Amidst the media fanfare that surrounds glitzy music, movies and TV awards of various degrees and importance and the huge size of the audience that laps it up; books prove to be a rather humble and boring subject. Yet, each year, there’s one coveted award that draws out the ardent reader from his shell and at the very least interests the casual reader- the Man Booker Prize. Initiated in 1969 and initially sponsored by the company Booker-McConnell, the Booker as it simply came to be known is open to any writer in the English language belonging to the Commonwealth Nations, Ireland or Zimbabwe.
Over the years, the Booker has turned out to be one of the most prestigious awards in the literary circuit, not the least because it has one of the richest monies (50,000 Pounds- that’s $75,000 at the current exchange rate) but also because of the tremendous impact it has on the shortlisted as well as the winning books. India’s last import to the Booker for instance- Arvind Adiga’s debut novel The White Tiger (winner of the Man Booker 2008) saw a staggering jump of over 1500% in book sales in the week post its announcement as the winner. A rich and famous author, a richer publisher and a permanent position in the must-reads hall of fame- the Booker tag guarantees all this and more.
The panel first announces a list of 12 books as part of the Longlist- the Booker Dozen as it is called. That’s eventually whittled down to a list of 6 leading up to the eventual winner announcement. The Longlist itself sends the bookie world into a tizzy as odds are calculated for the clear winners, the under dogs and the rank outsiders that could surprise and win- no different from any sports prediction. In its 45th year now, the award has obviously had its share of controversies- it’s virtually impossible to avoid them when it’s a panel of judges doing the extremely subjective task of stacking up one book against another and deciding its literary worth. From accusations of favoritism to authors battling each other for recognition and publicity; the prize hasn’t been above the sordidness of scandals and it is probably one of the reasons why it’s so newsworthy as well.
India especially has a very special relationship with the Man Booker, considering that the Booker of Bookers (the best book out of all the winners) and The Best of the Booker (left to a public vote) both went to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Coming back to 2013, this year too, Jhumpa Lahiri- Indian American author born in England is part of the Longlist for her book The Lowland; a captivating tale of family and immigrant experience straddling the two worlds of US and Calcutta, taking the themes of Vietnam and the Naxalite movement in its stride. There were 151 books this year that the panel of judges brought down to 13 and as per their own words- the list is as “diverse” as it can get. While notable authors like Coetzee and Atwood were given a miss; the list of 13 books “range from the traditional to the experimental, from the 1st century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1000 and from Shanghai to Hendon.” So for both detractors and bookies trying to find some pattern in the selection, the judges have gone all out to be as uncooperative as possible.
The list includes both first time authors like NoViolet Bulawayo and veterans like Colm Toibin and Jim Crace who’s even announced that his book Harvest is his last ever novel. With authors across nations like Ireland, Zimbabwe and Malaysia; the judges for Booker 2013 seem to have taken a determined call to bring out a selection without any biases and pre conceived notions.
The complete list of 13 books part of the Longlist:
- The Lowland- Jhumpa Lahiri
- Five Star Billionaire- Tash Aw
- The Luminaries- Eleanor Catton
- Harvest- Jim Crace
- TransAtlantic- Colum McCann
- The Testament of Mary- Colm Toibin
- We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo
- A Tale For The Time Being- Ruth Ozeki
- The Marrying of Chani Kauffman- Eve Harris
- The Kills- Richard House
- Unexploded- Alison Macleod
- Almost English- Charlotte Mendelson
- The Spinning Heart- Donal Ryan
Six of these - Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, Harvet by Jim Crace, and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, made it to the shortlist.
The winner will be announced on October 15th, 2013. Meanwhile, all the above books and authors have been added to my ever expanding reading list - one can usually bet that a book that caught the Booker’s eye is definitely worth a read.