How well-known is the Booker Prize outside of England?
The Man Booker Prize -- usually just referred to as the "Booker" -- was first awarded in 1969 (which makes it roughly the same age of me). Although there are quite a few literary prizes, the Booker is probably the most prestigious. There is no doubt that making the short-list -- not to mention winning it -- will sell books and generate lots of interest in an author. The catch, though, is the criteria: it is given to the best full-length novel written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. While the italicized criterion covers most of the English-speaking world, it leaves out the literary output of one notable, glaring exception -- the United States of America. Since most of my "readers" (bless you, dear ones) are American, I'm just wondering if the Booker phenomenon is known to you. Yes, "we've" got Pulitzer prizes, and Oprah's Book Club, and even the Nobel Prize . . . but I'm going to venture out on a limb (don't I love limb-venturing) and say that there is no literary prize in America that functions as an equivalent to the Booker. People, even not so literary ones, actually talk about the Booker. (Hmmmm . . . questioning this statement . . . not sure if Bee actually knows any wholly-unliterary or aliterary or otherwise illiterate people. But for our purposes!)
Not so long ago, there was a flutter of journalistic interest in what is being called "the Booker of all Bookers." Even as we speak, there is a distinguished panel of judges slogging through the 200 or so Booker winners and short-listers and they are reading and rereading towards the goal of producing the definitive Booker shortlist. Sometime in May, they will announce the 5 or so best Bookers -- and then the public will get involved and will actually be allowed to participate in voting for the BEST of all of the Bookers. Implicit (and perhaps explicit) in this judgment is that the best Booker will be the best novel published in the last 40 years. Excepting all of the great American novels, of course.
It is interesting to visit Wikipedia and view all of the past winners and also-ran short-listers. I did a quick survey this morning and discovered that I have read 10 winners, 10 more short-listers, and own at least 10 others. Since there are approximately 200 books in total -- there are usually 5 books on the list, but occasionally there have been 6 -- that means I have read only 10% of the contemporary English novels considered the best, the most wonderful and worthy, the most literary. How pathetic!
In order to address this frightful ignorance, I am proposing a BOOKER BOOK CLUB CHALLENGE. Is anybody with me?
Here's how I see it working . . . but if you want to "play," then you are welcome to amend the rules. I think we should all set ourselves reading goals. Everyone's reading goal can vary according to the time/interest they feel they can devote to the project. In other words, I may decide to read five books; but you, who perhaps work full-time, may feel that only one or two is possible. You might even feel that just buying a book (and resolving to read it SOMEDAY) or even reading this post will suffice as participation. It makes no matter to me. But I do think we should have some kind of "pool" -- just to introduce the galvanizing competitive aspect.
So when they announce the short-list, I think we should all publicly "vote" for our choice for Best Ever Booker. Some of us may be doing this voting quite randomly, as we might not be so well-acquainted with the books in question. Never mind; I know nothing about football and horse-racing, but that wouldn't stop me from playing a pool. Anyway, gambling has always had the chance quality.
The PRIZE: If YOU are the eventual winner, I will happily mail you the Booker book of your choice. (It doesn't have to be the winning Booker.) I am willing to award multiple prizes, should the need (doubtful) arise. If none of us are canny enough to guess the winner, I reserve the right to pick a winner based on my own subjective judgment of your PARTICIPATION. As with anything, I actually believe that participating counts for more than winning. Really.
Although I know that you are all competent googlers, I am providing you with a handy link to the official Booker website. Just to be absolutely fair -- to those of you who don't have ready access to the British press -- I will freely offer the bookies' choices.
Bookmakers William Hill has listed Yann Martel’s Life of Pi as favourite to win the Best of the Booker at odds of 4/1. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children runs a close second at 5/1 and Ondaatje’s English Patient just behind that at 7/1.
Ladbrokes has Salman Rushdie in the lead with Midnight’s Children at 4/1, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient at 6/1 and in joint third Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger and Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin at 7/1.
Now, for my own reading schedule: I have set themself the goal of reading the following Booker winners by May.
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Life of Pi, Jann Martel
Life and Times of Michael K., J. M. Coetzee
Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
My thought process: The Coetzee books are pretty short, and I've been given serious personal recommendations for them. I already own the Margaret Atwood and the Martel -- which I've started at least once; and Midnight's Children was the 25 year winner in 1993. Also, I've never read any Rushdie -- which is shameful for any book lover of some pretension (pretentiousness?).
What other people think: A recent Guardian Review article featured the choices of 10 English authors. They chose: Life of Pi, The Remains of the Day, In a Free State, The Ghost Road, Oscar and Lucinda, The Sea, Midnight's Children, The English Patient, Rites of Passage, Possession and Disgrace -- either as should-wins or will-wins.
Including the books I plan on reading, I will have managed to cover 8 of those -- so I feel that I can have my say as much as the next English-speaking reader.
I plan on carrying out my own little Booker Challenge, even if I have to do it by my sad-lonesome . . . but it would be a lot more fun if I had some fellow participants. So is anyone interested?