Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Reading the Booker Books, Post 3: Nobel Overlap

As I perused the list of Booker Prize winners in preparation for reading them all this year, I saw some names I recognized – and many I didn’t. For example, I already knew and loved Margaret Atwood. Then I learned that Kazuo Ishiguro had just won the Nobel Prize in Literature: he’s a Booker prize holder for The Remains of the Day (1989), but I’ve only read his speculative dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go (2005). So I decided to see what kind of overlap there is between the Booker and Nobel prizes.

Since the Nobel Prize in Literature began to be awarded in 1901, it has been awarded 110 times to 114 Laureates (some years, during the two World Wars, no prize was awarded), while the Booker Prize did not begin until 1969, so there is not as much overlap as one might expect. Also, the Nobel Prize is international, and while there is now an international Booker prize, my goal this year is to read the winners of the "original" English-language Booker prize. So, the overlapping center of the Venn diagram contains only five authors: V. S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, William Golding, John Coetzee, and now Kazuo Ishiguro.

What is interesting to me is the lack of overlap: Toni Morrison won the Nobel, but has never won a Booker? This question led me to the discovery that the Booker prize did not become open to American writers until 2004, while the novel that I believe to be Morrison's best (and most original), Beloved, was published well before that, in 1987.

Then I perused the list of Nobel winners. Many names I did not recognize at all (Roger Martin du Gard? Ivan Bunin?); others I recognized, but have not read more than excerpts from (Eugene O'Neill [sorry Dad], Luigi Pirandello). If I were to set a reading goal next year of one book for each of the 114 Nobel Laureates in Literature, I will have already read complete works by :

  1. George Bernard Shaw
  2. Pearl Buck
  3. Andre Gide
  4. William Faulkner
  5. Ernest Hemingway: I taught Faulkner's and Hemingway's short stories in grad school
  6. Albert Camus: read The Stranger in high school for French AP!
  7. John Steinbeck: I have been seeking an occasion to teach the little-known The Winter of Our Discontent. A timely examination of honesty and accomplishment in the modern age.
  8. Jean-Paul Sartre: more French AP!
  9. Samuel Beckett
  10. Isaac Bashevis Singer
  11. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: but I read One Hundred Years of Solitude so long ago I would definitely re-read it.
  12. William Golding (Booker Prize winner): I am looking forward to reading something of his other than Lord of the Flies.
  13. Nadine Gordimer (Booker)
  14. Derek Walcott: definitely due for a reread
  15. Toni Morrison
  16. Seamus Heaney: taught his translation of Beowulf
  17. V.S. Naipaul (Booker)
  18. John Coetzee (Booker)
  19. Patrick Modiano: merci, French book club!
  20. Kazuo Ishiguro (Booker)

That brings my number down to a manageable but still hefty 94 books for next year's Nobel Prize reading project. Who's with me??

Next up: Reading Book #1, P.H. Newby's Something to Answer For

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reading the Booker books, Post 2: Amassing the Books

Once I decided to read all the Booker Prize winners this year, I started amassing the books. I want to have them all (and read them all) in print, just so I can see them all together in one place. Also, I like to have shopping goals, like completing sets.

I already had two of the ones I’d read previously, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (in fact, I’m pretty sure I have everything she’s published in book form), and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, which I read shortly after it came out in 1992; it must have been the summer before I began graduate school.

That left 50 to buy, and I was able to get 21 of them through Paperback Swap. (Great site! You post books you don’t want, request books you don’t have, and you only pay postage for the books you send.) That got me off to a running start. But many of the books I needed weren’t posted, or had long waiting lists.

This holiday season, I was lucky enough to receive some gift cards to Barnes and Noble (thanks to my students) and Powell’s Books (thanks, Dad), so I was able to purchase some online. Then I started scouring thrift stores and used book stores, where I picked up a few more.

Then I got impatient and started buying them online, used, from Thrift Books, Better World Books, and eBay. As of today, I am only waiting on the most recent one, Lincoln in the Bardo, which I bought new from the publisher with a discount for being on a teacher panel. Despite being as thrifty as possible, I’ve spent at least $100 (not counting the gift cards) getting the 50 books I didn’t already own.

I had to clear a shelf, of course – The Booker Bookshelf -- and then, being me, I had to label them. Each book now sports a colorful Post-It flag on its spine with its year and number, 1 through 52. I plan to read them in chronological order, except for Hilary Mantel’s *two* winning novels, #44 and #47, Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012), because the second is a sequel to the first, so I will read them together. I also got the audio book for the second one, so I can listen to it in the car, and get on with book #45 after Wolf Hall.

Also, one of my book clubs (I belong to three) generously agreed to read Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha (1993) with me, in early March. Since it’s almost February and I haven’t started yet, I doubt I will be at book #28 by then, so I’ll read that out of order, too.

Next up: Booker Prize winners and the Nobel Prize in Literature!

Booker books 1-51, on the Booker Bookshelf

Monday, January 29, 2018

2018: My year of reading the Booker Prize winners, post 1

Hello! My name is Stephanie. I teach French and sometimes English, and my biggest hobby is reading. I read over a hundred books a year. This year, I decided to set myself a challenge: read all the winners of the Man Booker Prize. The idea for the Booker Books reading project came out of a discussion with my husband Charles, and sloppy reading of a Wikipedia article. 

Like I said, I read a lot, so I’m always saying things like “That book was awesome!” or “This book just isn’t grabbing me.” So Charles asked me once, what makes a book great to you? I thought a bit and decided on originality. I love books that do something I haven’t seen before, an idea that I keep coming back to. For example, a book I keep thinking about years after finishing it is Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. In this novel, all the dead go to a great city, where they continue to live -- as long as someone alive remembers them. Then, an epidemic wipes out almost everyone on Earth… Of course, originality is not the only thing that makes a book great, and I recognize that it’s very hard to do anything original; as a certain bard once said, there’s nothing new under the sun. 

Around the same time as that conversation, I went to our school’s “booktail” hour (books + cocktails = best. idea. EVER) where one of my colleagues talked about George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, the latest Booker prize winner. I had heard of the Booker prize, but didn’t really know exactly what it signified. So looked it up, and found it is awarded for “the best original novel written in the English language and published in the UK.” In my haste (I was probably on my phone) I saw “MOST original novel” and thought wow, that’s exactly what I want to read, the most original novels!  

It’s called the Man Booker prize, not, alas, after a booklover named Man Booker, but for two publishing houses. The prize was first awarded in 1969. In 1970, 1974, and 1992, two prizes were awarded, so there are 52 for me to read now, and there will be 53 by the end of the year. I had already read three of them: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992), Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000), and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011). I once started Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002) but didn’t care to finish it. Looks like I’ll have to try again.

Next post: getting the books!