Thoughts on Literary Prizes, Sequels, and Finishing Books

I feel like my blogging is all over the place so far this month, but I’ll get back on track in the next couple of weeks with a few thematic roundups. Today, some disparate thoughts.


Literary prize season will soon be in full swing, and can be overwhelming. I’m currently reading Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation, doing double duty from the Dylan Thomas Prize longlist and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist, and enjoying it more than expected given the inevitable Sally Rooney comparisons and messed-up young female tropes. However, I abandoned Here Comes the Miracle (from the latter) after 46 pages because it was just as When God Was a Rabbit as I feared.

Today the second Barbellion Prize winner was announced: Lynn Buckle for What Willow Says, her lyrical novella about communication between a terminally ill woman, her deaf granddaughter, and the natural world. My choice from the shortlist would have been Josie George’s A Still Life, but I can see how the judges might have felt, in an early year when precedents are still being set, that it was important to recognize fiction as being just as valid a way of writing about disability and chronic illness.

Earlier in the week, the Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist was announced. Everyone remarked on the attractive mint green colour scheme! I found myself slightly disappointed; the Prize is usually more various since it includes nonfiction and poetry as well as fiction. Only one nonfiction title here: Philip Hoare going on (again) about whales. I’ve read another of poet Selima Hill’s collections so would gladly read this, too. I’ve already read the Brown and Keegan novellas and Sahota’s novel; I DNFed the Riley. Galgut has already won the Booker Prize. I’m awaiting a library hold of The Magician but I rather doubt my staying power with a 500-page biographical novel. My vote would, overwhelmingly, be for China Room.

I’m more tempted by the Fiction with a Sense of Place shortlist, announced as part of the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards early this month. What an intriguing and non-obvious set of nominees! Elena Knows was on the Barbellion longlist and the Greengrass and Shafak novels were previously shortlisted for the Costa Prize. I plan to try the Heller again this summer.

I’m also delighted to see that Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles is shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award.

I’ve been pondering my predictions and wishes (entirely separate things) for the Women’s Prize longlist and will post them early next month; for now, check out Laura’s.

 


I believe books should be self-contained and I struggle to engage with ANY series. Unpopular opinion alert: sequels are almost always indulgent and/or money-grubbing on the part of the author. Here are four high-profile literary fiction sequels I plan on skipping this year (in all the cases, I just didn’t like the original enough to continue the story):

  • Either/Or by Elif Batuman – The Idiot was bizarre, deadpan and slightly entertaining, but I have no need to spend any more time with Selin.)
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad didn’t stand up to a reread.
  • Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer – Less, only mildly funny, was hugely overrated by critics.
  • Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta – I read, and saw the Reese Witherspoon-starring movie version of, Election ages ago; this is the one I’d be most likely to change my mind about, if I read good reviews.

 


I learned via a friend’s Instagram post that there is such a thing as #FinishItFebruary and felt seen. My goal had been to clear my set-aside shelf by the end of January; of course that didn’t happen, but I have been making some progress, reducing it from about 40 to more like 25. I try to reintroduce a part-finished book into my stack every few days. Sometimes it ‘takes’ and I finish it shortly; other times it languishes again, just in a different location. I’ll see how many more I can get to before the end of February.

A reminder of that set-aside shelf, as of early January.

Following any literary prize races this year?

Do you also avoid sequels, and leave books part-read?

27 responses

  1. No part reads for me; tempus fugit. If its not working for me then its DNF’d and returned, donated or sold.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m that ruthless sometimes; other times I leave the book to a future month (or year) and then find that my mood is right for finishing it and it is well worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I largely agree with you. But just sometimes,like Rebecca, I recognise that I picked up a book at just the wrong moment, and successfully give it a second chance later.

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  2. Of the three I’ve read from the Rathbones list – Riley, Brown and Sahota – I’d also back Sahota, though I think all of them deserve to be there, which is a nice change!

    Glad to see Powles on a shortlist! Btw, I thought the Bonnie Tsui was superb, I loved it.

    I am fine with planned sequels but suspicious of sequels to v successful books that appear so years later. Unfortunately I did not realise The Candy House was a sequel to Goon Squad when I requested the arc or I’d have skipped it. I’ll definitely be skipping The Miniaturist sequel, even though I liked Burton’s other two books a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha, I knew there was another sequel I was forgetting! I’ll give Burton’s a miss as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with you on sequels but then I read Louise Welsh’s superb The Second Cut. The exception that proves the rule although I’m never quite sure how that old adage makes sense.

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    1. Olive, Again and Bring Up the Bodies are a rare two that I think were as good as if not better than the original.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yep, I often avoid sequels, particularly if (a) the initial title didn’t impress me enough, (b) I wasn’t forewarned — a big no-no this — that the initial title was the start of a series, (c) just when an apparent cliffhanger seems ready to resolve it doesn’t because … sequel coming.

    As for leaving books part-read I hate doing that, wanting to give titles that have a bit of promise about them the benefit of the doubt, but just occasionally that’s the only sensible option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are good criteria. I’d be very cross if I didn’t know from the outset that a book had a sequel!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In terms of prizes, I’m following the Sunday Times Young Writer and Dylan Thomas prizes, with the Folio in the background. There are just too many at this time of year!
    On sequels and series, I generally get set in to series fatigue after 2 or 3 volumes. But series are different to sequels – sequels are rarer for me than series. I try not to pause on books halfway through, in electricity terms I almost always read in series rather than parallel!

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    1. It doesn’t seem like Dylan Thomas (Midas) or Folio (FMcM) will come through with review copies or blog tours, which is just as well! Too much else going on at the moment. Though I would happily have read at least the poetry nominees.

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    2. The DT Prize isn’t announced until May so I’m hoping they may do something.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I try to read several each year, but the last couple of years I have read some but not all from those prizes. I will catch up eventually…

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    1. It’s impossible to read all the prize longlists, or even shortlists! I should probably specialize even more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am intending on reading some of the books on the smaller prizes this year, but that is only those that I already have!

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  7. I like a sequel and a series, I’m fine with that, but I dislike sequels written by someone else. No prizes for me, I suddenly have all the work in the world in and am struggling to keep up with my review and TBR reading …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, lots of work is a good thing! Freelancing always ebbs and flows and the books will be waiting.

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  8. Oo did you write about your experience with My Phantoms? I thought it was great! Love this post. Last year I ignored prizes entirely and not sure if I want to get back into it. Let’s see what the International Booker longlist looks like I guess!

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    1. No, I think I only got 20 pages in. I’d read her First Love and it was alright, so I think I just don’t particularly warm to her style.

      Prize lists are great when they introduce you to books you’d otherwise miss, but not so great when they create a sense of obligation…

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  9. I pay attention to the Dublin Literary Award, but otherwise don’t follow awards. I think there is a distinction to be made between sequels (which are often not worth reading IMHO) and series. If an author sets out to tell a story as a series, or a trilogy, and it was baked into the original book then that can be a lot of great books. Wolf Hall, Robertson Davies’ various trilogies, and Lord of the Rings all seem like examples of this. As far as part-finished books I don’t think of them that way. I have multiple “current reads” at any given time (I think I have 8 right now), and sometimes a specific book isn’t top-of-the-pile for a prolonged period, but if I plan to finish it then it is just one of my current books. I DNF books that aren’t working for me, but some that do work just take a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Dublin Literary Award has such a LONG longlist that I can’t really cope with it!

      I used to enjoy fantasy and mystery series as a child and teen, but no more. I left the two Davies series I tried unfinished, but will get back to individual volumes of them sometime, I’m sure.

      Ah yes, I’m similar: I have ~30 books I’m “currently reading” but only 10-15 of these actually get attention on any given day. I tend to chip away at books, slow and steady. If they’re on my set-aside shelf, though, it means that I haven’t looked at them in months and it will take a concerted effort to get back into them.

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  10. I like watching the literary awards from afar, especially the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, the nature writing prizes, the Booker International, anything where I might discover something that I wasn’t previously aware of and of course the conversations around it all.

    I just read a sequel, A Sister’s Story by Donatella Di Pietrantonio which follows her earlier and excellent novella A Girl Returned. Inevitably there are comparisons, which makes it unfair to the book from the start, but that’s the author’s risk I guess. I can’t say I’m against them, but I see that there is a higher expectation than if they’d written a stand alone book.

    I have really enjoyed a few historical fiction trilogies however, like Sandra Gulland’s series on Josephine Bonaparte The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine Bonaparte and Nancy E Turner’s These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine.

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    1. The Wainwright Prize is one of my favourites to follow and kicks off a bit later than the rest, which is a relief.

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  11. It’s been so long since I read Visit From the Goon Squad, I don’t even know if I’d remember anything about it! I remember liking it but that was a long time ago. I don’t think I’ll get to the sequel anytime soon after publication. I’ve got plenty of other things to read!

    If I’m not enjoying a book, it goes back to the library or if it’s mine, to the donation pile. I figure if I really want to try it again I can always get a copy from the library. (The benefits of a great library system and Interlibrary loan.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I reread it, Goon Squad felt really dated. I’d be vaguely interested in seeing if the sequel manages to be of its time/prescient in the same way, but I would check out lots of other reviews first before deciding to change my mind and read it.

      I’m quick to DNF something I know I don’t want to continue with. The line blurs when it’s a book I’m enjoying well enough but a) I just have too many other books on the go and/or b) the book has no deadline attached and I find I’m not spending any time with it.

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  12. I appreciate the point that Mary R has made above about distinguishing between works that an author has conceived of in advance as a work to be told in multiple parts and works that a publisher has suggested be spun out. The latter makes me think of how tired Lucy Maud Montgomery was, with the Anne series, after having felt pressed to write so far beyond Anne of Green Gables. But having just finished reading the first two volumes of Marlon James The Dark Star Trilogy, it’s clear that multi-volume stories have a lot to offer.

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  13. […] Jasper & Scruff series by Nicola Colton: Having insisted I don’t like sequels or series … I do sometimes make exceptions, like I did for these early reader books (meant for, I […]

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