Wednesday, 19 October 2011

It's come round again.

Regular events always seem to make the year go more quickly - hairdressing appointments, committee meetings - even Christmas and birthdays. One no sooner seems to have passed than the next is upon us. I'm sure that the older one gets the more this is true. I do seem to remember in the far distant past waiting for Santa to arrive seemed an endless wait. Now the Christmas decorations are up on the high streets before they have had time to gather dust in whatever safe place they are put for the Summer.

Nowhere is this more true than in the annual Booker Prize for Literature. Because it falls so near to my birthday, I often get the prize book as a present and welcome it is too, although there have been times when I have been totally unable to finish it (Midnight's Children springs immediately to mind.) Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' was a masterpiece and a great pleasure to read.

This year's short list was an interesting one because there were two first-time authors on it. The winner was Julian Barnes, and this is his fourth entry - so a case of fourth time lucky for him. But, as usual, there is controversy - the eternal argument between - should the winner be a work of 'highbrown literature' or should it be ' a good read' - and can you combine the two?

There was an interesting programme on BBC2 last evening, when the six short-listed books were all taken to a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands and various inhabitants were invited to read them. I must say that it did not seem to me to be an 'ordinary' village: there were a lot of rather posh ladies in tartan and with double-barrelled names and several men in kilts - and there did seem an awful lot of so-called 'ordinary' folk willing to read these tomes. But it was
interesting and they voted on the winner, which was definitely not Julian Barnes.

The Times Literary Editor, Erica Wagner, has a good commentary on the prize, in which she asks whether the novels on the short list will stay the course and still be read in a couple of hundred years time. Of course none of us can answer that question but it is interesting to note that she quotes two contemporary reviews of books which have really stood the test of time and which are now seen as classics. They certainly were not seen that way at their time of publication. These are the two reviews:

Book a) "sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous."
b) "there seems to us great power in this book but a purposeless power, which we feel a great desire to see turned to better account."

Book a) is 'Moby Dick' and book b) is 'Wuthering Heights.'

Just goes to show that you never can tell. However, I would like to know what your general opinion is on the overall purpose of the Booker Prize - should it be a book we all enjoy or a book which takes a bit of getting through? You decide - after all you will none of you be here to know what happens to Julian Barnes's book in two hundred years, will you?

20 comments:

Penny said...

Interesting thoughts, I dont always read the Booker winners but often enjoy the runners up.I am afraid these days I like a book which is well written but entertaining as well.

Granny Sue said...

The reviews of Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights are an interesting note to their continued success, although I might agree with the Moby Dick review! But Wuthering Heights remains one of my all-time favorite reads.

H said...

Personally, I like a well written book which has a clever story. I don't like anything so obscure that it bores me. I read to be absorbed, not to struggle with what on earth the author might be getting at! I do, however, like stories with a bit of insight and intelligence.

Elizabeth said...

I usually like Julian Barnes books --particularly liked Metroland about his/his protagonisht's youth.
I like it that the Booker Prize is taken seriously enough to engage the public's interest.
Just failed to complete The Satanic Verses by Rushdie --the author terribly clever and antic but much too mannered and pleased with his own cleverness, I think.
I often enjoy the women writers who get the ORANGE Prize --is that around still?

I have just finished reading Ford Madox Ford's THE GOOD SOLDIER. I can't imagine how I had overlooked it since I read quite a lot. It was by far the best book I've read in ages and ages. Lots of stars etc.
Very engaging and beautifully written too.
I'm afraid in my old age I tend to put aside books that do not hold my attention.
Happy reading.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I have been disappointed with most of the Booker shortlisted books I've ever read. I find that often they are neither 'a great read' nor 'great literature' but fall somewhere between in an unsatifying middle ground. Having said that I've very much enjoyed some of Julian Barnes' books (though not liked others of his!)

Pondside said...

While I don't always read the Booker winner - more likely to read the Chalmers or the Commonwealth winners - I believe that all prizes have the purpose of bringing attention to writing, and that's a very good thing.

John Gray said...

why dont they do the
TOM STEPHENSON AWARD for best blog!?

we would all be up for a chance then
x

Heather said...

How I agree with your first sentence Pat. As for books - well, they are meant to be read of course, so at the very least they should be a good read whether highbrow or not. Having said that, one woman's good read is another's boring tome.

Reader Wil said...

It is with art always the case that we nwver know wether a work of art is going to be a classic or not. Many great painters were considered to be bad artists in their lifetime but are now acknowledged to be the best of the world.

Rachel said...

I like a book that is a good read, a good story. I have in the not too distant past read many books that reached the Booker short list and I have almost always been disappointed, thought how rubbish they were, and been unable or not wanted to finish them. I carried on buying thinking that the next one would be brilliant. But I never found one that was. I now avoid any book that says "shortlisted for the Man Booker prize".
There is a new prize coming up called the "Literature Prize" for a good book. I wonder what that means.

MorningAJ said...

I don't see why a good story can't be told simply - so it's not hard work to read.
I think the Booker at least gets publicity for 'literature'. That's no bad thing.

The Poetry Bus said...

Never min the BP, stick with the PB!

Rachel Fox said...

"Highbrown literature"? Excellent typo...

I've read a couple of the articles about the latest Booker outrage (there seems to be outrage of some kind every year... possibly because writing really is a bitchy business... everyone knows best!). This year it seems to be quality vs readability and I'd like to know why it always has to be something vs something else... how about something PLUS something else?

x

Dave King said...

I saw some of the Scottish program and had as the same thoughts as yourself. I could almost have thought the village a creation of some novellist!

An article in today's i newspaper is suggesting that Barnes is the sourest author ever to have won the prize - but deserves to have won it.

acornmoon said...

A little know fact about this award is that the finalists get to have their books bound by master craftsmen and women all "Designer Bookbinders" The level of skill is breathtaking. I had the privilege of handling "Pigeon English" bound by Paul Delrue in brown leather with leather onlays and suede deblures, a hand sewn silk headband, gold tooling, and edge painting and beautifully presented in a hand made box.

It is a pity that the press don't pick up on these volumes, our bookbinders are an endangered species.

Gwil W said...

Christmas is coming
And Guinness is advertising
An Irish Christmas Concert
in December
in October
on a poster
outside a theater
and we haven't even turned the clocks back.

So it is today.

The Gorsoon said...

I have just looked at the list of winners; it is interesting to see how many seem to have slipped into obscurity. The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) is one of my all time favourites-a good read without the arty pretentiousness of some on the list.

Bovey Belle said...

I have Wolf Hall in my book pile waiting to be read. I bought it from a charity shop because I wanted to read it. I wouldn't go out to buy a Booker Prize winner, I have to say. I buy books that appeal to my reading tastes and I think a general rule for me would be that Booker prize winners wouldn't!

I think a prize-winning book should one which you can't put down - one which captures your imagination and imprisons it, whatever the topic or however highbrow it is.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comments - we all seem in agreement on the issue.

Ben Hardy said...

Each year my bookgroup has a 'Booker Party' in December where between us we cover the Booker books. Generally, the books get mixed reviews: last year the person most enthusiastic about their book was the person who read 'Room' (and I can't now remember who won). I had 'Long Song', which I enjoyed very much, but it suffered from not being as special as 'Small Island'. The two I have liked most during the 10 or so years we have been doing this were 'Darkmans' and 'The Accidental': both excellent (though Darkmans was very strange). And I loved 'Midnight's Children' - though acknowledge it is a difficult read.