When one of my Book Clubs decided to read the Man Booker 2013 shortlist I was a bit sceptical. Yes, we could then decide if The Luminaries deserved to win, but we would also have to read it. And – this just in – it is very long. Anyway, it all turned out swimmingly and I read and loved books I would never have looked at if they hadn’t been on the list.
Reading from a list was so successful we’re casting around for another one. My suggestion was to consult the handy Literary prizes and book awards page on our very own Christchurch City Libraries web site. The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 looks promising, mostly because of the judges:
- Mary Beard, author, hugely entertaining television presenter, blogger and admirable human being who has risen above some very nasty verbal abuse without being insufferable about it
- Denise Mina, “the Queen of Tartan Noir” and owner of one of the best quiffs ever
- Caitlin Moran, very funny, very rude and a woman who is is unafraid of the word feminist
- Sophie Raworth, one of the BBC presenters at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Truly impressive
- Helen Fraser, the chair of the judging panel and former Managing Director of Penguin U.K. She may not have written a book, but has surely read a few good ones
A list chosen by this crew must be preferable to the system my other Book Club uses, where the members tick titles on a catalogue at the start of the year. They then shiftily deny any knowledge of the books that arrive each month and steadfastly refuse to read them. Or perhaps that’s just me.
The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 was Eimar McBride, who must be good, because if she could be a literary character she would be Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch and because she chose Anne of Green Gables as the defining book of her childhood. Although the book she always recommends is Ulysses – “why don’t more people listen?” Because it’s impossible to read, that’s why.
Using the Baileys list also offers the opportunity to swig down the sponsor’s product (or rather sip it in a genteel fashion) while discussing the finer points of literary fiction. A winning combination.
Well, it’s nearly half way through the year and I’m in a terrible mess with my challenges.
Reading seven books off the Guardian’s List of Best Books of 2013 went swimmingly until I reached number seven: The Kills. It’s 1002 pages long. What was I thinking?
Reading Bingo is also shaping up to be a bit of a bust – I’ve got five squares crossed off my 25 square grid. And it’s May!
I actually cheated and chose Mary Poppins for both Reading Bingo – “A book that became a movie” and A Year in Reading – “In March read a book that has been made into a movie”. Tragic, but needs must. Now I feel the need to repeat (yes, hysteria is creeping in here) – it’s May and I did not re-read a favourite book from childhood in April. Would Mary Poppins do for that as well?
The only challenge I’m doing O.K. on is reading the 2013 Man Booker shortlist. One of my book clubs thought this would be a good idea so we could then decide if The Luminaries deserved to win.
So far we’ve read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and Harvest by Jim Crace. Both books I never would have picked up left to my own narrow devices so perhaps challenges are good for something other than driving me crazy. Both very good books in different ways – how do the Man Booker judges ever decide which is best? Next up is The Testament of Mary – this was the shortest book on the list so of course it had to be the only one I’d already read.
If I was a Man Booker judge what would I think? Actually I’d think “what was I thinking when I took this on?”. I’d have to put aside my opinion that Colm Tóibín is a stone-cold genius because Jim Crace probably is too if Harvest is anything to go by. I’d have to fight my impulse to give the prize to NoViolet Bulawayo for having the best pen-name in the world. Crace has said that Harvest will be his last book. We Need New Names was Bulawayo’s first. The Luminaries is 832 pages long, The Testament of Mary 81. How to compare?
Actually I’ve just realised We Need New Names crosses off a sixth square for Reading Bingo – “A book set on a different continent”. Things are looking up.
Because I haven’t got enough reading to be going on with this year, what with a For Later list of only 410 titles and a New Year’s Resolution to read a mere seven books off The Guardian Best Books of 2013 list, I eagerly agreed to a colleague’s challenge to play Reading Bingo with her.
When I counter-challenged her to #readwomen2014 she raised me A Year in Reading and we were off. So far I have managed four things off Reading Bingo, but my sheet doesn’t have the tidy lines that were so exciting on Housie cards in 1970s booze barns, more a scattered set of crosses. I’m too busy trying to make one book do for two challenges to be systematic.
So far I’ve only managed it with Franny and Zooey. It met both the Reading Bingo challenge of reading “A book that is more than 10 years old” and the Year in Reading challenge “In January read a book published the same year you were born”.
The trouble with reading a lot is that it just makes you want to read more. Franny and Zooey reminded me of how much I loved the Glass family and how I should go back and read all the Glass stories. At least they’re short.
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Guardian Best Books of 2013) made me think I should read about her family and more of her fiction before I embarked on her biography. Happily I could use The Knox Brothers for “A book of non-fiction” in Reading Bingo. And perhaps the The Golden Child could do for “The first book by a favourite author”(it’s her first fiction book).
Then I foolishly left myself short of books when on holiday and had to buy a second-hand copy of Middlemarch. I’d always planned to read it after listening to it on talking book, but it’s languished on my For Later list for years. The task became more urgent when it had to be read before My Life in Middlemarch, a book about how important books can be in our lives. As if I need to read about reading. But it has had great reviews and Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker pieces are always good.
Unfortunately I’m so deep in my reading challenge addiction I chose an edition of Middlemarch with a blue cover just so I could cross off the “A book with a blue cover” Reading Bingo square . It’s so musty it nearly asphyxiates me every time I open it and as I finish each page it detaches itself from the ancient glue that has held the book together for the last 40 years.
And now Book Club has decided to read the 2013 Man Booker short list so we can judge whether The Luminaries deserved to win. And I’ve already read the shortest book on the list. Sigh.
It’s a bit tragic, but the challenges have actually given me a new enthusiasm for reading. Now to manipulate the Man Booker short list titles into meeting at least two criteria of my reading challenges each…