All Shall Have Prizes, or Not

Man Booker 2O14So, it’s the day before the Man Booker Prize announcement and I’m far from excited. Time was, I would have been poised ready to get in early to work and order shed loads of whatever had won before anyone else could get their mitts on it, anxious to get my bid in before the inevitable reprint. A good result meant – and still does, I’m sure – guaranteed sales and a healthy boost to Christmas profits, although this year’s shortlist with its two paperbacks may not help with that. These days I’m a little tired of the whole thing. Twitter’s agog with speculation but I couldn’t even work up the enthusiasm to post on my favourites for the longlist, let alone the shortlist and now the winner: Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others is the current bookies’ favourite if you’re interested. It’s never been my favourite prize. The Baileys (née Orange) usually has a much more interesting selection as does the Costa (née Whitbread) with its different categories and the new Goldsmiths’ looks good. Perhaps you’ll write me off as jaded, a bit of a party pooper, but so many books I admire and would love to press into customers’ hands were I still a bookseller seem to fall through the cracks. What do you think? How important are prizes to you? Do you always read the Man Booker or do you have another favourite prize you look out for?

28 thoughts on “All Shall Have Prizes, or Not

  1. hastanton

    In pdevious years I have read the shortlist in advance of the announcement and then awarded my own Booker Prize ! Q good fun and I have been right 2/3 of the time . This year , however, I was so annoyed that most of the books chosen weren’t even published that I haven’t bothered ! I have read #WAACBO and really enjoyed it Altho the consensus appears to be that it can’t possibly win ( daaaarling) for reasons I don’t quite understand . I do actually own most of the shortlist ….the only one I don’t have is the Flanagan , which sounds the most appealing to me . Am going to the pre prize readings this evening and may or may not write something about it !!

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Quite right about the ones not yet published, Helen. This is the first year that I’ve not read anything on the shortlist yet. I have the Fowler and am looking forward to that – H read J and gave it the thumbs down. We’ll see. I’ll look out for your post.

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    2. naomifrisby

      Is this the WAACBO consensus that it’s too commercial? It’s such tripe. Haven’t read anything else this year either. Very much want to read the Smith but lots I wanted on there didn’t appear (I think I wrote about that somewhere…

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      1. Susan Osborne Post author

        Yes, I agree the Smith looks well worth reading. I would love to have seen Sedition – such a clever, witty book – or perhaps With a Zero at its Heart at least on the longlist.

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  2. naomifrisby

    Totally with you. I’m a fan of the Bailey’s Prize, of course, but this year it’s The Green Carnation Prize for LGBT literature that’s got me most excited – the Longlist is superb.

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  3. fishmandeville

    Even as a bookseller I wasn’t much thrilled by the prizes. Not in an I’m-so-jaded-because-of-my-higher-intellect-and-lofty-sensibility way, but because, well, they almost never surprise except to disappoint, they’re generally a bit dull and they overplay the publicity. The Booker has never influenced my reading. The exception, I’d say, is the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize; it’s consistently interesting and high-quality, while it has influenced me to read books I wouldn’t have otherwise. (I also love Dr Johnson.)

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think the Booker has hogged the spotlight for a long time, Paul. I’d agree with you about The Samuel Johnson – not considered ‘sexy’ enough by the media, I suspect.

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  4. A

    I started off excited about this prize, but now I’ve read three of the longlist I’m underwhelmed and have lost interest. This is the only other award I’ve followed since the Bailey’s Prize, I think I’ll just stick to the Bailey’s from now on.

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Not just me, then! I tweeted a Guardian piece this morning that talked about ‘a widening of the rules but a narrowing of the horizons’ – perhaps the inclusion of US authors meant there were too many to choose from. I’m with you on the Baileys, Alice. Unfailingly interesting lists.

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      1. Alice

        I’ll have to have a look at that article, the sentiment sounds about right to me.

        (Somehow I managed to leave a comment with just the first letter of my name, like I’m Prince or something. Ha.)

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  5. Claire 'Word by Word'

    Not sure what exactly the reason is, but I was seriously underwhelmed by the Booker Prize this year and haven’t even bothered to write about it or read any of the books. If I am to think a little more about why that might be, I would say it is because I am so much better informed about what’s being published by imprints large and small, by translated works, I see what they’re reviewing in the media, on blogs, avid readers sharing opinions and events on twitter, so that a quick glance at a press release by a prize jury has been reduced to just one source alongside the richness of the rest. And when it doesn’t really push any buttons or boundaries, we can delete, ignore or move on to where we know there will be literary richness or whatever it is we are looking for at the moment. There’s a lot of quality competition for reader’s attention out there.

    I don’t think that adding US authors is a problem, I think restricting publishers ability to choose only one title (or whatever that rule is) and it therefore becoming more of a strategic decision is more harmful. The Booker has lost its niche, or maybe it’s that I no longer fit into it. The Bailey’s (Orange) Prize is more interesting to me, as is the Shadow IFFP (fthe foreign fiction prize), not the official one, the one second guessed by a group of excellent and well informed readers/reviewers with no other agenda than to read thought provoking, excellent literature.

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Perhaps the dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on. You’re right, Claire, there is a great deal of informed opinion out there – much more than there used to be before the internet gained ground. A great deal of the other sort, too, of course! You’re also quite right about translated fiction – the Man Booker International Prize never gets the same level of attention.

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      1. Annecdotist

        I’m agreeing with Claire in that I get my what-to-read ideas far more from other sources these days. Having enjoyed the Flanagan (although that’s a bit too positive word for such a gruelling story) but not yet having read any of the others, I’d be pleased if he were to win in the way that I am mildly pleased when our bottom-of-the-division town football team wins a game (and I don’t follow football). I think these prizes are important for booksellers regarding what to stock and readers who appreciate literary fiction but have very little time for reading or reading about reading (which used to be me).
        But even with declining interest in the Booker prize, your post has certainly generated a lively discussion.

        Reply
        1. Susan Osborne Post author

          I like your football analogy, Anne – I think that’s called damning with faint praise! It’s interesting how many of the commentators on the blog have said (or implied) that it’s pretty much an irrelevant prize for them these days.

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  6. lonesomereadereric

    I’ve always loved following the Booker and still do, but now I feel much less pressure to have that completist sense of reading every book on the shortlist. I read the first 50 or so pages of Jacobson and Flanagan’s novels and they didn’t grip me so I moved on. The other four are all excellent and worth reading in my opinion. I’ve been a cheerleader of Mukherjee’s novel since it was published and so glad it’s getting recognition from both the Booker and Green Carnation. It really deserves it and I think it would have slipped through the cracks otherwise. I think Smith’s inclusion on the shortlist has really helped bring her to the public eye as well and she’s a challenging (and brilliant) writer who might not have been so well known if it weren’t for the prize. So yes, I still think the prize is relevant and exciting, but totally understand when people get tired of the hoopla around it. 🙂

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think it’s the brouhaha around it for me, Eric, that and too many years spent ploughing through books I didn’t think were particularly outstanding when I knew of others that would sink without trace through lack of attention. But you’re right the Mukherjee might well not have reached such a wide audience otherwise. I haven’t read it yet but I suspect that I will – lots of people whose opinions I trust seem to rate it very highly.

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  7. Annabel (gaskella)

    I’ve fallen out of love with the Booker too. The fact that half the books weren’t published when the longlist came out completely lost me this year – I will buy the winner for my shelves, but that’s as far as it goes for me. I’m a fan of the Costa with its different categories and increasingly of the other less garlanded prizes. Of course the Booker has a new rival in the Folio prize- so it needs to up its game!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Definitely agree with you about the Costa, Annabel. I was expecting a bit more on an argument when I posted this morning – not that I’m the argumentative type – but I’ve been surprised at home many people broadly agree with me in my disenchantment.

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  8. Alex

    I’m a sucker for awards, I’m afraid, although the Booker comes pretty low down on my list of prizes that have gone to worthwhile books. I’ve found over the years that I’ve come to rely on the Pulitzer to point me in the direction of really worthwhile authors I might otherwise not have read. Without their selections I might never have made the acquaintance of Elizabeth Strout, Richard Russo, Geraldine Brooks, Marilynne Robinson or Jhumpa Lahiri, all of whom I read for the first time after they were recipients of the American award.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      That’s quite a list, Alex. Several favourite names there – Strout, Lahiri and Russo, in particular. I’ve often found the National Book Award to be a useful indicator, too.

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  9. kerry swash

    I agree – much more reliable for good picks – the Whitbread(as was) and the Pulizter for me, someone else has recommended the Canadian prize Scotiabank Giller – anyone know anything about that?

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think that’s an interesting one, Kerry. Kim over at Reading Matters has reviewed most of this year’s list, I think. I’ve only read one – Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night which I enjoyed very much.

      Reply

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