Well-known established writers like Peter Carey and Andrea Levy and up and coming author Tom McCarthy made the 2010 Booker shortlist, while David Mitchell, probably the best-known name on the longlist, failed to make the cut. The longlist was offered here with some excerpts a month ago, but since you might not have gotten around to them then, we’ll offer the same with the shortlist below.
The South African J. M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature today. This prize seems to be given alternately to the obscure or the internationally known. Coetzee most assuredly falls in the latter category, and his receiving this award comes as no surprise. He has won the Booker Prize twice, an unprecedented feat, as well as countless other major and minor awards, and long ago passed from the realm of “author” into the realm of “master.” The Nobel Prize seems to surpass all other prizes in inducing people to read, and rightly so. It is as close as the literary world comes to “officially” admitting a writer into the canon of world literature from which he or she can never be removed or forgotten. So, if you are among the many who decide to read or reread Coetzee in the coming days or weeks, allow me to suggest two books, first his breakthrough novel and arguably his best, Waiting for the Barbarians, and then the second of his two Booker Prize winning efforts, Disgrace. If you want to learn more about Coetzee check out the “bio-bibliography” provided on the Nobel Site.Beyond FreaksDiane Arbus has long been considered among the greatest photographers of all time. Her work is a staple of art museum collections throughout the world. Arbus (who committed suicide in 1971) was best known for her unnerving photographs of circus freaks, street performers, and other “outsiders” dwelling on society’s margins. Though she focused on the margins, she also illuminated just how blurry these margins can be. Sometimes we can feel like outsiders in our own homes or in our own families. The two new Arbus books that have come out recently help to illuminate this aspect of her work. Neither book focuses on her circus and sideshow work, yet each book retains the visceral power that her “freak” photography is known for. The first is a collection of previously unpublished photographs called Diane Arbus: Family Albums, which is devoted to family portraits she took over the years. Some were commissioned and others were not, but they all retain that powerful quality of dread that her photographs seem to take on. The other book is an impressively thorough volume put out by Random House that amounts to a biography as well as a retrospective of her work. It is one of the most extensive collections of her photography ever put into book form.Shout OutsGarth, a friend and trusted fellow reader, has weighed in on The Fortress of Solitude. After finishing the book, I eagerly waited for Garth to read it so that I could hear his opinion. It was worth the wait. I also want to give a shout out to Jeff Mallett creator of Frazz who I am told is a fan of the site. This also gives me the opportunity to tell all of you that I always have been and always will be a newspaper funnies junkie.
So, it wasn’t Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, or Thomas Pynchon. Instead the honor has gone to Doris Lessing, a British writer who has explored themes of social issues and dabbled in science fiction. She debuted in 1950 with The Grass is Singing and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, for Briefing for a Descent into Hell in 1971, The Sirian Experiments in 1981 and The Good Terrorist in 1985 (two out of three of which are now out of print, though likely not for long). Lessing’s most recent book is The Cleft, which came out in August. And, though I’m no Lessing expert, her most notable work is thought to be The Golden Notebook from 1962. Interestingly, dating back to my bookstore days, out of all the major literary awards – the National Book Award, the Booker, and the Pulitzer – only the Nobel reliably drove significant interest. On the day the prize was announced, customers on the phone and in person would descend on the store, occasionally leading to problems when a relative unknown with little in print, like Imre Kertesz or Elfriede Jelinek, won the award.Bonus Links: The curious can dig into articles on Lessing and reviews of her work dating back to 1984 at the New York Times; much of Lessing’s copious output is available at Amazon.