Birthday Goings-on & Booker Prize Predictions

For a low-key early birthday outing we went to The Living Rainforest, a local tourist attraction run by a conservation charity. It’s on the small side, but our tickets got us free annual entry, so we’ll likely come back with family and friends with kids. Along with the tropical plants (including various fig trees I sought out especially!), there are birds both free-roaming and in cages, marmosets and monkeys, fish and turtles, an armadillo, and an elusive sloth we didn’t manage to see. Afterwards we went around the corner for cappuccinos and generous slabs of cake at the Hampstead Norreys community shop café.

My birthday itself was a gloomy day, but I didn’t mind at all; I filled it with reading and feasting, plus listening to music, working on a jigsaw puzzle, and having the cat on my lap. Each year my husband happily takes on impressive cooking and baking projects of my choice. This year we had acorn squash and black bean enchiladas with homemade salsa and guacamole, followed by Mexican rice pudding flavored with cinnamon and lime. In the afternoon with presents we’d had David Lebovitz’s Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting and Salted Candied Peanuts from Ready for Dessert. A delicious and decadent grown-up cake.

I got chocolate, notebooks, Lush shampoo, a bunch of llama/alpaca stuff, and 10 books as gifts (I suspect there might be more books to come, though). Looking back at my birthday book hauls from 2016 and 2017, I can see that I’ve had mixed success with getting through the acquisitions in a timely fashion: I’ve now read 9 out of 12 of 2016’s, but only 4 out of 11 of 2017’s. Though I’m very excited about some of my new books – I marked them as high priority on my wish list, after all – that doesn’t always translate into reading them soon. However, I’ve added two of them to my novellas pile for November, and I’ll read the first L’Engle journal in December as it starts around Christmastime.



Tomorrow the Man Booker Prize will be announced. Although I’ve only read one and a third books from the shortlist, I’m going to have a go at making predictions anyway. Here are the six nominees in what I think is their likelihood of winning:


#1: I fully expect Richard Powers to win for The Overstory. This is the one I’m partway through; I started reading a library copy on Friday. I’m so impressed by the novel’s expansive nature. It seems to have everything: love, war, history, nature, politics, technology, small-town life, family drama, illness, accidents, death. And all of human life is overshadowed and put into perspective by the ancientness of trees, whose power we disregard at a cost. I’m reminded of the work of Jonathan Franzen (Freedom + Purity), as well as Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Unsheltered – though Powers is prophetic where she’s polemic.

#2: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan is a good old-fashioned adventure story about a slave who gets the chance to leave his Barbados sugar plantation behind when he becomes an assistant to an abolitionist inventor, Christopher “Titch” Wilde. Wash discovers a talent for drawing and a love for marine life and pursues these joint interests in the disparate places where life takes him. Part One was much my favorite; none of what followed quite matched it in depth or pace. Still, I enjoyed following along on Wash’s escapades, and I wouldn’t mind seeing this take the prize – it would be great to see a woman of color win. 

#3: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner: Kushner is well respected, though I’ve failed to get on with her fiction before. An inside look at the prison system, this could be sufficiently weighty and well-timed to win.

#4: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson: A myth-infused debut novel about a mother and daughter. On my library stack to read next, and the remaining title from the shortlist I’m most keen to read.

#5: The Long Take by Robin Robertson: A novel, largely in verse, about the aftermath of war service. Also on my library stack. Somewhat experimental forms like this grab Booker attention, but this might be too under-the-radar to win.

#6: Milkman by Anna Burns: Set in Belfast during the Troubles or a dystopian future? From my Goodreads friends’ reviews this sounds wooden and overwritten. Like the Kushner, I’d consider reading it if it wins but probably not otherwise.


Do you follow the Booker Prize? Which novel do you expect to win?


33 thoughts on “Birthday Goings-on & Booker Prize Predictions

  1. That cake looks scrumptious! I’ve not read any of this year’s shortlist so don’t feel qualified to make a prediction but the one I’d most like to win is Washington Black purely on the strength of Edugyan’s writing in Half-Blood Blues which I loved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was delicious. Like a rich banana bread with walnuts, but add on a chocolate and espresso filling/icing, plus the caramelized salted peanuts! Lots of work, but for a once-a-year treat I hope it wasn’t too much to ask.

      I would definitely read Half-Blood Blues on the strength of Washington Black (which reminded me by turns of Sugar Money, The North Water, The Underground Railroad and Gould’s Book of Fish, if any of those comparisons tempt you!).


  2. Sounds like a fab birthday! The Living Rainforest sounds like a mini version of the Eden Project? Thoroughly approve of the delicious-sounding food and Lush products and books as presents…

    I’ve been underwhelmed by the only two books from the Booker shortlist I’ve read. I couldn’t finish Everything Under, and while I enjoyed Washington Black – certainly more than Sugar Money – it didn’t strike me as exceptional enough to be a prizewinner.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t remember, does the Eden Project have fauna as well as flora? The wildlife made it a bit more interesting and time-consuming than the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh we visited last month — they’re pretty much just plants.

      I was feeling convicted about plastics so asked for a Lush shampoo bar in a tin. I hope it works well for me; if so, no more shampoo bottles!

      I’ve seen diverging opinions on Everything Under. I’ll start it whenever I’m done with The Overstory. It might be a case of style over substance for me…we’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you had a nice birthday full of treats–books included. Fun to see my Ohio friend David Giffels’ memoir among them. I wonder what you’ll think of it. And the Groff. I keep wondering where to start with her. Still haven’t picked up her collection. Always fun to follow your reading adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How neat! I had several of Giffels’ books on my TBR and picked the one I was most interested in to stick on my wish list.

      I’ve read three of Groff’s books now. I’d most recommend Florida, followed by Fates and Furies.


    1. A neighbour and fellow book club attendee says she buys the lot from The Book People as a bundle for £30 every year and reads a few and gives the rest away. I don’t think it’s a particularly strong or appealing list this year, but then what do I know, having not even read two 😉


  4. I’m intrigued by the Mexican Rice pudding – if you have the time, would love to hear about ingredients and method. I really enjoyed Everything Under, and am currently reading The Overstory – what a fascinating theme, and how ambitiously executed! I have not, and will not, be reading the other 4 but if Overstory wins, I’d be happy.


  5. Wow, your husband certainly knows how to make a statement cake. Is he available for hire (my birthday is in May)????
    As for the Booker I am halfway through the Mars Room – good in part but a bit dull sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m hoping that Richard Powers’ The Overstory” wins the Booker, Beck. Of the many books I’ve read this year “The Overstory” is the most powerful; after reading it you’ll never think of trees the same way.

    If it wins, fabulous. If not, read it! Honestly, you won’t regret the time spent. I plan to reread it sometime in a few months, after I catch up on all the other books I’m reading with other groups.

    Thanks, Ellen L.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cake and more cake: I love it! So glad to hear that your day was such a pleasure. And I like that you are tracking how many of your birthday books you have followed up by reading: surely that is an incentive for the book-gifters! Perhaps, with the time difference, it’s already known which book has won, but I haven’t read enough of them (only the Edugyan – which seems worthy to me, but I can’t compare it to the others – and others by Powers and Kushner, not this year’s) to comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, now I’m really curious to see what others have to say about the winner! Shocking results are fun, but disappointing ones not so much.

    Your birthday celebrations sound absolutely perfect to me. The outing, the reading, the eating, the husband cooking and baking for you… that cake! Those books!
    Is there any cake left? I’m curious to know how fast the two of you can eat a whole cake. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There has been debate over whether Milkman is “experimental” and thus not accessible. I tend not to enjoy novels to which the label can be applied, so I’m not sure I’ll end up reading it.

      We were abstemious and froze about half the cake, plus several cupcake-sized cakes we made with extra batter. It’ll be nice to be able to get weekend treats out of the freezer during the winter.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Very belated birthday wishes. I usually try to get last birthday’s books read by the next one, feeling a bit worried about getting that done this time as I’m only just up to Christmas! And what a lovely day, perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

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