04 August, 2016

To Booker or Not to Booker?

No, not the start of a bad joke. Just the old question of whether it's worth trying to read the books that win the most prestigious prizes.
It's Booker time again. The longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize was released at the end of July. I haven't read any of the books (it usually takes me a few years to catch up with current fiction). I haven't even heard of most of them. It got me wondering how many Booker Prize winners I've actually read. And, more importantly, did I enjoy them more or less than less-prestigious books?

Some people are snobby about the big literary awards. They go so far as to boast that they never read books that win the Booker as they know they'll be dreary and "too literary". I think that's a shame. It reminds me of a friend who used to say she couldn't stand classical music. What, all of it? Every piece for every instrument and group of instruments in every style ever?!

Of the 48 previous winners of the Man Booker Prize, I have read only six (12.5%): Midnight's Children, The Remains of the Day, The God of Small Things, The Blind Assassin, Life of Pi and The Sense of an Ending. Three of them I wasn't too keen on, three of them - The Remains of the Day, The Blind Assassin  and Life of Pi - I absolutely loved. (The Remains of the Day I even consider to be the best book I ever read. I adore it!) With all of them though, I admired the way they were written very much.

I think that's the key. The Booker Prize cannot pick out books which are to everyone's tastes. Indeed, if it really awards a wide variety of novels and not just the same old thing each year, it is impossible for it to please everyoneall the time. It does however pick out books that are stunningly-written. I can pick out a book from the library shelf and I might love it or hate it; with the Booker Prize I know I am at least not going to waste my time reading something badly-written.

I love a good bit of easy-reading cosy crime or comic caper, but I like to balance that with beautiful books by amazing authors. That's why I read both Agatha Christie and John Steinbeck. They are not books that are heading towards the same goal - one is great entertainment, one is great art. Both are needed!

I would like to read all the Booker Prize winning novels. I am sad that I haven't even heard of so many of them. I think that is going to be my next long-term reading challenge. So, where shall I start? Take a look at the full list of prize-winners below and let me know if there are any titles you particularly recommend. I love a good recommendation - the three I've loved so far were all recommended to me by friends!

Do you try to read award-winning books? Or do you avoid them? Are there awards other than the Booker that you gravitate towards when looking for good things to read?

1969 - Something to Answer For, PH Newby
1970 - Troubles, JG Farrell
1971 - In a Free State, VS Naipaul
1972 - G., John Berger
1973 - The Siege of Krishnapur, JG Farrell
1974 - The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer and Hoilday, Stanley Middleton
1975 - Heat and Dust - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1976 - Saville, David Storey
1977 - Staying On, Paul Scott
1978 - The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
1979 - Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
1980 - Rites of Passage, William Golding
1981 - Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
1982 - Schindler's Ark, Thomas Keneally
1983 - Life and Times of Michael K, JM Coetzee
1984 - Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner
1985 - The Bone People, Keri Hulme
1986 - The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis
1987 - Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively
1988 - Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
1989 - The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
1990 - Possession: A Romance, AS Byatt
1991 - The Famished Road, Ben Okri
1992 - The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje and Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth
1993 - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle
1994 - How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman
1995 - The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
1996 - Last Orders, Graham Swift
1997 - The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
1998 - Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
1999 - Disgrace, JM Coetzee
2000 - The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
2001 - True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey
2002 - Life of Pi, Yann Martel
2003 - Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2004 - The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
2005 - The Sea, John Banville
2006 - The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
2007 - The Gathering, Anne Enright
2008 - The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
2009 - Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
2010 - The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
2011 - The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
2012 - Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
2013 - The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
2014 - The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
2015 - A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

The 2016 shortlist will be announced on 13th September, with the final result on 25th October. I notice that one of the longlisted authors has won the thing twice - in 1983 and 1999. That's what I call a long and successful career!


  1. I don't read award winning books, unless I'm specifically interested in it on its own. Sometimes I want to avoid them because it seems like whenever I read a book that EVERYONE and their cat loved, I don't. No, not always, but it's happened a lot.

    1. That happens to me too! I don't like The Great Gatsby. I even read it again years after not liking it the first time as I thought I must be mistaken. I wasn't. I still didn't like it! Happened with others too.

  2. I don't read award winning books per se; i.e., I don't go looking for them for that reason. I usually am drawn to a book for what's on the jacket, the blurbs, the theme suggested. Some of them are literary, and some are not. But I would like to read some of the ones on this list I haven't read.

    1. I rarely find I'm that interested in the blurb of literary novels. I read them becasue I want to see what the fuss is about, or I'm doing some sort of challenge, and then I often love them. I think I'm too lazy to read fiction set in a very different culture or time unless something makes me!

  3. I haven't read many of the Booker winners you list above, Chloe; not deliberately but because - similar to you and the other commentators - I try to ignore the hype and I don't read a lot of reviews. I notice I have a couple of the list waiting to be read on my bookshelf that I didn't realise had won the Booker. I don't know if that makes me more or less likely to pick them up when I get to the end of what I'm reading at the moment!

    One Booker-winner I would definitely recommend is Disgrace. I read it on a flight back from the USA and I was absolutely hooked. For me, the characters were what made it so compelling - they were flawed, heroic, awkward, and frustrating in equal measure and seemed incredibly real. Plus, a good thing about recommending this novel is that it's relatively short, so if you don't like it you won't be stuck with it for too long!


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