Sometimes it seems like all there is to write about is book awards. The National Book Awards are handed out, but wait, here are the Whitbread finalists. The Whitbread, Britain’s second most prestigious prize after the Booker, is, it seems to me, at a disadvantage. Since the Whitbread comes out only a couple of months after the Booker, the selections are compared in the press. If the Whitbread too closely mirrors the Booker, it loses some of its punch, but if the judges pick a shortlist with no overlap with the Booker, the Whitbread is criticized for being too obscure. This year, the only overlap with the Booker is that they have both shortlisted Ali Smith’s The Accidental. As was much remarked when the Booker list was announced, many well-known authors have books out this year: Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Julian Barnes, among others. None of those made the Whitbread list, a fact that seems likely to have prompted head judge Philippa Gregory’s defensive sounding remark in the Guardian: “Our shortlist may confuse the book trade. We are not saying these are the only good books. They are books which happened to resonate powerfully with the judges of the moment.” The list does include two notable names: Salman Rushdie for Shalimar the Clown and Nick Hornby for A Long Way Down. Rounding out the fiction list is Cotton by Christopher Wilson (which, since it is going by a different title in England, has been much misrepresented in the press, as the Literary Saloon points out.) For the finalists in all the categories, visit the Whitbread site.
As many other book bloggers have noted, the illustrious Man Booker Prize longlist was announced today:The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash AwThe Sea by John BanvilleArthur & George by Julian BarnesA Long Long Way by Sebastian BarrySlow Man by JM CoetzeeIn the Fold by Rachel CuskNever Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroAll For Love by Dan JacobsonA Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina LewyckaBeyond Black by Hilary MantelSaturday by Ian McEwanThe People’s Act of Love by James MeekShalimar the Clown by Salman RushdieThe Accidental by Ali SmithOn Beauty by Zadie SmithThis Thing of Darkness by Harry ThompsonThis is the Country by William WallWith four previous winners in the running, the longlist is being hailed as one of the best ever, and it looks like the story this year will be if any of the newcomers can surpass the bigger names. My early pick is the Ishiguro, but we’ll see who the degenerate gamblers favor.As an aside, can I just say that the longlist/shortlist thing that the Brits do is the best way to run a literary prize. The longlist provides plenty of fodder for discussion as well as some insight into the judges’ thinking. The controversy that surrounded last years National Book Award finalists would have been much dampened if that short list had been preceded by a longlist.See also: For complete Booker longlist coverage, visit the Literary Saloon.