Ah, well. De gustibus non est disputandum.
We are swiftly approaching the announcement of the Booker Prize. Britain’s highest award for fiction, the award is fussed over endlessly by the gossip-hungry British press, and, for the winner, the rewards are plentiful, often turning a book into a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Take Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, for example. This year’s Longlist has been out for a while and the Shortlist will be out in a week. The winner will be crowned on October 19th. For the American reader, it is worth mentioning that this is the first year that American authors are eligible for the Booker. Still, as is often the case, the Longlist includes books that are not currently available in the States, though others have been bestsellers and award winners here. Here are the ones that have excerpts available:The Island Walkers by John Bemrose — excerptHavoc, in Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett — excerptA Blade of Grass by Lewis Desoto — excerptThe Honeymoon by Justin Haythe — excerptThe Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard — excerpt, my reviewCloud Atlas by David Mitchell — excerptThe Master by Colm Toibin — excerptThe Brits love to bet, and the bookmakers over there actually come up with odds and take bets on the Booker each year. According to them Cloud Atlas is the big favourite. And if you don’t believe me when I tell you that the Brits (and the whole of the Commonwealth) get really saucy over the Booker, check out The Bluffer’s Guide to the Booker or better yet, Tibor Fischer’s tell-all about being a Booker Judge.
The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It’s also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 12th) were mostly published in 2013, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There’s a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S.
The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers, and the 2014 shortlist is no exception, with each author hailing from a different country and four books in translation among the ten finalists. It is disappointing to see, however, that only two of the ten shortlisters are by women.
The Detour (published in the US as Ten White Geese) by Gerbrand Bakker (After The Dinner: A Round Up of Newly Translated Dutch Fiction)
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
Absolution by Patrick Flanery (The Mutability of Truth: An Interview with Patrick Flanery)
A Death in the Family (published in the US as My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Devoutly to Be Wished: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Consummation“)
Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye
Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman
The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Nick Harkaway’s Year in Reading)
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Two of the four Americans on the Booker Longlist made it through to the Shortlist, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler. They are joined by past winner Howard Jacobson, Australian Richard Flanagan, Indian Neel Mukherjee, and Ali Smith, who has landed on her third shortlist, a fact that may make her the favorite at this point. Big names like David Mitchell and Richard Powers failed to make the cut.
All the Booker Prize shortlisters are below (with bonus links where available):
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (excerpt, Ferris’s Year in Reading 2009)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Khaled Hosseini on Karen Joy Fowler)
J by Howard Jacobson
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
How to Be Both by Ali Smith (Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith)
Back in January I briefly made mention of something called the WHSmith Award. It’s a British award that is determined by public opinion. People vote from a list of nominated finalists to determine the best book of the year. After 148,000 votes cast, they have announced the winners in eight categories, including the latest Harry Potter in the fiction category, Brick Lane by Monica Ali for best debut novel, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer for travel books, and Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country?, in something called the “factual” category. So as not turn over complete control to the masses, the also give out an award called the “Judges’ Choice,” which was awarded to the American writer, Richard Powers for his dense critical favorite, The Time of Our Singing. As I said when I first found out about this award, I would be very interested to see the results of an American award determined by popular vote. A lot more Americans read than people think, so an astute businessperson could, in my opinion, do quite well creating an award like this to fill the void. Here are the complete results of the 2004 WHSmith Awards.