Category Archives: Book Prizes

Booker Prize Shortlist 2019

The Booker Prize shortlist was announced earlier today, so this seems like a good time to check in with my progress and plans for the rest of the Prize this year.

As soon as I saw the 2019 longlist I knew I probably wouldn’t be reading all thirteen books this year, so I’ve been taking it easy. That said, I do have a lot of fun chatting with the book community about the nominated books, and eventually I want to read the entire Booker longlist “on time,” i.e. before the shortlist announcement, so it seemed like good practice to read at least a few of this year’s nominees.

At this point, I’ve now read:

  1. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – a fun spoof of a slasher thriller with an excellent sister dynamic and a strong undercurrent of feminist commentary. It’s short and readable but also offers some substance to sink the teeth into. Not an all-time favorite for me, but even so, 5 stars.
  2. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli – a dense book that perhaps takes itself too seriously at times, but ultimately offers a unique road trip story and a fresh perspective on the current border crisis in the southern US. I didn’t love every moment of my experience with this one, but it left a strong impression. 4 stars.
  3. Lanny by Max Porter – a dream-like story full of magic and experimental writing. The various parts of this book are very distinct from each other, and some of them seem stronger than others. Nevertheless, an interesting concept and an engaging read. 4 stars.
  4. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – a brief look into the troubled lives of two Irish criminals. I found the prose evocative and exquisite, though the story itself didn’t quite live up to the strength of the premise. 3 stars.
  5. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma – an intriguing concept of injustice in Nigeria that was for me completely muddied by poor characterization and an ineffectual attempt at connecting the story to Homer’s The Odyssey. Though I thought Obioma had an excellent idea with this one, the execution fell completely flat for me. 2 stars.
  6. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – a superb exploration and continuation of themes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This book lays an extremely readable fictionalization of Mary’s life alongside a modern retelling that speculates on the future of AI and includes a strong non-binary character. I loved every single page. 5 stars.
  7. The Wall by John Lanchester (full review forthcoming) – a quick dystopian read that pits natives against “Others” in a world that has survived a disastrous climate change. Though an intriguing concept, I found the plot and themes predictable and unexciting. Though not a problematic book, a sadly underwhelming one. 2 stars.

bookerprize2019

I chose these seven books to read (well, five, as I’d read two of them prior to the longlist announcement) primarily because they were the only titles readily available to me. I had to purchase two of them from Book Depository (so few of the longlisted books were published in the US at the time of the longlist announcement!) but I bought only the two I was most interested in at the time and only because they came at fairly low prices. I found the others through my library.

Since I had only read half the list and not found many titles I was invested in seeing advance, I posted a half-hearted shortlist wishlist to my Instagram feed rather than a thoughtful prediction post on my blog. I guessed three titles correctly.

In case you haven’t already seen the results, this year’s shortlist includes:

  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Image result for booker prize shortlist

While I am thrilled to see four women on this list, I am not particularly excited by the group as a whole. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the longlist in the first place, so I haven’t been feeling entirely invested in the result of this year’s Booker Prize. At a glance, I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books so far, and I strongly disliked it. I’m disappointed that neither Frankissstein nor Lost Children Archive advanced- both of which I thought had a good chance and would have deserved a spot on the shortlist. I would gladly have swapped the Obioma for either. Otherwise, it’s difficult to say I have any strong opinions when I haven’t read the rest of the list yet!

I’m not sure I’ll be reading the entire shortlist, though. Here’s where I stand on the longlisted titles I haven’t read yet (titles linked to Goodreads, as I can’t give any sort of synopsis on these):

  1. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – This is the only longlisted title I haven’t read yet that hasn’t been shortlisted. The reviews I’ve seen for it have been mainly mediocre, and my interest in the synopsis wasn’t high to begin with (thought I still think I could be persuaded by the right review). It’s not out in the US until October 15. If my library gets a copy and it ends up being the only longlisted book I haven’t read, I might pick this up… someday. Definitely not before the winner announcement, which is scheduled for October 14.
  2. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – The title I’m currently most excited about. I’ve heard some great things that make this 8-sentence 1000-page behemoth sound right up my alley. I’ve been waiting impatiently for the US release date of September 10. I’m planning to read it as soon as I get a copy this month.
  3. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – I’m certain about reading this one prior to the winner announcement as well; I’d pre-ordered (release date September 10) before seeing it longlisted, based on my general appreciation of Atwood’s writing and my enjoyment of The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago. I’m definitely curious about this book.
  4. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – My interest in this title has grown in light of several positive reviews from other longlist readers, so I’m confident that I will read this one eventually. I’m not committing to reading it prior to the winner announcement because it is not released in the US until December 3, but anything could happen with this one.
  5. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak – My curiosity for this book is growing as well, though I’ve seen enough mixed opinions that I don’t think I’m confident enough to buy a copy. If I pick it up, I’ll wait until it’s US release date of December 3, when (if) my library gets a copy.
  6. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – I’m torn on this one. I love literary retellings (Frankissstein = case in point) and am interested in sampling this major author I haven’t read yet; but I haven’t read Don Quixote, and I want to read that original classic first. I think I will read both works eventually, but I already have a few long books on the docket for September and October (starting with Ducks!) which means I probably won’t have time to read both Don Quixote and Quichotte before the winner announcement. But this title is available at my library, and if it turns out that I’m reading the rest of the shortlist before the end of the year, I might make more of an efort to fit this in as well.

Clearly my plans are still not set in stone. What I know for sure is that I will read Ducks and Testaments before the winner announcement, which will mean I’ll have read at least half of the shortlist by that time, and 9 titles from the longlist. I’ll post a reaction to the winner and a progress update in October.

If you’ve read any of the titles I haven’t picked up yet, please share your thoughts and convince me one way or the other!

Are you reading (or have already read) anything from the shortlist this year?

 

The Literary Elephant

Advertisements

Booker Prize Longlist 2019

I am skipping my Top of the TBR post again this week, this time because all but one of the books I’ve added to my Goodreads TBR over the last week (and I’ll include that one outlier in next week’s post) have been Booker Prize titles. I’m sure by now everyone who’s interested in following the prize has seen the list, so I’ll try to keep it brief here and just stick to my own plans as far as what I’ll be able to read and review from the list in a timely manner.

I’m not even sure what to say about overall thoughts- my anticipation levels were so high just to see this prize list, and I’ve not read many of the titles or authors yet at all so I’m going to postpone making judgments. But I can say that other than My Sister, the Serial Killer (which I found so easy and fun to read and already appreciated as a nominee for the Women’s Prize earlier this year) none of the titles/authors longlisted this year really surprise me. I really loved the Man Booker longlist last year, as it pushed me to read so many books that I might not have gotten to yet (or at all) otherwise- The Water Cure, From a Low and Quiet Sea, The Mars Room, Everything Under, Normal PeopleMilkman, even The Overstory (which I didn’t love as a narrative but has forever changed the way that I think about trees)! Sadly, I don’t really expect to find quite as much enjoyment and discovery from the 2019 list, which looks more grave and ponderous to me. So maybe I’ll end up disappointed, but I do want to follow along as best I can anyway, because apparently I choose what I read based on curiosity rather than expectations of enjoyment. And so.

I’ve already read:

mysistertheserialkillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This was my first 5-star read of the year. It moves at a quick clip and is light and humorous on the surface, with enough thematic depth underneath to give the reader something to sink their teeth into. It’s entertaining, but not a throw-away story to read once and forget. I was delighted to discover how much texture Braithwaite was able to create in such a short novella-length piece; it really is the balance of light-hearted irony and heavier emotional impact (the sister bond! the feminist undertones! the difficult morals!) that so impressed me.

lostchildrenarchiveLost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. Though clearly well-written, timely, and intellectual from the beginning, this marvel of fiction wasn’t solidified as any sort of favorite for me until I reached the second half of the story. Luiselli’s skill is readily apparent in the section told from the woman’s perspective, but the child’s perspective in the latter half combines that prowess in craft with a level of innocence and tragedy that (again) won me over with its balancing of opposites. I would say this one fits the “grave and ponderous” description for me, though I appreciated it enough that it is the only title I was sincerely hoping to see on this longlist.

On hold from the library:

The Wall  Lanny  An Orchestra of Minorities

Both Max Porter’s Lanny and Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities were on my TBR before the longlist announcement; these two, plus Lanchester’s The Wall, seem to be the only longlisted titles I haven’t read yet that are also readily available in the US at this time. I was able to put library holds on all three books; I expect to read each of them in August. These were all titles that immediately caught my attention on the longlist- I’m not sure if I’ll end up loving the books as much as their synopses, but I’m glad I’ll be able to read them before the shortlist announcement in early September.

Ordered or pre-ordered:

Frankissstein: A Love Story  Night Boat to Tangier  The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)

I always enjoy Atwood’s writing, and appreciated The Handmaid’s Tale enough a few years ago that I pre-ordered The Testaments weeks ago; it’s set to release in September, about a week after the shortlist announcement. I’m honestly a bit disgrntled to see so many sequels/modernizations in this year’s longlist, as they sometimes require additional reading. (At least, I usually do prefer to read the original text first.) I am excited about Winterson’s Frankissstein appearing here though; I have already read (and loved!) Shelley’s Frankenstein, so I’m tentatively expecting this will be a good fit for me. Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier also looked too good to miss in  its longlisted moment; I should be reading both Barry and Winterson in August, and Atwood in September.

Which leaves:

Girl, Woman, Other  Ducks, Newburyport  Quichotte

I’m interested in Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, but don’t see any US release date for it (please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d really like to pick this one up!). For now… I have no definite plans of if/when I might pick this one up. Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport was at first a strong NO for me, at 1000+ pages and divided into only a very few sentences (I’ve seen claims for 1, 4, and 8 sentences, I’m no longer sure which is correct) it certainly seems daunting. But the more I consider this, the more intrigued I am to see how Ellmann pulls this off in a way worthy of a Booker Prize nomination, and I’ll almost definitely be picking up a copy upon its September US release to give it a try. I think my interest will hold long enough for this to happen even if it isn’t shortlisted. But the Rushdie, Quichotte, is less certain. Though I’m sure it’s a fine book that I’ll want to read eventually, I (unfairly) hate that it’s here simply because I want to read Don Quixote first and don’t see that happening (much less both books) this fall. Of course if it’s shortlisted or wins the prize I may feel differently, but for now I’m not expecting to read this before the winner announcement.

The Man Who Saw Everything  10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything and Shafak’s 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World sound only vaguely interesting to me right now. Both are authors I would like to read eventually, and if these titles were more readily available in the US I wouldn’t hesitate to pick them up. But I’m not excited enough about their synopses to buy them, and sadly it doesn’t look like they’ll be available in the US prior to the winner announcement so I’m just not sure I’ll be able to pick them up. If they’re shortlisted, I might try harder to get my hands on them, but for now, I’m not making any definite plans.

In Conclusion:

Right now I’ve read 2 longlisted books, and am planning to read 5 more before the shortlist announcement and 1 after. Barring unforeseen disasters, I’m expecting to read 8 longlisted books for sure. I’m also tentatively hoping to read a 9th (Ducks, Newburyport) during the shortlist stretch, regardless of the shortlist. But I’ll probably post some sort of update around the time of the shortlist announcement, so I’ll check in again with my longlist progress and shortlist plans in early September!

Are you planning to read any of the Booker Prize nominated books?

 

The Literary Elephant

Women’s Prize 2019: Shortlist Wrap-up and Winner Prediction

In preparation for the announcement of the 2019 Women’s Prize winner on June 5, I thought I’d (finally) share some of my thoughts on the shortlist, and have some fun predicting a winner!

In case you missed it, in March I wrapped up my experience with the entire longlist, including a rank of personal favorites and a (completely wrong) shortlist prediction; all of my longlist reviews can also be found through that post.

womensprizeshortlist

I shared an initial reaction to the Women’s Prize shortlist only on Instagram (same handle as the name of my blog, if you’re interested in checking it out) in which I tried to express some positivity about the many similarities in theme between the shortlisted titles. I do appreciate juxtaposition between works, and one of my favorite aspects of the longlist was the many similarities in theme that could be drawn between the sixteen mostly-exciting titles, and so I wanted that satisfaction and intrigue to carry over to the select titles that advanced. I don’t regret that stab at optimism, but as the weeks have passed I’ve grown increasingly less willing to say that I find the shortlist exciting in any way.

Which is perhaps a bit misleading- on their own, I enjoyed every single one of the shortlisted titles. No exceptions. I considered that my underwhelmed feelings about the shortlist might have been influenced primarily by the fact that only one of my top favorites made it to the shortlist, the one that I least wanted to see advance because of the attention it was already receiving as the winner of the 2018 Man Booker. And yes, I am a bit bitter about all of the excellent titles I loved that did not advance. But it seems more productive to focus on what is on the shortlist, and my hopes for what comes next.

In order of ascending favoritism (least to most), here is the order in which I would PREFER to see the shortlisted titles advance. I’ll save more realistic expectations for the end of my personal ranking. Titles are linked to my full reviews of each.

ordinarypeopleOrdinary People by Diana Evans. 3 stars. 

Though I found Evans’ prose beautiful, her themes worthwhile, and the small inclusion of a ghostly element quite appealing, this book was never a standout for me on the longlist and is without a doubt the title I’m least excited about seeing on the shortlist. It’s a perfectly good book that I’ve seen plenty of praise for among shortlist readers, and I certainly don’t begrudge it that. But I think the list has a lot more to offer than Ordinary People does on its own, and I can’t see it being a very strong contender for the winning slot, despite its quiet power. I don’t want it to win, and I would be shocked to see that happen.

circeCirce by Madeline Miller. 3 stars.

I appreciated this book more in concept than execution. It’s a wonderful attempt at updating and feminizing a popular Greek myth, and I’m beyond thrilled to see that trend continuing in modern literature. I loved Circe’s character, and Miller’s writing is beautiful. The final paragraphs alone make the entire novel worth the read. But ultimately I found this book too episodic for my taste, with an imbalance in the pacing and the characterization of various supporting roles. I know this one has been a very popular favorite from the beginning, but Miller has already won this prize for The Song of Achilles, which I have not yet read but seems to be the preferred Miller novel, at least among the crowd that I follow. I would not be surprised to see this one win, but I hope that it will not.

thesilenceofthegirls (2).pngThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. 4 stars.

This updated and feminized Greek retelling fit my personal reading taste a bit better than Circe, though it seems generally to receive less popularity. Interestingly, the aspect I most appreciate about this book is also the aspect I least enjoyed reading- the much-debated chapters from Achilles’s POV. Though I think the Point that their inclusion makes is meaningful and convincing, I found them also rather disturbing and uncomfortable. As I think Barker is trying to achieve a sense of outrage over Achilles’s ownership, it feels a bit unfair to dislike the book for accomplishing just that. But in the end, though I found this book rather brilliantly written, I’m also very conflicted about the ways it made me feel. I don’t particularly expect or want this one to win, though I would respect the choice if it did.

anamericanmarriage.jpgAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 4 stars.

It’s been over a year since I first read this title, and in the time between then and now, my opinion on it grew muddied. I found myself remembering only my criticisms of the book. So I decided to reread this title recently, in order to represent my thoughts of it more accurately in this post. I’ve linked the title to my original review from 2018, and here is the link to my updated conclusions. I’ll say here that though my memory of this book soured over time, I found myself returning very closely to my original reaction upon rereading. Though I’m ultimately disappointed that this book focuses on one romantic relationship instead of delving more deeply into any of the compelling impacts of wrongful incarceration that it touches on, Jones’s prose is considered and captivating, and makes fair points that I’ve not seen elsewhere in the niche that is prison literature. It’s a somewhat-flawed but ultimately deserving book. I don’t really want it to win, but I won’t be upset if it does.

mysistertheserialkillerMy Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. 5 stars.

I absolutely adored this book from cover to cover, though despite excellent themes and implications I did find it a “fun” read, which frustratingly seems almost to lower its chance of winning; but I would very much like to see a fun book go the distance and win this year’s Women’s Prize. The dynamic between these sisters is fraught and delightful, and the feminist touches woven into their story add gravity to the surface amusement. My Sister would be the most exciting win, for me; it seems like the least obvious choice from the list, it’s accessible, and it accomplishes plenty within its short page count. I’m not holding my breath for this one to win, but I would be absolutely thrilled to see it happen.

milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns. 5 stars.

This book will always hold a special place in my heart because I had the great fortune to be reading (and falling in love with) it on the very day that it won the Man Booker a few months ago. I understand why the style of this book has alienated many readers, but once I acclimated to the writing  I found that for me it was not something to overcome in order to appreciate the underlying work, but yet another facet to appreciate about the work as a whole. I would not have changed a single word or element of this novel. I must say this is the book that I think most deserves the win from this year’s shortlist offerings. It would be exciting to see Milkman come away as the first-ever winner of both the Man Booker and the Women’s Prize!

I read these shortlisted titles over a span of months, four of them in 2018 and only one (Ordinary People) after the announcement of longlisted titles. When predicting the shortlist, I considered rereading as many as three of the titles that advanced, but as none of the three that I most wanted to reread showed up here, I ended up rereading only one title. I must say it’s been a relaxing change to have completed the reading ahead of the shortlist announcement and be able to simply ponder these six books over the last few weeks rather than rushing to finish reading and trying to form last-minute opinions; I’ve never had that experience before in my life, and who knows if I’ll manage it again. Such has been my experience with this year’s Women’s Prize shortlist.

 

And now, it is time for my winner prediction:

Though I would love to see My Sister the Serial Killer take the gold here, I’m officially backing Milkman for the win! Runner-up guess: Circe

(It feels like cheating to have mentioned three titles, but I’m really only expecting Milkman to win!)

If the shortlist reveal has taught me anything, it’s to have fun with the predictions and not get too invested in the results I expect. On one hand, the exclusion from the shortlist of so many promising longlisted titles will make almost any win here a bit disappointing in my mind, but the fact that I liked all of these books means that no winner will seriously upset me. Mostly, I’m just curious to see which way this will go!

Did you read any/all of the shortlist? Which book would you like to see win?

 

The Literary Elephant