The Man-Booker Long List and What They Missed

For some reason, the Man Booker is still my favorite literary prize, and every year I await the release of their longlist selection with anticipation and glee. Some years they get it right, some years not quite, and they always overlook something spectacular. But fear not! I am here to shine the light on the darkness in my own special irreverent way. It’s my blog, and I can say what I want, so here you go.

Here are the books the committee thought were the bee’s knees in 2016:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

I am chagrined that I’ve only read three of these, but Autumn, Swing Time, and The Underground Railroad (despite the nauseating over-hype) are also on my radar to read.. Some of these books I’ve never heard of, but plan to investigate.

Of the three I’ve read, only two really belong on this list:  Lincoln in the Bardo and History of Wolves. Not so much, Exit West. Why not, you ask? I think literary critics and prize committees focus too heavily on books of the non-British/American immigrant experience. Not to discount such literature, as many novels with topics in this area are eye-opening and important, but I think they’re often heavily weighted and are given a few too many bonus points. The topic is politically relevant, but in literature it’s also trendy, which I find off-putting. The market is saturated. Exit West is not without merit, but I’m not sure it belongs with these others on the list.

Exit West just doesn’t cut the Booker mustard. It’s fine. The writing is good, the premise is intriguing. Two lovers from an unnamed country at the outbreak of civil war flee their nation for idyllic lands and also maneuver through the ups and downs of their relationship as a couple. The description of the development of the civil war is genius, how it creeps so slowly that the city’s inhabitants almost don’t recognize its gravity until it’s too late to leave.

But  . . .

At a sparsely-formatted 231 pages, the book is so short as to inhibit character development. Even worse, there’s a glaring deus ex machina that is just outrageous. Every part of the book is viciously realistic, then all of a sudden there’s a left turn into sci-fi that only cheapens the brutal reality of the original story. How did this get an editor’s ok?

If you haven’t read the book, I’ll clue you in. It’s not a spoiler — I think it’s even mentioned on the jacket copy. The characters can just leave an undesirable place through special doors that transport them across the world. Seriously. Contemporary, politically-aware plot that jumps the shark.

Had there been other elements of magical realism in the novel, I wouldn’t have protested so much. But the doors are it. There is no explanation of this sudden supernatural location-hopping. I’m flummoxed. Going along, fascinated and terrified with the escalating war, concerned for the characters, and then wham! They just go through a magical door and instantly escape to Greece. Now the story is no longer real, no longer actually possible, and nothing matters to me anymore.

Definitely check out Lincoln in the Bardo and History of Wolves, as both novels have a lot brain food to offer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t complain vehemently that the committee completely shit the bed by not recognizing the brilliance of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I have no idea what they were thinking. Maybe they were suffocated with the influx of immigrant-experience literature. Maybe they fell through a magic door to Antarctica before they were done reading it. I don’t know. I see through you, prize committee. Look beyond the expected choices.

Alabama Book Festival!

Last weekend was the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery!

Rachel Rozet was there promoting her teen fiction book, Kinda, Sort Of, and doing a signing (see my book review here). She sold a lot of copies!

rachel
Buy Kinda, Sort Of here!

We also got to meet Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. He was happy to receive a signed copy of Kinda, Sort Of, and he signed our boojayasherks too!

jayasherandrachel

Tayari Jones gave a talk and also signed copies of her book, Silver Sparrow, which was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read.

silversparrow.jpg
Tayari Jones signing my copy of Silver Sparrow

 

rachelandmichaellackey
Rachel with author Michael Lackey, who was at the festival signing copies of his medieval fantasy novel, The Bad Seed

So proud of Rachel for being such a success with her debut novel. Rumor has it there’s another book on the way . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tirra Lirra by the River – Jessica Anderson

tirra-lirra-by-the-river-225x300Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River should be brought up from the depths of its obscurity  and celebrated for its timeless relevance. The story follows Nora Proteus, a 70-ish divorcee convalescing in her childhood home, reflecting on her life. Nora has finally returned to the place of her youth, a place she thought would bring her the peace she seeks, only to find that no matter her surroundings, her quest for her purpose goes unfulfilled.

What I really appreciated about this semi-autobiographical novel is how Nora and her close friends  handle their disregard. The men in their lives want them to do their duty, serve their families, and have no voice. For some women, being ignored slowly wears them down, often with brutal results, and for others, like Nora, the freedom to pursue a purpose overcomes them.

Tirra Lirra reminded me of Madame Bovary and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. The subtlety of women enduring their lack of empowerment is what makes these books so important. Winner of the Miles Franklin award when it was published in 1978, Tirra Lirra is especially relevant today, when women are still undervalued and considered less-than. Even those misguided women angrily chanting “not my march” on social media can thank all the brave women who marched before them for the opportunity to have their say.

Books like Jessica Anderson’s reflect how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

 

Twenty Tomes to Tackle!

I’m currently reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I have had on my to-read shelf for an eternity. I’ve always meant to read it, but I haven’t yet because I’ve been so intimidated. It’s about 800 pages long. Whenever I choose another book to read, I just look at it askance, hoping it won’t notice that it’s being passed over yet again for a book with a more manageable page length. It’s a kind of book-indenture. If I start it, I feel I must forsake so many other books for such a long time, that I would just rather absorb the guilt of not reading it than make that kind of commitment. But no longer! I’m making 2017 The Year of the Tome!

If you too can overcome your anxiety of the doorstop-book and are willing to risk a sprained wrist, here are 19 other long books to entice you:

edgar_sawtelle-cvr

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Why I want to read it:  I heard about it ad nauseam on Oprah. And it’s supposed to be worth the effort.

Page length: 566

 

pilcrowPilcrow by Adam Mars Jones

Why I want to read it:  It’s about a severely disabled, gay boy growing up in 1950s England. It looks cerebral and magical and introspective, which is right up my alley.

Page length: 525

 

soldier

 

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Why I want to read it: Looks like a whopper of an adventure story.

Page length: 792

 

drownedWe, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

Why I want to read it: I’ve read half of it, and for some reason I put it down, even though I was enjoying it. It’s full of magical realism and the sea. And that cover!

Page length: 688

 

war War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Why I want to read it: Doesn’t everyone? Not to mention, I have a soft spot for Russian literature. I can’t believe I haven’t read this already.

Page length: 1273

 

 

seveneves_book_coverSeveneves by Neal Stephenson  

Why I want to read it: Dystopian sci-fi saga. ‘Nuff said.

Page length: 867

 

 

reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Why I want to read it: From reviews I’ve read, seems like a ’round-the-world thriller that leaves readers out of breath with their hair mussed. Fast pacing WITH character development, which is hard to achieve.

Page length: 1044

 

thecorrectionscvr

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Why I want to read it: Because I haven’t read any Franzen yet (for shame). Supposed to be a cornucopia of dysfunctional characters.

Page length: 568

 

infinitejestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Why I want to read it: I’m not sure I do? But somehow, I just can’t let go of the idea of reading this. I’m supposed to want to read this . . . but will that carry me through a billion pages?

Page length: 1079

 

wind-up_bird_chronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Why I want to read it: Supposed to be Murakami’s best. Every time I bring up the fact that I’ve only read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I hear, “But you haven’t read Wind-Up Bird?!”

Page length: 607

 

tipperary

Tipperary by Frank Delaney

Why I want to read it: Because it’s about IRELAND.

Page length: 448

 

 

thebigwhyThe Big Why by Michael Winter

Why I want to read it: To be candid, because it’s set in Newfoundland and the cover resembles We, The Drowned (go ahead – scroll up and see what I mean). Any book with an ocean on the cover immediately piques my interest.

Page length: 384

 

theowlkillers

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

Why I want to read it: It’s a medieval mystery that centers around a beguinage, a group of women outcasts who challenge societal norms and the patriarchy of the church. What’s not to like?

Page length: 511

 

theunconsoled The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Why I want to read it: It’s Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go were engrossing and beautiful. I love him. 500+ pages of Ishiguro sounds like a dream.

Page length: 535

 

signalSignal & Noise by John Griesemer

Why I want to read it: You got me – ocean and ship on the cover. It’s about the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable with the background of romantic character drama.

Page length: 640

 

Theinterestings Interestings by Meg Wolitzer 

Why I want to read it: It follows the transformation of six friendships from optimistic adolescence through jaded middle age.

Page length: 468

 

 

thequickThe Quick by Lauren Owen 

Why I want to read it: Victorian Gothic historical fiction with a huge twist right at the beginning that no reviewers will even discuss for fear of spoilers.

Page length: 523

 

lifemaskLife Mask by Emma Donoghue

Why I want to read it: Because I loved Slammerkin.

Page length: 672

 

 

lostfleet

The Lost Fleet by Barry Clifford

Why I want to read it: Because it’s about 17th century piracy, shipwrecks, and underwater archaeology, all things that I find fascinating.

Page length: 304 pages (so, not a tome, but the book is large)

 

distant-hoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Why I want to read it: It’s Kate Morton. Her books are enchanting historical fiction that I never want to end, and I loved The House at Riverton

Page length: 562

 

 

Wish me luck! It should only take about 5 years to get through all of these.

 

Let’s all embrace tolerance . . . of literary genres

blog1When I’m book-browsing, this often happens: skip past romance section, point kids in direction of YA (but I don’t need to look there),  ignore mystery section that’s in the way before I finally get to good ol’ literary fiction shelves. Breathe sigh of relief and settle down into my genre.

But recently, I’ve had a suspicion . . . an inspiration . . . a shock that perhaps I’m cheating myself by allowing a closed-minded attitude to book categories. For many genres, I’ve tried them and they just don’t do it for me. I find most mystery novels to be 250+ pages of build-up for 3 pages of Big Reveal. YA (that’s “Young Adult”) usually makes me cringe with puppy love stories and overly-ambitious misunderstood manic pixie girls. I’ve read my fair share of both of those genres, and they’re not my go-to, but I’ll make exceptions if a book really intrigues me or is recommended by someone whose tastes I trust. But the others? I don’t just like them because I think I don’t like them. There are some genres I have renounced without a reason:

  • Romance? Like kissy-kissy, swoon, oh-his-biceps-thrill-me? Is that what those are about? Probably not. But I’ve never allowed myself to find out otherwise.
  • Graphic novels? I don’t like comic books. At least, I don’t think I like comic books. Okay, I’ve never read a comic book. Is that what those are? I read Maus and liked it . . . Does that count?
  • And those punny-titled cozy-mysteries set in bakeries? Are those really a thing? I thought they were just memes.

I NEED TO STOP BEING NARROW-MINDED ABOUT MY READING CHOICES.

Step 1: I’m going to the library today to get Persepolis, a graphic novel recommended by numerous readers that I trust on Litsy. I think I can find graphic novels that I may like. And I don’t want to miss out. This may turn out to be a slippery slope.

persepolis

Step 2 (completed): I branched WAAAAY out there and got not only just a romance novel, but a historical male/male romance novel. And ya know what?! It was really good! It wasn’t silly, it wasn’t bodice-ripping (or the male version of bodice-ripping). It was historically well-researched, romantic, and unpredictable. Shame on me for taking so long to find these. I’m getting more, and I don’t care if you tease me about them. england

Step 3: Cozy-mystery assignment underway. The husband and I have formed a two-person book club to read the most ridiculously-titled punny-cozy-bakery-mystery we could find: Gluten for Punishment. (BlueBuried Muffins was a runner-up). I’m game. And honestly, I think I may enjoy myself. I’m going in with a positive attitude expecting to have fun.

gluten

Would love to hear what genres you eschew  . . . maybe I can convince you to join me in my transformation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just released! New books I’m excited about . . .

There are so many great books being released! I wanted to share some of the ones I’m most excited about reading.

moscow
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I finally got my copy (signed!) and started reading it right away, despite the fact that I’m already reading five other books. Set in 1922, Gentleman is the story of Count Rostov, a Russian aristocrat consigned by the Bolsheviks to live out his days under house arrest in the Metropol hotel. After only reading 50 pages, this book has hooked me. It’s beautiful and introspective, and, best of all, Count Rostov is deliciously charming.

 

 

mischling
Find it here on Goodreads

Mischling is the German word for “mixed blood,” those deemed by the Nazis to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry. Twin sisters Pearl and Stasha arrive at Auschwitz in 1944 and are immediately part of Mengele’s Zoo. At first they feel that maybe they are privileged to be set apart from the others, given special treatment, but it doesn’t take long for the horrors to reveal themselves. I’ve already started listening to this audiobook, which is expertly narrated by Vanessa Johansson. The reader is given both voices of Pearl and Stasha, two very different girls whose souls are blended: “Everyone survived by planning. I could see that. I realized that Stasha and I would have to divide the responsibilities of living between us. Such divisions had always come naturally to us, and so there, in the early-morning dark, we divvied up the necessities: Stasha would take the funny, the future, the bad. I would take the sad, the past, the good.” Dear readers, you’re going to want to get this one.

wonder
Find it here on Goodreads

Emma Donoghue is the author of Room (shortlisted in 2010 for my fave book award, The Man Booker Prize) and Slammerkin (read this immediately if you haven’t already), so when her latest novel, The Wonder,  hit the shelves, I knew I had to have it. It’s described as an Irish Gothic masterpiece, which definitely sets my nerves a-tingling. The Wonder is Anna O’Donnell, a young girl who hasn’t eaten any food in four months, claiming she is sustained only on manna from heaven. A nurse trained during the Crimean war is sent to observe Anna, drawing her own conclusions and battling faith and responsibility to her charge. Reviewers are raving about this vivid, eerie story. And with Donoghue at the helm, it’s bound to be an emotional adventure. Sign me up.

 

thumbnail_finalapproved_semple_todaywillbedifferent_revisemjp_1
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

Today Will Be Different – the unpredictable husband, the adored child, the zany plot full of hilarious yet stressful situations, the frantic mom who’s barely holding it together while everyone she loves threatens to thwart her precarious grip on sanity. Like her previous novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Semple weaves the poignant with the hilarious, making for a heart-breaking and entertaining story. Following Bernadette, this book has big shoes to fill, and I’m looking forward to jumping in.

 

bohemians
Find it here on Goodreads

*Big Gasp* when I heard that Eimear McBride had a new book coming out. I loved her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. McBride’s writing is unusual; it’s mostly stream-of-consciousness poetical fragments and reading it takes a modicum of concentration. Please don’t let that seem as a warning to send you running the other way. I usually don’t do well with indirect,  abstract prose. I think  – and this is my blog, so I get to say what I want – that writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who attempted to write this way, are *ahem* overhyped. McBride uses a similar style, but she does it successfully. I love her writing. She gives a sense of a scene blended with the character’s interpretation of what’s happening in bits. It’s like writing with sprinkles, reading by glancing snippets, a series of quick poetic morsels. And McBride is a genius at it. She’s a joy to read, even if I do have to slow down a little, furrow my brow. Her writing is worth the effort (more so than Joyce). I just received a copy of The Lesser Bohemians today (squee!) from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review, so put that on your radar as imminently forthcoming. I’m sure to be up late tonight!

goodpeople
Find it here on Goodreads

Hannah Kent’s debut Burial Rites is one of my Favorite Books of All Time (see that cool list here), so her second novel, The Good People, is a must-read for me. Set in Ireland in 1825, widowed Nora is forced to care for her grandson, Michael. She seeks the help of Nance, a local healer, to help cure Michael, who is rumored to be a changeling and is blamed for the ill luck that has befallen their small town. Kent is adroit at creating a burdening atmosphere around haunting stories, and blending superstition and Gaelic folklore into historical fiction should be a perfect match for her skills.

This is what I’m looking foward to . . . so far! What’s on your to-read-soon list?

Five Authors – a reading pathway

 

While looking at my Goodreads “most read authors” list, I was surprised to see that most of my most-read authors are women. Much to my chagrin, Stephen King has the top spot (thanks, fiery and quickly-extinguished high school obsession!). I haven’t read everything these women have written, but I have read a handful of each, so I have a general idea of what to recommend when someone says, “I’ve heard of her! Which one should I read first?” When asked this question, my inclination is to shove the entire oeuvre in their hands and overwhelm them, but in the interest of keeping friends, I’ve chosen The One to recommend from each of my five ladies.

 

mycousinrachel
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

Let’s start with Dame Daphne, Daphne du Maurier, my north star, my totem, my patronus. The obvious answer, the one everyone has read, is RebeccaBut no! As enchanting as Rebecca is, go deep and start with My Cousin Rachel. It’s more subtle, it has the most unreliable narrator, and it’s delicious. And after you read My Cousin Rachel, you still have Rebecca to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

fingersmithcover
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

Mi amore, Sarah Waters, is quite possibly my favorite living writer (sorry, David Mitchell, there’s only room for one). I posted on Litsy recently that I just want to grab her face in my hands and gush, “Thank you for writing books!” Sarah Waters has such talent for detail, such exquisite writing. She makes you live her characters. You adore their loves, you anguish over their indiscretions, you obsess over their failings. I inhaled her latest, The Paying Guests, but if you’re a Waters newbie, I’d recommend Fingersmith. Summary: deception, betrayal, twists. And that’s all you should know about the book before you open it. It’s best to go in blind. One reviewer called it “lesbian Dickens,” but I’d just call it amazing.

 

alias-grace
Find it here on Goodreads

Margaret Atwood. Her actual name should be The Margaret Atwood, as she is grand enough to deserve the article. Or maybe, like Beyonce and Madonna, just Margaret. She’s famous for The Handmaid’s Tale, which is that one high school required book that kids have actually enjoyed. If you’ve never delved, I would recommend starting with Alias, Grace. It’s historical fiction, which is a bit of a branching out for Atwood, but it includes the nuances, mystery, and psychological twists that are in all her works. It’s the 19th century, and Grace is accused of murdering her employer and his mistress / housekeeper. But did she? Is she a victim or a fiend? She tells her story to a psychologist and he’s never quite sure if he can trust her narrative. Atwood’s writing is juicy; the small details add up to an enthralling story. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I want to stand on street corners and pass out her novels like religious tracts.

 

olive-kitteridge
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

And next up, Elizabeth Strout. Going to have to recommend the gold standard, Olive Kitteridge. It reads as several interconnected stories revolving around one crotchety retired schoolteacher. Strout touches on the minor incidences of daily life that reflect the grander issues of aging, marital discord, and disappointments. It’s bleak, but not without hope. The miniseries starring Frances McDormand is excellent as well. (But read the book first.)

 

 

 

 

stiff-cover
Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

Finally, for my non-fiction-reading friends, there’s the inimitable Mary Roach. She’s ridden the Vomit Comet, she’s attended a school for mediums, she’s undergone electrode-tracking sexual stimulation on camera, all for the sake of her art. And in every photo I’ve seen of her she looks like she’s having a blast. She is the Jack Bauer of scientific journalism. Informative, entertaining, and definitely hilarious, Roach’s books are always a pleasure. I’d start with Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers for your first Roach romp.

 

 

There are also other female authors who have captured my heart (and I want to devour everything they’ve put on paper): Kate Morton, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson, Joanne Harris, and Vendela Vida.

I’ve given you a jumping off point. Go discover!