The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Longlist: Reactions & Shadow Panel Reading Strategy

The 2019 Wellcome Book Prize longlist was announced on Tuesday. From the prize’s website, you can click on any of these 12 books’ covers, titles or authors to get more information about them.



This year marks the 10th anniversary of the prize. As always, it’s a strong and varied set of nominees, with an overall focus on gender and mental health. Here are some initial thoughts (see also Laura’s thorough rundown of the 12 nominees):

  • I correctly predicted just two, Sight by Jessie Greengrass and Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar, but had read another three: This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein, Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, and Educated by Tara Westover (reviewed for BookBrowse).
  • I’m particularly delighted to see Edelstein on the longlist as her book was one of my runners-up from last year and deserves more attention.
  • I’m not personally a huge fan of the Greengrass or McBee books, but can certainly see why the judges thought them worthy of inclusion.
  • Though it’s a brilliant memoir, I never would have thought to put Educated on my potential Wellcome list. However, the more I think about it, the more health elements it has: her father’s possible bipolar disorder, her brother’s brain damage, her survivalist family’s rejection of modern medicine, her mother’s career in midwifery and herbalism, and her own mental breakdown at Cambridge.
  • Books I knew about and was keen to read but hadn’t thought of in conjunction with the prize: The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.
  • Novels I had heard of but wasn’t necessarily interested in beforehand: Murmur by Will Eaves and Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I went to get Freshwater from the library the afternoon of the longlist announcement and am now 60 pages in. I’d be tempted to call it this year’s Stay with Me except that the magic realist elements are much stronger here, reminding me of what I know of work by Chigozie Obioma and Ben Okri. The novel is narrated in the first person plural by a pair of (gods? demons? spirits?) inhabiting Ada’s head.
  • And lastly, there are a few books I had never even heard of: Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abraham, Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning, and Astroturf by Matthew Sperling. I’m keen on the Fanning but not so much on the other two. Polio will likely make it to the shortlist as this year’s answer to The Vaccine Race; if it does, I’ll read it then.



Some statistics on this year’s longlist, courtesy of a press release sent by Midas PR:

  • Five novels (two more than last year – I think we can see the influence of novelist Elif Shafak), five memoirs, one biography, and one further nonfiction title
  • Six debut authors
  • Six titles from independent publishers (Canongate, CB Editions, Faber & Faber, Oneworld, Hurst Publishers, and The Text Publishing Company)
  • Most of the authors are British or American, while Fanning is Irish (Emezi is Nigerian-American, Jauhar is Indian-American, and Krasnostein is Australian-American).



Chair of judges Elif Shafak writes: “In a world that remains sadly divided into echo chambers and mental ghettoes, this prize is unique in its ability to connect various disciplines: medicine, health, literature, art and science. Reading and discussing at length all the books on our list has been fascinating from the very start. We now have a wonderful longlist, of which we are all very proud. Although it sure won’t be easy to choose the shortlist, and then, finally, the winner, I am thrilled about and truly grateful for this fascinating journey through stories, ideas, ground-breaking research and revolutionary knowledge.”

We of the shadow panel have divided up the longlist titles between us as follows (though we may well each get hold of and read more of the books, simply out of personal interest) and will post reviews on our blogs within the next five weeks.


Amateur: A true story about what makes a man by Thomas Page McBee – LAURA

Astroturf by Matthew Sperling – PAUL

Educated by Tara Westover – CLARE

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – REBECCA

Heart: A history by Sandeep Jauhar – LAURA

Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning – REBECCA

Murmur by Will Eaves – PAUL

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – CLARE

Polio: The odyssey of eradication by Thomas Abraham – ANNABEL

[Sight by Jessie Greengrass – 4 of us have read this; I’ll post a composite of our thoughts]

The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster by Sarah Krasnostein – ANNABEL

This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein – LAURA 


The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist will be announced on Tuesday, March 19th, and the winner will be revealed on Wednesday, May 1st.

We plan to choose our own shortlist to announce on Friday, March 15th. Follow along here and on Halfman, Halfbook, Annabookbel, A Little Blog of Books, and Dr. Laura Tisdall for reviews and predictions.


Are there any books on here that you’d like to read?

33 thoughts on “The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Longlist: Reactions & Shadow Panel Reading Strategy

    1. It’s a family memoir, an illness memoir, a bereavement memoir … but it’s also very funny and chatty in a way that Lena Dunham fans might appreciate. Hard to get all that across in marketing.


  1. What an excellent list! Had the Stella Prize longlist not been announced tonight, I would be ripping into as many of these as I could.

    As it happens, I’ve read two (and have another in the TBR stack). I didn’t think much of Educated but realise I’m in the minority. The Trauma Cleaner on the other hand, was one of my favourite books for 2018. Coincidentally, I was devastated that it didn’t make the 2018 Stella Prize longlist (heard a whisper that it would have been such a favourite that the other contenders wouldn’t get the benefit of being longlisted, so…). Anyway, it’s an extraordinary story and I’ve been lucky to hear the author speak a few times – she’s every bit as curious, gentle and empathic as she comes across in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d be surprised if Polio makes the shortlist, simply because it sounds so similar to The Vaccine Race. But then there isn’t really anything else in its ‘category’, so…


  3. I was a little underwhelmed by this years list, I can’t lie. But I’m willing to be persuaded by it! There are a handful of books on the list I’m actively looking forward to, others not so much. And it’s not because I have any question over their quality, but because I feel that a lot of the links to science and medicine this year are very tenuous and flimsy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The ones that stand out for me are This Isn’t Really About You, Educated, Mind on Fire, and The Trauma Cleaner. I’ve read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but am surprised to see it on the list. I can kind of see how it fits, but I can’t imagine there would have been others that would have fit better. I’ll be really interested to see what you think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely more drawn to the memoirs this year. But that’s nothing new! 😉

      I feel like this year’s longlist is a little ‘trendier’ than some in the recent past. Maybe the makeup of the judging panel has something to do with that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Intriguing long list; I have read R & R and really enjoyed it. I must read Educated now! I like the sound of Trauma Cleaner and Astroturf – the latter seems topical with the huge gym culture among male teens including my sons though they don’t do steroids!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to say, without a self-imposed deadline, I think I’ll probably get to these more slowly than those of you doing the shadow panel, if it all. I’m desperately trying to read my own damn books this year, so I’ll probably at least wait on your reviews and/or the short list to decide which of these to make time for. I’m really enjoying that your posts are keeping me up-to-date with what’s happening with this prize 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Inevitably there will be some books that appeal more than others. That happens to us every year. There are some longlisted books that I will probably never read, and other shortlisted books I’ll have to force myself through if I’m not very interested.


  7. I’m so curious about how you divided them up, whether there was anything that all shadow readers were thinking “oh, no, please not me” in terms of the choosing. 🙂 Many of these sound interesting to me, but none so interesting that I’m scrambling to the library to put one on hold. Perhaps your reviews will pull me in! 🙂


    1. There actually wasn’t too much haggling. We put ourselves down for the ones we already had access to, and then there were a few remaining that we decided based on our level of interest. Lots of us wanted The Trauma Cleaner, though 😉


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