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:
- 1989 – The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro)
- 2009 – Wolf Hall (Mantel)
- 2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
- 1992 – Sacred Hunger (Unsworth)
And then there are those at the bottom of the heap, the worst of which I just couldn’t finish (marked DNF):
- 2004 – The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst) – DNF
- 1991 – The Famished Road (Okri) – DNF
- 1972 – G. (Berger) – DNF
- 1986 – The Old Devils (Amis)
- 1971 – In a Free State (Naipaul)
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?