artifacts and ruins.

He’ll love it.

I made sure to point out the shelf of books about bookbinding.  I learned not to be subtle when dropping hints about what you want for Christmas.


15 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Why the Booker Short List Ruins my Reading and Other Bookish Items

  1. I read Mansfield Park earlier this month, and enjoyed it quite a bit, more than I expected. Keeping in mind that I am not very knowledgeable on the subject of Jane Austen and her books and writing.

    I have not done a post yet, partly not enough time, partly I have a problem saying anything intelligent about the writing of such a well known author. But I will be doing a post. And very glad I read it.

  2. I’m half way through Mansfield Park – and based on opinions of various family members of mine, I was dreading reading it. So far, I’ve rather enjoyed it. It’s no Pride and Prejudice – but it’s kept my attention.

  3. I’m a third of the way into Mansfield Park and I’m finding it very interesting and enjoyable. Maybe I would not have appreciated it when I was younger; I suspect it’s a book that may have more to say to readers who want to explore what Austen was trying to do with this book, which she believed was her best. I believe Austen was attempting to do a great deal more with this book thematically and in her analyses of her contemporary society than in most of her others.

  4. I quit my book club as the books were chosen unilaterally and most of poor quality. More time to read something else. 2015/6? Booker winner, Richard Flanagan has new book coming out 4 Oct. Stay tuned. I am going to his lunch/discussion. Do you listen to audible books. Thats how I have read all the Jane Ausrten books I read last year, well, two. Listen in the car only, so more time for other books at home.

  5. You have me kind of excited to start Mansfield Park. Hope I like it half as much as you did .

    I’ve tried audio books, I wish I could enjoy them but I just can’t stay focused on them. I keep losing track of the plot. I can do a short story or an audio drama, but a full book is a no go for me.

  6. I love Mansfield Park, it’s one of my favourites, but then I do celebrate the dull, good person in literature, probably because I lead a fairly (OK, exceedingly) quiet life, trying to be and do good! I have fancied none of the shortlisted books, which is a relief, really, as I have quite enough to be going on with …

  7. I did finish History of Wolves, but wished I’d DNFd it. I don’t get why it made the shortlist. The only reason I kept reading was because it’s set in an area of Minnesota that I grew up in, and the author did get the place right, so I guess I was hoping the novel would get better. It didn’t.

    That said, I’m about 2/3 through Mansfield Park in my first reading of it, and I’m liking it a lot more than I expected.

    1. There are a lot of Americans on the short list this year. Between the two, I might give the prize to Lincoln over Days Without End, but History of Wolves seemed like covering old ground to me. The other two were much more “fresh material” in my view.

  8. This is the first time in 5 years when I didn’t do exactly what you did when the Booker longlist was announced. I couldnt get excited about it in the way I did a few years ago when you could be sure there would be authors from around the world. Now it seems to be more and more dominated by UK and USA

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