Midweek @ Musings: A Complete Booker Retrospective

On Sunday, October 10, I finished reading Something to Answer For, and thereby achieved a long-term goal to read  all winners of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.  I’m pretty happy about that, and have reflected on this journey, most of which took place over the past three years.

I first discovered the Booker Prize about 10 years ago.  As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this year,

I’d just moved from the US to the UK, and found myself in unfamiliar territory where contemporary literature was concerned.  I’d been feeding myself a fairly steady diet of New York Times bestsellers and Oprah’s Book Club picks, both of which were in short supply in my new home.  But it was Booker Prize season, and the media was giving the prize considerable coverage.  “What’s all this then?” I asked myself.  And my new “tbr pile” was born.  I didn’t read every nominee — far from it — but I discovered many new authors including Margaret Atwood, Trezza Azzopardi, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Monica Ali, and Zoë Heller.

When I became a blogger in 2007 and discovered reading challenges, I decided to turn my interest in the Booker Prize into a long-term project and invite others to join.  The Complete Booker was born.  At that point I’d only read 7 prize winners, but I’ve made steady progress over the past three years (for reviews, see my Complete List of Booker Winners Read).  And while some of these books have been great, some have done nothing for me whatsoever !

I know Salman Rushdie’s Midnights’ Children was chosen as the Best of the Booker in 2008, but my picks for the “Best of Booker” are:

And then there are those at the bottom of the heap, the worst of which I just couldn’t finish (marked DNF):

The remaining winners are fairly well-distributed across the ratings scale, with an average rating of 3.3 (just about average!)

Now don’t go raining all over my parade by telling me I haven’t really read all of the winners, since the 2010 Booker Prize winner was announced yesterday.  Having achieved my goal, albeit only for the space of a few days, I feel compelled to maintain it.  It feels better to say, “I’ve read all of the Booker Prize winners” than, “I’ve read all the Booker Prize winners except for …”  So I plan to read The Finkler Question next month, and will continue to read each year’s winner.  But I’d also like to take my Booker reading in some new directions.  For one thing, there’s a wealth of great literature on past shortlists.  On the other hand, my relentless focus on past winners caused me to miss out on the annual “Bookerthon,” a rush to read the longlist or shortlist :before the prize announcement.  On the other hand (what? three hands?), current nominees are often not available in the US, or they are expensive.  What’s a Booker fanatic to do?  At this point I’m not sure, but I’m positive the Booker Prize will continue to play a major role in my reading.

Do you enjoy reading Booker Prize winners?

How do you feel about the 2010 winner, The Finkler Question?

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20 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: A Complete Booker Retrospective

  1. Well, first of all, I love the graph. It’s so YOU. =)

    And while I have not ready as many winners as you, I have to agree that Remains of the Day was an excellent book, probably one of my Booker favorites if I sat down and thought about it.

    Great post!

  2. I don’t want to confess exactly how long The Remains of the Day has been sitting here unread but your rating of it is giving me the nudge needed to just read the darn thing. I know I have read several former winners but have no idea how many. Another nudge.

    And well done, Laura! I wonder how many of you Complete Bookers are out there?

  3. Congratulations Laura! Great job. I see that I have read 17 of the winners and I started reading both the winners and selections from the longlist back in the early 90’s. My first was Sacred Hunger, which remains among my top 5 Booker winners. The worst one for me was The Gathering. That was somewhat like watching paint dry. And I knew there was a reason I picked up A Line of Beauty and put it back down after a couple of pages, several times. If you didn’t like it I probably won’t either so I can scratch that one off my list permanently. (Of course there’s alway Troubles, which we can agree to disagree on but usually we’re in sync.)

    I’m glad you persevered just for the personal satisfaction you derived from it (and of course, the excellent reading). Now what??

  4. Congratulations Laura!! That’s a huge achievement and I really loved reading about it and seeing the graph. I think I’ve read 2 – Wolf Hall and Remains of the Day, both of which I loved.

  5. Congratulations! The only book on your Booker favourite list that I’ve read is Wolf Hall and I wasn’t a fan of that. From the bottom of your heap I enjoyed Line of Beauty and loved The Famished Road – it looks as though our Booker taste is very different.

    I rarely think that the winner is the best book and actually think the best books remain on the long list – I’m (very slowly!) working my way through all the short listed books at the moment and I hope you’ll decide to do the same.

    I’m a big fan of Bookerthons too – I really hope that you’ll decide to join me in reading the long list next year 🙂

    • Jackie, one of these days we’ll figure out the magic formula that will allow us to predict our shared favorites. I agree where Bookers are concerned we often find ourselves in different places. It’s one of the reasons I’m intrigued by The Finkler Question !

      Working my way through the shortlists has some appeal, although I see myself reading those more by choice than by a simple desire to read them all. I think there may be some that I simply wouldn’t be interested in (I find the same thing with the Orange shortlists).

  6. Congratulations on completing your project! Booker-mania is in full swing over here at the moment, but of course I’m ignoring it all and focusing on the older books. What’s your next big project?

    • Marieke, I’m simply going to bask in this bit of satisfaction for a while. But I’m not one for “aimless” reading so I’m sure another project will materialize.

  7. Congratulations, Laura! What an amazing accomplishment. I’m still plugging along on this goal LOL! I am looking forward to the latest winner (even though I was really bummed that Room didn’t win 😦 )

  8. Congratulations! Reading all the Booker books is on my “sometime” list of things to do. I do not think I am quite ready for it yet.

  9. Congrats! I plan on doing this someday. Reading projects are such fun. I agree with your sentiments on Wolf Hall. I haven’t read all the Bookers but some of other my favorites are Midnight’s Children and Possession. Looking forward to your next project.

  10. I love the graph and well done. There are loads of intimading books on that winners list but thats still really cool to say you’ve read them all.

  11. Congratulations, Laura! That is quite the achievement. Personally my favourite Booker winners I have read thus far (eleven with several others on TBR) are Midnight’s Children and Disgrace, both 5* books in my opinion.

    I agree that there is a wealth of literature to be explored on both the longlists and shortlists of past years, often more exciting discoveries than the winners themselves.

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