There Goes the Neighborhood

The Man Booker Prize shortlist is out, and possibly for the first time in my life, I’ve read something on it before it was listed (Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary.) If you count the longlist, I’ve read two (TransAtlantic by Colum McCann). Both books knocked my socks off.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction—I love the way Wikipedia boils these things down for us—“is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe.”

So it’s a good place to look when you’re thinking about what to read next. Do note, however, the committee has made some changes. Beginning in 2014, the Booker judges will consider authors from anywhere in the world as long as the work is in English and published in the UK. This has caused no small amount of consternation on the other side of the pond, and, honestly, doesn’t necessarily make me happy either. As an American, I’ve liked being exposed to books—via the longlist—I might not otherwise have seen at all in an American bookstore or might not have seen reviewed in the (American) media I generally see. I like having a collection of books in my language with a completely different “flavor” than the culture I live in. Just my two cents (a version of a comment I left here). The committee, of course, decided without me. 🙂

How will it change the Man Booker? Impossible to say at this point. But you’ve got forty-four years’ worth of lists to look back on, right? One could do worse than choosing one’s reading material from this list. When I wandered across a chart of the shortlist titles recently, I was astonished to see how many I’d read, including these eleven that won their year:

1982 Thomas Keneally: Schindler’s Ark
1987: Penelope Lively: Moon Tiger
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
1992 Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
1993 Roddy Doyle: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
2000 Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin
2002 Yann Martel: Life of Pi
2003 DBC Pierre: Vernon God Little
2005 John Banville: The Sea
2007 Anne Enright: The Gathering
2009 Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall

But listen: I only read to please myself. Not because I “should” read something or because everyone else is reading it or because it was considered special by some literary committee. I read strictly for pleasure and escape. And for a little local flavor.

A version of this post appeared at my editorial blog for writers and readers, Read>Play>Edit.

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