I spent this summer reading the Booker longlist. All thirteen novels. Every word, cover to cover. The shortlist will be announced tomorrow. Mine will be announced before midnight tonight. In the meantime, here are ten things I have learned from my reading.
- A book doesn’t have to be published to be shortlisted. I expect everyone knew this except me. But my life largely consists of discovering things everyone else already knew, and they mostly make my life easier. For example, there is a little arrow next to the petrol pump icon on the petrol gauge of most cars. It tells you which side the filling cap is on. (You’re welcome.)
- People who work in publishing seem to be very, very lovely. They send you copies of books that aren’t out yet if you’ve set yourself a reading challenge and explain nicely. Thank you, Granta, Sandstone Press, Random House and Penguin.
- An author doesn’t have to be resident in the British Isles to be longlisted. Ozeki, McCann, Lahiri and Bulawayo all live and work from their permanent homes in America, and Catton’s resident in New Zealand.
- America is a really good country where really good things happen for people who have been forced by circumstances to leave really bad countries that aren’t America. But people seem to need new names if their birth names aren’t sufficiently reflective of the country they’re writing about, don’t they, NoViolet Bulawayo and Ruth Ozeki?
- America is such a good country that, when Americans leave home, they can sort out, through their patience and statesmanship, terrible impasses between warring factions in other countries that aren’t America.
- The happiest happiness in the British Isles can be found in the Orthodox Jewish communities of North London.
- The Second World War isn’t over yet.
- Not everyone has read Jim Crace’s observation that historical fiction needs contemporary resonance.
- Patrick Ness said that one of the novels on the shortlist was so badly written that he couldn’t get past the first page. I think I know which one he meant, but can’t imagine the consequences of saying so in writing and being wrong. So I won’t admit it.
- To be a gripping read, a novel needs a solid foundation , so the reader knows where they are, and enough uncertainty to create tension. Therefore, to show I’ve learned something, I hereby commit to committing to my shortlist before the Man Booker committee commit to theirs. However, in order to maintain some suspense, I shall give away one thing – it won’t be the same as Philip Hensher’s.
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