Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MAN Booker Dozen...You Know, Like Donuts

The MAN Booker Prize longlist was just announced -- and though they're calling it the "Man Booker Dozen" it includes 13 books, just like when you buy a baker's dozen of donuts.

Of the books on the list that I've read, I can honestly say that Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland" is the best novel I've read all year. "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz was terrific, though sales here in the US were modest, despite the best efforts of his publisher.

Of the others, Tom Smith's "Child 44" was a very fine thriller, but more a genre book that the high-minded fiction one expects to get the nod from Booker committees. I found Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence" inpenetrable (and I'm a fan), but he seems to have a permanent slot reserved for him, perhaps as his having written the book voted the "Booker of Bookers."

Amitav Ghosh is reliably good, as is Sebastian Barry. I hope to read through the rest, just as soon as I finish the even longer long list for the Dylan Thomas Prize, which I'm helping to judge this year.

Looking back, the first Booker Prize winning novel that I remember selling well in the US was 1990s "Possession" by A.S. Byatt. I was working in a bookstore in Boston when it was published and the combination of its romantic plot and a pretty cover featuring "The Beguiling of Merlin" by Edward Burne-Jones convinced more than a few customers to opt for a copy. Since then, the Booker has had it's hits ("Life of Pi") and misses ("Vernon God Little"), and more than a few choices to which readers have seemed sadly indifferent.

I wonder, can more be done to reclaim some of the prestige among book buyers? Share your thoughts.

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