A Booker Prize & Libraries Action Plan, Etc.

On Wednesday the Man Booker Prize’s longlist of 13 novels was announced. I never bother making predictions in advance of prize list announcements because inevitably I forget what was released during the eligibility period and I’m no good at squaring personal favorites with what a judging panel is likely to admire. See the Guardian’s photo essay and Karen’s thorough discussion at Booker Talk for more information about the nominees.

It turns out I’ve read and reviewed four of the longlisted books:

The Sellout by Paul Beattysellout for Shiny New Books: This is such an outrageous racial satire that I kept asking myself how Beatty got away with it. The Sellout struck a chord in America, but I’m slightly surprised that it’s also been received well in the UK.

The North Water by Ian McGuirenorth water for BookBrowse: A gritty, graphic novel about 19th-century whaling that traverses the open seas and the forbidding polar regions. It’s a powerful inquiry into human nature and the making of ethical choices in extreme circumstances.

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeveswork like any other on Goodreads: I was meant to review this for BookBrowse but couldn’t rate it highly enough despite the competent writing. Between the blurb and the first paragraph, you already know everything that’s going to happen.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stroutlucy barton on Goodreads: I won a free copy through a Goodreads giveaway. I read this in one sitting on a plane ride and found it to be a powerful portrayal of the small connections that stand out in a life.


As for what’s next from the longlist, I finally have an excuse to read the copy of The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee I won from Goodreads many moons ago – a sequel to which (The Schooldays of Jesus) is among the nominees. It’ll be my first Coetzee; if I like it I’ll be sure to read the follow-up book when it comes out in September.


I already knew I was interested in Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, a creepy debut novel about a misfit; All That Man Is by David Szalay, a linked short story collection about stages of men’s lives; and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, set in Canada in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests. I’ve only read one novel each by A.L. Kennedy and Deborah Levy and wasn’t hugely keen on either author’s style, but the subject matter of both Serious Sweet and Hot Milk is more tempting. I might seek them out from the library.

his bloody projectAnd then there’s the books I’d simply never heard of. Of these I’m most interested in His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, based on a true-life murder in Scotland in the 1860s, and The Many by Wyl Menmuir, a debut novella about a village newcomer.

The surprise omission for me is Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. I might also have expected to see Julian Barnes, Adam Haslett, and maybe even Ann Patchett on the longlist.

We’ve found a new rental house and hope to move in on August 15, but we’re waiting for our reference check to be complete and the tenancy contract to be drawn up before we can start doing official things like hire movers, change our address with a zillion service providers, and start packing in earnest.

This past week I’ve busied myself with comparing removals quotes and doing pre-packing tasks I’ve tried to convince myself are useful, like sorting through drawers of mementoes, assessing what’s in storage under the beds, and shifting some unwanted possessions through Freegle, a local web forum for giving away free stuff. So far I’ve gotten rid of a spice rack, 11 empty bottles, 55 empty CD cases, a cat tower plus some food and toys our fussy cat won’t use, and a wildly popular picnic hamper (11 offers came through!). It’s really gratifying to see things go to a good home.

Alas, we did also have to take some items to the local recycling center this weekend, which always seems like something of a failure, but no one’s going to want a broken vacuum cleaner and printer. My hope is that the small appliances dumped there will at least be mined for parts, so it’s better than sending them to landfill.

The weekend has also included berry picking at the local pick-your-own farm and making a summer pudding, a labor-intensive but delicious annual tradition. Plus this afternoon we’re off to Northampton to meet our newest nephew, born on the 20th.


Last year’s summer pudding.

I did finally start boxing up books last night. Much as I love my print library, it’s dispiriting just how much space it takes up. It took five boxes just to empty the small spare room bookcase! Before packing anything I did another full inventory of unread books in the flat and came up with a total of 205, higher than last time but not too bad considering the review books I’ve acquired recently as well as the secondhand shopping I’ve done. I’ve made good progress in my attempt to read mostly books I own for the summer, but it’s a resolution that will have to carry over into the autumn and winter.

The one thing that might scupper me in that plan is that, although we’re only moving 45 minutes away, we’ll be in a new council area where library reservations are free! For years I’ve been a part of library systems where it costs 40 or 50 pence to reserve each book, so I’ve kept holds to an absolute minimum. But from now on you can be sure I’ll be putting myself on the waiting list for every new and forthcoming book that appeals to me! Expect the monthly Library Checkout posts to resume by September.

Any thoughts on this year’s Booker Prize longlist? How are you doing on reading from public libraries or from your own personal collection?

21 responses

  1. You’ve done way better than I did at reading some of the Booker longlist. the only one I read – Lucy Barton – I thoroughly enjoyed but don’t see as a winner. Your first Coetzee? I’ve not read this but thought his two Booker winners to date were both remarkable.


    1. I don’t know why I’ve never read Coetzee. I even remember having Disgrace out from the library some years back but never got to it. The Childhood of Jesus is probably not an ideal place for me to start, but I hope I’ll like it enough to try him again.

      I agree with you that Lucy Barton was a great read but not necessarily prize-winning material.


  2. Free reservations! Whee!! I really, really liked the fact I got those when I worked at our public library – my shelf was always massive there! I don’t tend to read the Booker long and short lists at the time, as I know everything will eventually appear in our local charity shops. I’ve read one Strout and enjoyed it (I think) so will look out for that. I was surprised about The Essex Serpent, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Strout is best known for Olive Kitteridge, which I would really like to find.

      Most years I end up reading 3 or 4 out of 6 of the Booker shortlist, and a fairly low percentage of the longlist. I don’t think I’ve ever managed the whole list, nor would I necessarily want to. Every year there are at least a couple that hold no appeal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As I haven’t been reading much in the way of newly published fiction of late, I’m hopelessly out of touch with the Booker titles. That said, Lucy Barton sounds excellent, a popular pick among the reviewers I follow.


    1. It’s a lovely little book. I was impressed by how much it manages to say in under 200 pages about an artist’s development, the course of a marriage, poverty and class distinctions.


  4. I’m impressed that you’ve read and reviewed four of the Booker long list; most of the bloggers in my webshere (including me) haven’t heard of most of them.

    I can’t imagine paying for library reserves! But maybe it would be a good thing if I had to. I’m having a terrible time reducing the number of my books, by reading them, even though that was my main reading goal this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s definitely some offbeat selections this year. I think in recent years Booker has tried to be more diverse in terms of genres and publishers.


  5. I will definitely be championing Eileen which I really loved. Elsewhere, I’m interested in His Bloody Project and The Many too – it’s often the small presses which produce the most intriguing books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s great to see some small presses getting a chance this year!


  6. 1. That summer pudding looks amazing!
    2. I think the only book from the list I’ve read is Eileen. But there are several that I’d like to read…
    3. Yay for free book reservations!
    4. Enjoy your nephew. 🙂
    5. Good luck with move!


    1. Thanks, Naomi! We enjoyed meeting Alfred and the summer pudding was typically splendid.

      I do look forward to being back in a land of free reservations!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    I enjoyed your comments and personal life news. 😊

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Eileen is pretty great, although I’m not sure I see it as a winner. I’ve just read The Many, as a result of the longlist, and it confused the hell out of me – I *think* it wants to be cleverer than it actually is, though I may have to revise this opinion. I’ve got a copy of Serious Sweet, which I’m very interested in reading, and trying to get hold of Hot Milk. And The North Water impressed me quite a bit, too: good gnarly ethics mixed with classic adventure narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard a similar thing from another Goodreads friend: they weren’t sure entirely what The Many was trying to be, starting with the title. A nice, quick one, though? 😉

      I imagine you’ll get to some of these long before me, so I’ll look out for your thoughts.


      1. Yeah, the title is a total mystery to me too! The Many *what*? I was hoping for a more Jeff VanderMeer-esque New Weird story and was a bit saddened not to get it.


  9. Free reservations would be wonderful. We pay £1 a book up here in North Yorkshire and to be honest I don’t think that’s bad, especially when I think how much a new hardback would cost me in a bookshop.
    However Rebecca, you have influenced me and I have decided that 2017 is going to be my year of ‘reading books I’ve already got in my house’. Our small 3rd bedroom is basically a mini library with no room for a bed in it!
    I’m strangely excited about this plan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh lovely! Have you read Susan Hill’s Howards End Is on the Landing? It’s all about the challenge of reading her own library.


      1. Yes, have read and enjoyed the Susan Hill book – she’s a great writer.
        Did Forster’s Howards End for English A level and loved that too. Often mean to reread.


  10. […] will be announced. I’d already read and reviewed four of the nominees (see my quick impressions here), and in the time since the longlist announcement I’ve managed to read another three and ruled […]


  11. […] Here’s my take on the final two from the shortlist (see my quick impressions of the others here and here), plus one from the longlist. I finish with thoughts about my favorites and the likely […]


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