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I was raised to be a nature lover. I grew up in the rural state of Maine in a house next to a horse pasture and my father’s extensive garden. Years before I read about Thoreau’s time on Mount Katahdin, I hiked to the top of it during a thunderstorm. I spent many weekends in my youth camping and canoeing on lakes. I may not have always enjoyed the mosquitoes, bitter cold of a Klondike derby or back-aching hours spent weeding the garden or chopping wood. But now that I live in a city every now and then I get a romantic feeling for staying in a cabin in the woods or at least spending an afternoon walking in a park. For some reason this year I’ve felt a particular yearning to read about the natural world and environment.

So it seems fortuitous that I happened upon The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize for Nature Writing whose shortlist was announced at the beginning of this month. It includes seven books on a range of subjects including personal journeys and politically-charged messages about climate change. The prize believes that the stories in these books are so important and urgent that they’ve sent a full set of the shortlist to the UK’s Environmental Secretary, Michael Gove, hoping that it will inform and inspire the government to take more deliberate steps towards taking climate action. Many people find it difficult to take action to improve and safeguard the environment until it becomes personal so I’m looking forward to exploring how these authors were inspired to interact with and learn from the natural world.

Looking through the books, the ones I’m most drawn to reading first are “Underland” by Robert Macfarlane and “Thinking On My Feet” by Kate Humble. I saw popular author Macfarlane in discussion about his new book a few months ago at the Southbank Centre where he described his impressive journeys to some deep places in the earth to experience layers of time and connect to literature about journeys into the Underworld. In recent years, I’ve developed a desire to go on walks much more so I’m intrigued to read about Humble’s account of her walking year. She explores the manifold physical and psychological benefits of going on long walks through nature as well as describing people she encounters who have found different sorts of inspiration or solace from in their rambling.  

I’m also quite keen to try reading “The Easternmost House” by Juliet Blaxland who spent a year living in a house on the Suffolk coast, an area that’s experiencing rapid erosion. She witnessed first-hand the cliffside coming closer and closer to the house in a relatively short span of time. I’m also intrigued to read “Wilding” by Isabella Tree as I remember seeing her being interviewed on a news show about how she and her husband allowed their intensely farmed land to go wild and the surprisingly quick renewal of the ecosystem. If I get time I’ll also try to read Julia Blackburn’s “Time Song”  about her search for truths about sunken land that once connected Britain to the European mainland and Mark Cocker’s “Our Place”  which exposes the devastating affects we have had on the wild world. I began reading Luke Turner’s memoir “Out of the Woods” earlier this year, but there was something about his style of writing I didn’t get on with so I put it aside – despite its exceedingly beautiful cover.

Most of the book prizes I follow are focused on fiction so I’m glad this prize has given me a springboard to discover and read a variety of non-fiction books about the natural world. It’ll be interesting to see which book is declared the winner on the 15th of August. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and your thoughts about them. Or let me know if you have any favourite nature writers!

I’ve been greatly anticipating what might be longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize – Anna and I had such fun speculating in our annual video. It’s great to see a diverse and varied group of novels listed! Not only are there some great books I was hoping to see such as “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, “Swan Song” by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, “Circe” by Madeline Miller, “Ghost Wall” by Sarah Moss and “Normal People” by Sally Rooney – but there are also some novels I’ve been wanting to read and others I know nothing about. So the list is the perfect balance of books I’m thrilled to see celebrated and others I’m now eager to explore.

More than anything I feel like many of the novels on this list will generate such interesting discussions. Although both “Ghost Wall” and “Normal People” have been so popular they have their critics as well. I feel like “The Pisces” and “Freshwater” will receive really mixed responses as well. I myself had a mixed reaction to “Milkman” as I’m one of its readers that found it a difficult book – not in being able to understand it, but it sometimes felt like a slog to read despite there being some stunningly insightful passages. After it won the Booker Prize it felt like some readers who loved it were annoyed by it being labelled as a “difficult” or “challenging” novel as if readers who felt this way were being lazy or failed to comprehend the narrative. I don’t think these descriptive terms are equivalent. There are many novels like those written by Marlon James I’d describe as “difficult” and “challenging” as well but I also think they’re brilliant. I simply felt that, while “Milkman” honestly has so many strengths and has powerful things to say, it wasn’t as enjoyable a reading experience for me. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend everyone read “Milkman” and I’ll be eager to discuss it with you once you do. While I’m sure many people will have divergent opinions on the books longlisted I hope we can maintain a civilized discussion and respect other readers’ personal reactions to what they read even if we disagree.

Of the sixteen books listed, I’ve read seven and a half (I’m currently reading Luiselli’s novel.) After finishing this I’ll probably start by reading “An American Marriage” or “Ordinary People”. Which are you most intrigued to read first? Here’s the list with links to my reviews of the ones I’ve read so far:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Milkman by Anna Burns

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden

Circe by Madeline Miller

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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The shortlist will be announced on April 29th and the winner on June 5th. What do you think of the list? Will you try to read them all or are there select ones you want to focus on?

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It’s the start of this year’s book prize season and I love perusing all the lists the judges to create to see what they choose to highlight. One of my favourite prizes of late is the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize – whose shortlist I so avidly followed last year. It was great to see poet Kayo Chingonyi receive the prize last year for his debut collection “Kumukanda”. The Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded to what the judges deem to be the best published literary work in the English language written by an author aged 39 or under.

This year’s longlist has just been announced and it’s got that perfect mix of books I’ve read and admired, books I’ve been meaning to read and a few books I’ve not come across before. On the list are eight novels, two short story collections and two books of poetry. Two that I’ve read and that were also listed for this year’s Costa Book Awards are “Normal People” by Sally Rooney and “Soho” by Richard Scott. Rooney’s immense popularity as one of the most exciting new voices in Ireland today is well deserved and Richard Scott’s disarmingly beautiful and emotional poetry still vividly sticks with me. It’s also wonderful to see the excellent Sarah Perry honoured for her most recent novel “Melmoth” and writer Emma Glass for her wickedly creative slim debut novel “Peach”.

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I’m eager to try reading some of the other books listed before the shortlist is announced on April 2nd. This year’s winner will be announced on May 16th. It’s also fun to note that one of the judges of this year’s prize is writer Kit De Waal!

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Have you read any of the books on this year’s longlist or are you curious to try some of them now?

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I’ve said it before, but it really does feel like the first holiday of a year when the longlist for The Women’s Prize for Fiction gets announced. It’s one of my favourite book prizes and I love reading/discussing/debating all the titles this award honours. It’s particularly exciting that the prize this year is known under it’s new title The Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Baileys Prize.) Some weeks ago I made a video with my friend Anna about what books we’d like to see on the longlist for the prize. Between us we guessed 9 of the 16. You can watch me discuss my reaction to this year’s longlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-DCtqkk_78&t=27s

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After I finish reading Joanna Cannon’s novel I’ll have six more on the list to read. I’ll be meeting with Naomi from TheWritesofWomen and other members of our Shadow Group to discuss the longlist and pick our own fan favourite shortlist/winner for the prize. So there’s a lot of fun discussion to come! Let me know in the comments what books from the longlist you’re eager to read or what you’d like to see win. The official shortlist will be announced on April 23rd and the winner will be announced on June 6th.

A lot of people will bemoan the fact Ali Smith’s “Winter” isn’t included on this list and its absence is a great shame. I have no special inside knowledge or insight into the judging process, but I’d just point out that we don’t know if the novel was even submitted for the prize. Novels that are eligible aren’t always put forward for a prize and there can be any number of reasons for this. That’s just part of the mysterious alchemy of book prizes!

For the books that I’ve already read and reviewed you can click on the titles below to see my full thoughts.

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal

The Windham-Campbell Prize has been going for five years now and their list of eight recipients for this year’s prize have just been announced. It’s one of the richest book awards in the world as each winner of the prize is awarded $165,000 – a considerable amount that grants authors the freedom to write whatever they please. You can watch me discussing this book award and this year's winners here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP-P97xLolI&t=191s. Some of the past recipients whose books I’ve enjoyed include Jerry Pinto, CE Morgan, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Nadeem Aslam.

This year’s winners include Lucas Hnath, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Bakewell, John Keene, Lorna Goodison and Cathy Park Hong. And I’m particularly happy to see Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has won the prize as I read and admired her novel "Kintu" so recently. Also, Olivia Laing who is a wonderful cultural critic and nonfiction writer. Her book “The Lonely City” was one of my favourite books from 2016. So I’ll be really eager to discover the writing of these other winning authors.

If you could give a living author $165,000 to write whatever they please, who would you award it to? It’s a fun question to contemplate – like imagining what you’d do if you won the lottery, but instead it’s money you can grant to a favourite writer. An author I’d certainly like to endow with such financial freedom would be Garth Greenwell as he’s such an ingenious writer with such promise.

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Many book award lists have been announced recently, but one I’m particularly excited about is The British Book Awards or Nibbies. I was kindly asked to be one of the judges in the Fiction category and it’s a cracking list. I’ve reviewed most of these books and you can read my thoughts about them by clicking on the title links below or watch my handy video giving short summaries of the prize and each novel listed. It’s going to be very interesting meeting with the judges soon to choose a winner as the novels are a diverse group of contenders. It’s also worth noting there are many more interesting nominations on the Bookseller's British Book Awards site in other book categories as well as in publishing categories from literary agents to booksellers to libraries. I’m particularly excited by the Debut Fiction category as I’ve extremely enjoyed three books on that list: The Girls by Emma Cline, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell. Winners will be chosen in each book category and then on May 8th, the night of the awards ceremony, an overall winner will be crowned. I’d really like your opinions so if you’ve read some of these books who do you think should win?

The British Book Awards / Nibbies 2017 Fiction Book of the Year Shortlist

The British Book Awards / Nibbies 2017 Fiction Book of the Year Shortlist

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Muse by Jessie Burton
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

The British Book Awards / Nibbies 2017 Debut Fiction Book of the Year Shortlist

The British Book Awards / Nibbies 2017 Debut Fiction Book of the Year Shortlist

It’s good that the day after the Booker Prize longlist was revealed, the shotlist for the Polari First Book Prize was announced at Polari’s regular literary salon held at the Southbank Centre. Concerns are rightly raised about the diversity of authors listed for any prize when announcements are made because it highlights how the industry and our society in general might be prone to elevating people of a certain gender, race, class or sexuality above others. The more prizes we have like The Polari First Book Prize (which honours debut books that explore aspects of the LGBT community), the more voices from all corners of our country are heard.

I attended Polari last night to hear the announcement and it was a pleasure to hear imaginative poet John McCullough read from his latest collection “Spacecraft”. His poem ‘Cat Flap’ went down particularly well with the audience. It was fitting to hear him read as his beautiful book “The Frost Fairs” won the prize in 2012.

I’ve read three out of the six titles shortlisted for the prize and you can read my full reviews of them by clicking the titles below. Fantastic to see Andrew McMillan in the running for yet another award and his inclusion gives a nice continuity as he read at Polari when the 2015 shortlist was announced last year. Stevan Alcock also read from his gay coming of age novel “Blood Relatives” set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. This makes a nice contrast to Paul McVeigh’s equally powerful coming of age novel “The Good Son” set in Belfast during the Troubles. Last night, Juliet Jacques also gave an excellent reading from her memoir “Trans” which gives a meaningful perspective on the everyday reality of a trans individual. I’m eager to read the other books on the list.

Have you read any of the below or are you interested in giving them a try?

Physical - Andrew McMillan

Blood Relatives – Stevan Alcock

Sugar and Snails - Anne Goodwin

Trans – Juliet Jacques

Different for Girls – Jacquie Lawrence

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

My first proper book video. I was a bit nervous. What do you think?

The Baileys Prize 2016 winner will be announced next week on June 8th! In case you need a reminder, the six books shortlisted for the prize are listed here where you can also listen to me and Simon from SavidgeReads discussing all of the books in a special Baileys Bearded Book Club podcast: http://lonesomereader.com/blog/2016/4/12/baileys-womens-prize-shortlist-2016

I want to emphasize that I don’t have any affiliation with the prize or publisher so all of my comments and posts about this prize come purely from being a committed reader and lover of great literature written by women.

It’s been fascinating discussing the books nominated for the prize with so many people this year. It’s really helped broaden my opinions about many of the books and hopefully I’ve inspired a few people to pick up books on the list they might not have read otherwise. My opinion has probably changed the most about Anne Enright’s “The Green Road” which is brilliantly and beautifully written, but I do now wonder how well it hangs together as a whole novel since different sections focus on self-contained moments in the family members’ lives. Nevertheless, it still stands as one of my favourite books that I read in 2015.

Compared to last year where I felt Ali Smith was the clear winner, I think it’s really difficult to guess which novel will win this year. “The Portable Veblen” is such a fantastically fun and clever read, but I think it’s too quirky to be considered the best out of all of them. Also, “A Little Life” is an incredibly compelling and moving novel, but it is perhaps too divisive to be unanimously agreed upon to be a winner. This might be why this novel keeps being nominated for prizes like the Booker but not actually winning them. I’ve heard some people say it’s a life changing experience and others say the author betrays her characters after a certain point in the book.

Now, I have to be honest. I haven’t read “The Improbability of Love” and it’s not that I haven’t tried. I started reading it… three times. Usually I give a book 50 pages before I decide to continue on or put it down. I couldn’t ever get past page 20 of this novel. It simply isn’t for me. Some readers who I respect did really enjoy reading it and felt it was a hilarious satire of both the pretensions of the art world and romantic chick-lit novels. Others have been equally unimpressed bit it. I found it too frustrating to read because it felt too trite and superficial. Interesting how almost every year there’s at least one of the books on the Baileys list I don’t get on with such as Rachel Cusk’s “Outline” last year which is a book many people loved, but I found ultimately unsatisfying. Strangely, it’s the books I like the least that drive some people to seek them out and read them out of curiosity.

I think the contest for this year’s prize is really between Cynthia Bond’s “Ruby” and Lisa McInerney’s “The Glorious Heresies”. Both are intense, original and wonderfully written novels. It’s a coin toss between them and in my video about the shortlist I make an instantaneous guess as to which I think will win. However, I could be totally wrong. I think it could really go to any of these novels. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to the Baileys Prize ceremony so I’ll be fascinated to see who wins.

If you want to win a copy of the book that I think will win watch my video roundup of the prize, subscribe to my YouTube channel and leave a comment. The competition is open worldwide and I’ll keep it going until the end of June when I’ll randomly select a winner from the comments. Would you like to see me make more videos? It’s a new thing so I’m kind of nervous about it. Let me know what you think, what book you think will win the Baileys Prize and (if you haven’t read any of the shortlist yet) which book you’re most interested in reading.  

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If you need any other proof that new Irish fiction is going through a particularly exciting period, look at the Desmond Elliot Prize shortlist. Gavin McCrea and Lisa McInerney are two of the most exciting debut authors I’ve read in recent years. Since I first read it a year ago, I’ve brought up Mrs Engels many times on this blog and on social media. You know what I’ve said about it so here is what the prize’s Chair of judges Iain Pears says about McCrea’s novel:

“McCrea has cleverly included just enough historical detail to set a very evocative scene, then lets his cast tell the story. The writing always surprises, his characters are compelling without having to be likeable and, as all of we judges noted, Mrs Engels is perhaps the most feminist novel we read for the Prize.”

That’s an interesting final thought considering McCrea was one of only three men out of the ten authors on the Desmond Elliot Prize longlist!

Lisa McInerney's novel is a powerfully-written and sweeping tale of modern day Cork that includes people who aren’t often portrayed in fiction. It’s also recently been shortlisted for this year's Baileys Prize for Fiction.

Pears said: “It is no surprise that not one but two major literary prizes have noticed McInerney’s talent. She gives us strong, complex working-class characters with real emotional hinterlands, and plays with the reader’s emotions in an extraordinarily sophisticated way.”

Also included in this shortlist of three is Julia Rochester’s striking novel about family secrets. It’s a novel that also made the Baileys Prize for Fiction longlist.

Pears said: “Rochester’s writing is quite wonderful – she is particularly strong on her sense of place. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.”

Click on the titles below for my full reviews about each of these novels.

Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 22 June, where he or she will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.

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I know I’ve been posting a lot about book prizes recently, but I was very intrigued to see the shortlist for this prize posted this week as it’s a really fascinating list and a very special literary award!

The Dublin Literary Award (formerly the IMPAC Award) is unique in many ways. Firstly, it’s an award presented annually by Dublin City Council to a novel written in English or that’s been translated into English. Quite exciting that a major literary award recognizes translated literature! Secondly, the prize is huge totalling €100,000 (if a translated novel wins, the author receives €75,000 and the translator €25,000). Four books on the shortlist are translations so it’s great to know that both author and translator will be rewarded so lucratively if their book wins. Finally, nominations for the award are made by over 400 libraries from major cities all over the world. Yes, librarians make up the nominations for this prize! And they know good books so you know the initial enormous longlist selection is all quality.  

I’ve read four of the ten books on the shortlist. Marlon James’ “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is such an epic, complex novel about several people surrounding an attempted assassination of Bob Marley. Definitely a challenging read, but so worthwhile! It is probably one of the best known on the list as it won the Booker Prize, but I was delighted to be on the panel of judges for the Green Carnation Prize last year where we also selected it as our winner. Mary Costello’s “Academy Street” is a brilliantly compact tale of a woman’s life from her Irish roots to her later years living in NYC. Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” has such a powerful voice and unique perspective on relationships that it’s a book I often think back on now and then still puzzling over its meaning. “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson was absolutely one of my favorite reads of last year. Its protagonist is so strong-willed, yet vulnerable and someone who fearlessly forges her own identity far from her impoverished beginning in life.

Of the other six titles shortlisted I’m most interested in reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s “The End of Days”, Scholastique Mukasonga’s “Our Lady of the Nile” and Javier Cercas’ “Outlaws”. How about you? Have you read any on the list or are they any you're interested in reading?

The winner is announced on June 9th. 

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Can you guess the author on my tshirt?

Can you guess the author on my tshirt?

Phew! It’s been quite a marathon reading as much of the Baileys Prize longlist as I can, but I loved the challenge as I’ve read some great books published in the past year that I probably would have missed otherwise. The subjects and styles of the novels are so varied. From a heart wrenching account of a girl’s adolescence in the Croatian War of Independence in Sara Novic’s stunning novel to fascinating details of whaling in a small Australian town in Shirley Barrett’s novel to a tender burgeoning romance between a woman and an alien lizard in Becky Chambers’ fantastic scifi novel! And it got me to read my very first Kate Atkinson book. Now that I know why so many people love her I will definitely be reading more of her previous novels.

The best thing about this process has been all the bookish chat I’ve had about the longlisted books with people including Simon as part of the Baileys Bearded Book Club, the shadow panel organized by Naomi and many other great readers on Twitter, Goodreads, blogs and privately through emails. Thanks so much for sending your thoughts about the books on the list. It’s so interesting to hear how people have read these novels differently and how sharply opinions can divide. These responses have really helped me think about the books in a more complex way and I hope my posts have done the same for you or inspired you to pick up a book or two.

Here are my guesses for what six books will appear on the Baileys Prize shortlist which will be announced on the evening of Monday, April 11th. It’s a really tough decision! Please comment and let me know if you agree or if you are hoping to see other books from the longlist make it through.

Click on the titles below to read my full thoughts about each of these excellent novels.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Green Road by Anne Enright
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

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Reading and judging the many submissions for The Green Carnation Prize was one of the toughest things I’ve done this year, but it’s also been one of the most fulfilling. Championing new writing is important to me and I’m grateful for this platform that raises awareness of some of the best LGBT authors working today. Meeting with the judges was like participating in the most rigorous and enjoyable book club ever. We discussed the books from many angles. Since this is a prize open to books in every genre it felt particularly difficult to compare them against each other. Also, it sounds like a cliché, but the short list was particularly strong. When we went into our final meeting to select a winner I truly felt any of these six accomplished books could win.

This year there was an added challenge to the selection process. We began reading submission in July, but during the course of the judging process Marlon James’ “A Brief History of Seven Killings” won the Booker Prize – one of the most high profile book prizes in the UK. It’d be impossible to ignore the weight of this phenomenon where James’ long, complicated novel rose from relative obscurity to one of the most talked about books of the year. It also filled the shop front windows of many bookstores. Is it really right to award another book prize to a novel that’s become so high profile? Wouldn’t it be better to raise awareness for a foreign author like Erwin Mortier, an incredibly impressive debut author like Gavin McCrea, an established author that has stayed true to his subject matter like Patrick Gale or an accomplished literary trickster like Patricia Duncker (all of whom deserve to be more widely read)? But the prize isn’t about the author or the social landscape of publishing, it’s about the book.

“Sophie & The Sibyl” and “Mrs Engels” did stand out as particularly skilful accomplishments. Duncker’s novel is an engrossing tale told with humour, intelligence and pays tribute to one of the greatest writers in English literature. McCrea’s literary drag act of a book gives voice to a woman who was a footnote in the history books and creates a story which can be read in relation to many of the most pressing issues today – everything from the recent global recession to gay marriage.

But, when the judges sat down to talk long and hard over all the shortlist, the book that stood out as a shining masterpiece was “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” This is a challenging novel. No doubt. And I’m sure many people who bought a copy after it won the Booker didn’t finish reading it. I hope that with this award people decide to go back and read it again – if for no other reason than to enjoy two of the most original gay characters to appear in a novel for years.

Holding the crystal shard of a prize

Holding the crystal shard of a prize

Something many people probably haven’t considered about this novel is what a brave challenge it is to include such characters and explicit gay sex scenes. This novel centres around Bob Marley, one of the most celebrated figures in Jamaican history. While it goes past this extraordinary event surrounding the icon singer also considering many aspects of the drug trade, political & gang warfare and relations between the US & Jamaica, the fact it includes compelling openly gay characters will make it difficult for many people in Jamaica to accept. James has talked about this in a recent interview with Jeanette Winterson in the Guardian where he stated: “In this book, there’s a gay sex scene. And I thought the scene was important, because experiencing sex from a character was the only way he could accept any level of his queerness, which is why it is a blow-by-blow sex scene. The Jamaicans weren’t happy.”

Aside from any politics or book prizes, this novel is simply a stunning accomplishment that everyone should read.

For the past few months I’ve been reading at a greater pace than usual because I’m one of the judges for this year’s Green Carnation Prize. Last weekend the judges and I met to discuss the HUGE amount of submissions we’ve read, debate amongst each other and decide on a glorious long list of a dozen exciting books. There were a lot of great entries in the mix. Some choices were easy. Others required more discussion. But, I can honestly say that the books listed below are all excellent. They range from poetry to fiction to memoir to nonfiction. From the contemporary to the historical. From the fantastic to stark depictions of reality.

Being a judge on this prize has been a great challenge. I’ve enjoyed reading so many books and authors which I wouldn’t have found otherwise. We’re now in the process of rereading and then I’ll meet with my wonderful group of fellow judges again to decide our short list. In the mean time, have a look through this diverse list. Several books I’ve reviewed and you can read my thoughts about them by clicking on the titles below.

Click here to read more about the judges
Click here to read about the prize & buy the books on Foyles' site

Blood Relatives by Steven Alcock (4th Estate)
Deep Lane by Mark Doty (Jonathan Cape)
Sophie & The Sibyl by Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
Artwash by Mel Evans (Pluto Books)
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Hodder Books)
Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari (Bloomsbury)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (One World)
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)
Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
Stammered Songbook by Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)
Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury)
The Curator by Jacques Strauss (Jonathan Cape)

Have you read any of the books from this list? Are there any you are now interested in reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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If you didn’t already know, I’ve been taking part in the Baileys Prize Shadow Jury this year. Along with five other passionate readers we made it our mission to read the twenty longlisted books, select our own shortlist and crown our own winner. We met over dinner and drinks for the long final debate during which each of the novels we shortlisted was discussed in detail – as well as several books we wished had been included on the judges’ original longlist. Personally, if Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila” had been listed for the prize I would have argued that it should have won.

Our own shortlist (slightly different from the official judges’ shortlist) included the books:

“Dear Thief” by Samantha Harvey
“The Country of Ice Cream Star” by Sandra Newman
“How to be Both” by Ali Smith
“The Shore” by Sara Taylor
“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler
“The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I’m delighted to announce our selected champion is Ali Smith!

I’m very happy with this decision as “How to be Both” is the book I wanted to win and I think it’s the book which will actually win the Baileys Prize. However, part of me does feel regretful that we didn’t choose “The Country of Ice Cream Star” because this is a tremendously inventive and radical novel which does deserve more attention. As I discussed in my review, I think there are flaws but these are outweighed by the tremendous vision Newman had to create such a complex alternative future and original narrator. Nevertheless, “How to be Both” is a tremendous novel that deserves to be celebrated. I’ll have all my fingers and toes crossed for Ali Smith at the Baileys Prize award ceremony!

Check out the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction site for more info about the shortlist and a fun The Brilliant Woman’s Guide to a Very Modern Book Club. 

Who do you want to win? Are there other novels you wish had been on the Baileys Prize shortlist?

Tonight I attended the South Bank Centre’s reading from all six Booker shortlisted authors. It was wonderful seeing Ali Smith and Neel Mukherjee coming out to the stage arm in arm like old chums. When each author took their turn to read they all spoke about their high regard for the fellow authors on the shortlist and what a pleasure it's been doing the Booker circuit together. The event was chaired by Kirsty Wark. Thank god they got this wonderful journalist in to interview the authors and ask intelligent questions. In past years the interviews haven't always been conducted by such a fine person. Wark joked at the end of the even that the writers got along so well they would obviously go on to form an authors' commune. Before Ali Smith read she greeted every section of the audience and gave her sympathy to the sign language interpreter on stage as the opening of the artist's section of her novel was no doubt a challenge to interpret. They gave each other a cheeky thumbs up. It was wonderful hearing all authors read and give such thoughtful answers about their writing. 

It’s felt like this year’s Booker has been more awash with controversy and descent than any other year I can remember. After the excitement last year of having a female author majority on the shortlist, this year’s prize received severe criticism by some for only including three women on the long list. The prize was also open to American authors for the first time this year – leading only to two Americans on the shortlist – but the prize was criticised for squeezing out most authors from other Commonwealth countries. I heard one of the directors of the prize counter this argument with the opinion that books from those other countries simply weren’t as strong as most of the British and American contenders. Many readers were frustrated when the long list came out this year that several titles weren’t published yet. Still other bloggers and people on twitter have dismissed the shortlisted titles as books they aren’t that interested in.

Personally, I still feel as excited as ever about the prize and here’s why. Early in the summer a friend recommended that I read Neel Mukherjee’s “The Lives of Others.” I did so and was bowled over by the strength and originality of this author’s writing. Reading about how this complex family network gradually imploded amidst the political strife of the time, I was wrapped in the individual stories of each striking character and the great symbolic weight of the house they inhabited. I wrote about the book here and remember thinking what a shame it was this book would probably pass by largely unnoticed. Given the subject matter, length and complexity of the novel it’s one that I was worried would slip between the cracks and go largely unnoticed. When the book was published I attended Mukherjee’s reading at the South Bank Centre in one of their smaller event spaces. The author spoke eloquently and everyone felt moved, but the audience was only half full. Now here he is on the Booker shortlist and tonight the largest South Bank auditorium was packed full listening to Mukherjee read. It’s the power of this prize to bring a talented literary voice like his to popular attention.

Certainly, plenty of other authors who weren’t long listed or even considered for the prize deserve attention as well. But at least the prize has given an author like Mukherjee a better chance to be heard. Although Ali Smith is an incredibly well-regarded author now, I’m certain her public appeal wouldn’t be as high if it weren’t for her inclusion on the Booker list in past years. That she’s been singled out again as worthy of being on the short list for her fantastically moving “How to Be Both” makes me feel that the well-read judges of the prize do care about quality in literature over public appeal. Although I greatly enjoyed reading Ferris and Fowler’s novels, I am really rooting for Mukherjee or Smith to win. It seems slightly ridiculous comparing the two as stylistically these books couldn’t be further apart from each other. But both are worthy of being read and, if I had to place a bet on who will win tomorrow, I would bet on Neel Mukherjee taking the prize. He is tipped as the favourite, but this time I think the bookies have it right.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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