books ,booker ,literature prize ?

Well I stuck my nose in a conversation about the booker prize and the new prize announced this week as a counter to the booker ,now I view the new prize as a positive move the booker has been around unchallenged as the premier prize for literary fiction in the english speaking world for a long time ,so like most things that have had control of a market for a long time maybe it has got a little flabby at the waist and let its self go a bit and standards have dropped  .The new prize is in part a reaction to this years jury which in literary terms is a little lightweight and the choices of long list and shortlist have sparked much discussion on what the booker means in people’s eyes ,also a comment by the judge Chris Mullins in regards readability of the books he choose .I had long been a fan of the booker and have read many shortlisted booker books over years .

So what does the booker mean to me as a prize well I look at literary fiction a like Everest we maybe have to be like sir Edmund Hilary reach the peak  but then climbing didn’t stop and give up ,no but like all climbers we look for the new unclimbed peaks however hard ,or the new route up the mountain via a new path ,or a new way of climbing that maybe dangerous or innovative  and I think this metaphor works for the booker and reading for me in general I like to challenge myself . This is what reading  as the climbing metaphor  is ,not for climbing the same route or going to Ben Nevis and making out it is a hard as climbing Everest ! So that said what does this reader look for in his booker shortlists and winners well I ve a few things, and will use previous winners and shortlisters to show what I look for and why I think the prize has drifted of late as most of the books mention are pre 2003  –



I like a book that shows the bounds of the english languages and what can be done with it I perfect example would be James Kelman how late it was ,how late a book that showed the ability of language and regional accents a book wrote in a clear broad Glaswegian accent was it readable well if you were from Glasgow yes but otherwise it was a wonderful insight into how broken english can be shattered and remade in Scotland into a brutal but effective language that suits its setting .

Genre expanding  

Now I m going pick two books both works of magic realism the are Midnights children by Salman Rushdie  and Famished road by Ben Okri both winners in the 80’s They both approached the Magic realism genre in different ways Rushdie use it as a blueprint for the tale of modern India ,Okri as a way to open village life in Africa and Africa myths to the reader .Keneally Schindler’s ark also did same for biographical novels .#

sets a new mark 

I like books that when you read you can say that will be cited for years after as a turning point in fiction .I ve got a recent winner in mind Wolf hall I think even thou I didn’t really enjoy it ,I can see it being a book that has raised the bar on historic fiction and  will be the one the people say was a game changer and will be the one people read to get inspired to write historic fiction .

just talent 

Now some writers just oozes talent now around booker shortlist it is obvious who has influenced english literary fiction for years people like Beryl Bainbridge and William Trevor although neither won a booker both have had multiple short-listed books  over 20 plus years why because the constantly show the bounds of the English language Peter Carey and J M Coetzee have both won on more than one occasion and this  is due to there talent as writers both try to set a new path to follow  with each new  book and usually succeed in showing how you can be different even in the same field of fiction .

There are the things I look for in a winner books that try to climb Everest set new marks and leave me as a reader want more ,I think the rot set in with the booker in 2003 the short lists since then have been weaker that earlier ones so a new prize is welcome and well all be able to judge what difference it has made to the booker and what direction the new prize is set in .Although I must note it is a missed chance for a general prize for  literary fiction that also including translations   published within in a year .I personally think this hasn’t happened because it would show how much great fiction is coming to readers from outside the English speaking world !! that does all of what I state in the qualities of a booker winner and usually far better

What do you think ?

30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Violet
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 11:52:04

    I’m pleased there is to be a new Literature prize. I haven’t taken much interest in the Booker before, but this year decided I would try and read all the long-listed books. I did try most of them, but only managed to finish three, and wasn’t impressed with any of them. I like your mountain climbing metaphor: I think it’s important to be challenged as a reader. I also think there must be a lot of other books out there that didn’t meet the “readability” criteria the Booker judges seem to be looking for. Call me a cynic, but I think the Booker has more to do with selling books than rewarding excellent writing, and books need to have that “readability” factor in order to sell in large numbers. I hope the new prize highlights excellence in writing as its main criteria for inclusion.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 11:56:40

      I think your right I think at some point market forces took over at booker ,I thing the challenge is all a big part of the fun of reading to me in particular ,all the best stu


  2. parrish
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:06:28

    I’m in partial agreement with you, loving to be challenged by writers, but there still does need to be a degree of readability, as challenge for its own sake becomes pointless, but a book that challenges, whether in language, subject matter etc. and is readable, well that would float my boat on many a long journey. Which brings me to the new prize, I think it’s a great idea, not only because it will challenge the booker, but more specifically because it’s another avenue to promote literature through.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:57:03

      I m not anti readability just not wanting it to be the main reason for books being choosen as booker books ,other awards are there such as costa ,I think new prize will liven up the booker and add to the book world not take away ,all the best stu


  3. gaskella
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:40:02

    I’m essentially with Parrish. I like a degree of readability, so I would struggle with the James Kelman, and because of that not enjoy it, but dialect is a particular challenge! The new prize is welcome, but didn’t get off to a good start with the way they announced it. Cheers – Annabel


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:55:05

      Yes the announcement was maybe mistimed but competion is always a good thing ,I found kelman a challenge but do have family in Scotland so maybe had more of eye for dialect ,all the best stu


  4. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:56:41

    Which Literary prize are you talking about? Actually, I don’t set out to read the Booker winners though I have a section of them in my Top 100 books reading challenge. I also prefer some degree of readability even in magical realism or surrealism or whatever genre the author might choose. It could be low on plot but readability and association is important to me. Some authors such as Okri (whom I’ve read, at least his short stories) are somewhat difficult to understand though I try to make my own associations with his text and therefore come up with my unique understanding. Like lego I arranged the bricks to build my own house. But if a writer wants to carry out a message, readability and clarity are key.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 16, 2011 @ 12:44:38

      The new literature prize Nana ,I do like read ability but think it is a individual thing every one has different criteria as to what they class as reradable books ,love your lego metaphor just right we all have our own bricks to build on our reading ,all the best stu


  5. Gavin
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:02:48

    I am enjoying following the conversation that this new prize has stirred up and agree with many of your points. I guess I’m not sure what “readability” means. Isn’t “readability” different for all of us, depending on our tastes and what we want out of reading?


  6. Anbolyn
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 18:22:45

    What a great post, Stu! I think the literary discussions and debates these prizes foster are great for the community. At least people are talking about books and reading! The National Book Award finalists were just announced here in the States and I don’t think people really care. I think the Pulitzer and National Book Award have become irrelevant unlike the Booker. Readers still pay attention to it!


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 16, 2011 @ 12:46:56

      I think the pulitzer has tried in recent times tinkers was a shock when it won ,the booker is very pouplar here and is heavily marketed when announced but this is maybe the reason for a slip in standard of books ,all the best stu


  7. Lisa Hill
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 06:44:57

    I’m with you 100% Stu, I like a challenge too and if my reading of Snowdrops is anything to go by then this year’s Booker is a disappointment. I’ve been collecting Booker Prize winners for years and have most of them now, but I’m not going to bother anymore if the prize goes to genre fiction that I otherwise wouldn’t bother to read.
    Readability IMO is a euphemism for dumbing-down.
    I nominate Stu as a judge for 2012 to get the award back on track!


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 16, 2011 @ 12:54:04

      I think it is in context its been used here lisa ,half blood is a good book but not a taxing book ,the sense of an ending isn’t barnes best and very lightwieght in my opinon he should have won with earlier books it is the most literary book on list but still very lightweight ,all the best stu


  8. parrish
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 07:13:14

    Just checking through these comments & it appears there’s no default setting for readability or for what’s considered challenging, by readability, I mean, that through whatever hoops, labyrinths or lateral pathways the writer takes you, there has to be a reason to follow. I think I said above about being challenging for its own sake, being pointless, where all your doing is following the author up their own posterior, it would also be just as annoying if readability meant dumbing down or pandering to the lowest common denominator, for example if the writer held your hand by explaining their every nuance or thought process. I’ll finish this long-winded (unintended) reply with a few examples of perceived challenging yet are immensely readable – Italo Calvino, if on a winters night a traveller & David Foster Wallace, The broom of the System, Roberto Bolano, 2666. All great reads & with first two in particular very funny.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 16, 2011 @ 12:55:37

      I think it is meant as dumbing sown in context used for booker ,I feeel every read should read books there able too ,the three you suggested are great choices ,all the best stu


  9. Lisa Hill
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 07:27:19

    It’s like the difference between doing an easy Sudoku and Samurai Sudoku of the hard variety! I don’t always solve them, but I do enjoy the challenge.


  10. Sarah
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 15:41:39

    I heard, on the radio, a comment on the subject of ‘readability’ made by one of this year’s Booker judges, and what was implied was definitely ‘lowest common denominator.’ That’s a criteria which excludes ‘challenging.’

    I hope this new literary prize takes off. It’s an exciting proposition.


  11. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 08:11:47

    I agree with every word you say! I look for the same thing in a Booker winner. I thought I’d hate the Kelman, but was surprised by the quality of the book and how much I enjoyed it. It took me a few pages to get used to the dialect, but I think that shows how readers can be rewarded if they are prepared to put the effort into a book.


  12. Max Cairnduff
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 13:05:17

    Nice post Stu, and some nice criteria too. As you say, language, expanding the form, setting a new standard or just plain talent.

    Hopefully the new prize will flush out some talent we don’t all already know. For all its failings this year, the Booker has at least done that. How many of us would know of Half-Blood Blues or The Sisters Brothers otherwise?


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:53:49

      Im agree the two you picked are great books that had not been seen by many ,I hope new price raise bar and adds to the booker and to lit prizes we neede more really other countries have more ,all the best stu


  13. Sarah
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 05:35:47

    A very interesting post Stu. I haven’t read the Julian Barnes that won last night but I suspect that if the shortlist was ‘dumbed down’ at leat the eventual winner conformed to your usual Booker type of novel.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:56:28

      that is true Sarah he is a usual winner ,I think it was dumb down can’t see how many other people could say other books the same ones and we got a list with few of them ,all the best stu


  14. Vishy
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 19:30:57

    Wonderful post, Stu! I loved the reasons you gave for liking Booker prize nominees and winners – beautifully written and articulated! I am hoping that the panel of judges in the new ‘Literature Prize’ are literary folks. I also agree with you that it will be wonderful to have a prize for translated works. I think in recent years, books that won the Booker prize didn’t really raise too many eyebrows, but the longlists and the shortlists were always controversial. I was really disappointed that Alan Hollinghurst’s book didn’t make the shortlist this year. It would have been interesting to see how Julian Barnes’ book would have stacked up against Hollinghurst’s book in the shortlist. Barnes himself might have won the Booker for a book which was not his best. It was like giving Martin Scorcese the Oscar award finally, because his best films somehow didn’t bag the award and the Academy had to find a way of giving him an Oscar.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 22, 2011 @ 10:10:42

      I agree with the barnes scorcese point I think that it not his best not a bad book just others have been a lot stronger ,I d love a top prize open to all just to see what would make list ,all the best stu


      • Lisa Hill
        Oct 22, 2011 @ 10:18:07

        And I’d be nominating Brian Castro for a start. I’ve just started reading his fifth novel Drift, and like The Bath Fugues (his most recent), which should be getting international acclaim, it is sensational. A serious prize would harvest great writers like this from around the world – and what fun we would have reading the shortlist!

  15. Trackback: A Nobel Prize for Australia? « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

October 2011


%d bloggers like this: