That time again: The Man Booker Shortlist.

Lest you forget this is, at heart, a book blog, I’d like to interrupt the lovely Scotland talk to briefly address my annual love-hate rant about the Man Bookers. The shortlist’s just come out, tripping the switch for my traditional snarky comments outlining all the reasons it’s utterly ridiculous.

I bitch and moan first, puffing up about THE PATRIARCHY, then wind up buying a few – if not all. I loathe myself, cry in the corner, read the books or don’t, then opine on them all. The winner I choose invariably doesn’t, triggering one last bout of bitching before I load all the titles onto my bookshelf and move on.

At worst, I’ve supported five also-rans, plus one who hardly needs my money, as they’ve won THE BIG ONE. All get stickers slapped on their covers, selling extra copies to those swayed by the reputation of the prize. Finally, CVs are updated with  “nominated for the Man Booker Prize for his/her 2018 novel FILL IN THE BLANK,” which, ultimately, winds up on bookshop 3 for 2 tables.

The romance is dead.



 Shortlisted Titles:

Milkman by Anna Burns (UK –  N. Ireland)

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Canada)

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson (UK – England) – youngest ever nominated, age 27

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (USA)

The Overstory by Richard Powers (USA)

The Long Take by Robin Robertson (UK – Scotland)


Two Americans made the cut, one Canadian and three from the UK. Four of six are female. All have previously won some literary prize or other, and several have published in Very Big Literary Publications.

Richard Powers is the literary giant who could bitch-slap them all. His book is also the one predicted to win. It’s the only shortlisted title I’ve bought, though I did come damn near picking up Washington Black at Blackwell’s last week after reading the first few pages.

It’s a damn fine book.

I think Richard Powers will win. He’s writing about trees, which sounds soporific but isn’t, because they’re at the center of every set piece in the book so far (I’m not far into it) and he just writes so damn well.

The bit that bothers me is he’d be yet another American winner. There’ve been two others in the last few years. I’m not keen on American inclusion in the Man Booker. We have our own prizes – loads of them. To see Americans dominating this prize rubs me the wrong way, and I’m American.

I’m not sure I’ll have more to say about the prize this year before the winner’s announced sometime next month. That would be a first, I know. I’ll talk about Powers’ book when I’ve finished or given up.

Otherwise, that’s all she wrote. Possibly.

Booker Shortlist 2016: the blood-letting of Coetzee and Strout

Six novelists have made it to the shortlist, the last step in the Man Booker Prize competition. The 2016 finalists are from Britain, the U.S. and Canada. Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Six novelists have made it to the shortlist, the last step in the Man Booker Prize competition. The 2016 finalists are from Britain, the U.S. and Canada.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images


Once more unto the breach.

The Shortlist is upon us. I protest I have not the time read them, yet I’ve never let this stop me from opining with gusto. I opine because literature is my life – qualification enough.

What’s interesting about this year’s shortlist isn’t only the titles that made it through, but those that didn’t: namely JM Coetzee and Elizabeth Strout. Lesser-to-unknown writers, of impressively eclectic range, leap-frogged right over them, which is the crux of my thesis.

I’ve been witnessed wailing and gnashing my teeth over slights to literary icons, frustrated it’s become fashionable to cry “entitlement” when the successful repeatedly excel. Is the purpose of literary awards not to honor the best of the best?

The purpose of literary awards is to honor the deserving. Politics and political correctness have no moral right to intervene.

And then there were 6:

Two Americans.

Two Brits.

Two Canadians.

News flash: literary icons get to the top through a hell of a lot of hard work. No one hands fame to undeserving writers. Strike that. Usually, undeserving writers don’t make it to award lists.

Okay. One hopes only the best rise to the top.

My argument against unknown writers eking through to the Shortlist is a nomination for the Man Bookers is a nod only a handful of writers will ever receive. Slapping “Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize” stickers on covers boosts sales. Boosting sales raises visibility. And when visibility rises, books get attention. And when books get attention, literary reputations are built. When literary reputations rise, the baton passes to the next generation of great writers.

In other words, they earn it the old fashioned way: writing highest-quality prose.

Honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards are very encouraging. I know that it might sound strange that a writer who has published many books still needs encouragement, but this is true.   – Joyce Carol Oates

Yet, I’m not blind to the other side. Underdogs are exciting; knowing the outcome of a contest is flat boring. This same eclectic group of Shortlisted writers have beaten the crowd, hand-picked by judges – I won’t get into the politics of judging  – who winnowed from who knows how many others, until only these few remained.

Even great writers occasionally stumble: see the list of phenomenal first books whose authors never managed to repeat. I wouldn’t rule out lesser-known writers besting the best of the best. It’s happened, and in these cases previous fame should have no influence. When a writer falters, he deserves no credit for past success. Likewise, when a writer crushes it, accolades are imperative.

The weeding process must, of necessity, be brutal. Sub-par writing deserves no sympathy. It’s here the door’s left cracked for better efforts to squeak past. And it’s here I understand lesser-knowns rising.

“Serious literature does not exist to make life easy but to complicate it.” – Witold Gombrowicz

I cannot speak to the quality of Coetzee and Strout’s recent books. I have not read them. I know Coetzee to be a staggering talent, full stop. I’ve read several of his works, and know him as a giant. Even this should give him no advantage here.

Strout’s Olive Kitteridge fairly crushed it, but I know nothing of My Name is Lucy Barton.  Could be she faltered, I do not know. But if she did, all’s fair in love and literature.

I have not read these six left standing. Reviews and blurbs make them all sound remarkable, but then they’re designed to sell.

Literary awards are not the only thing. Books are not defined by awards won. However, literary awards are in place to judge books that have achieved a level of excellence above the rest. It’s a thing apart. None of these books is unworthy, but only one of them is the best of this particular lot. And the one that’s nearest perfection, regardless of who wrote it – their color or gender or ethnic origin or previous fame or  tough life story – should rightly win.

I’d say good luck to them all, but it should never be about luck. May the best win.








man booker 2015: one expert’s flawed opinions


Lo, these many years I have participated in the largely futile game of guessing the Man Booker winner. I’ve had successes and failures but mostly it’s a maddening exercise in literary addiction, tinged with galloping insanity. Nevertheless, I am always happy to offer an opinion totally devoid of actual research or, really, much effort at all.

I’m always happy to do the least I can do. ™

This year’s crop of Long-Longlisters is particularly compelling. From reading the synopses, there’s only one book I would not willingly pick up and read. That book is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, reason being I have no interest in Bob Marley or Jamaica. Rave reviews aside, it simply doesn’t appeal.

As for the others, if you know me at all you’ll expect my ejecting Anne Tyler straightaway, sending her spinning into the atmosphere. Don’t care for Anne Tyler. Don’t feel she deserves a Booker. How did she make the list? Not for her Serious Literary Qualities. Rather, because she announced she’s hanging up her pen after this last novel. And she’s beloved, for some reason or other I haven’t been able to grasp. Nothing against her personally, mind. I’m charmed by the idea of the Reclusive Writer.  Unfortunately, to me her books have always been soporific, their droning sameness lulling me into a near-coma. Her quality maintains a steady pace, churning out novel after novel featuring characters whose quirks I’m supposed to find endearing. Supposed to. Plots are fine, nothing too upsetting or too simplistic. Very mid-line. But prize-worthy? Dear God no. Compare her with, say, Margaret Atwood and it will give you screaming fits.

Marilynne Robinson, however? Yes. Yes.

Laila Lalami: know of, haven’t read. Arundhati Roy, Tom McCarthy, Andrew O’Hagan: ditto ditto and ditto. Roy, McCarthy, O’Hagan: reputations quite high. Lalami, lesser but not to be discounted; up and coming. Her growing stature edges her up a notch or two.

Anna Smaill, Sunjeev Sahota, Chigozie Obioma: totally new to me. Can’t yet opine.

The Short List will consist of equal parts famous, peripheral and unknown. I expect Robinson, Lalami and James will be shoo-ins. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. Really, there’s no logic here, just personal tastes of the judges. I’ve learned it’s impossible to gauge the wildcard spots, save by blind luck.

Once things have been narrowed down, pay attention to the press. Read the book reviews, the jacket blurbs. Try and put your finger on what about each book stands out, how timely it is and how well-received the author has been. Add unicorns and pixie dust, sacrifice a virgin, poke a voodoo doll with pins and spit over your left shoulder: the answer will soon become muddled but you’ll have something for Instagram, so there’s that.

I’ve no doubt it will come down to Marilynne Robinson v. currently unknown contender. Why Marilynne Robinson?  Well, have you read her work? Her prose is mesmerizing, her plots languid, her characters deep and dark and complex. Just stunning. The buzz about her is correct; she is a genius. She deserves the award based on her collected body of work, plus Lila hit it out of the park. She’s a sure bet.

BUT… And it’s a big but, the judges become irritated when onlookers shout at them for being too predictable. That is the rub. Will the judges rule according to merit or will a wildcard overtake Robinson, just at the finish? Depends on the image they’d like to project of themselves, “they” being the judges.

That’s another thing, who are the judges?  Very Seriously Literary Judges will be more apt to choose by merit alone, regardless of convention. Young and Less Stolid Judges will veer toward the wildcard, the up and comer; they long to defy the literary canon. And I haven’t looked them up, for no other reason than I’m just plain lazy. Toddle off and form your own opinions. What am I, a machine?!

If Robinson is upset, justice will be served only if the winner is a writer whose innovation adds measurable depth and breadth to literature with a capital L. In this case, we’re to consider Robinson so much a given as to have already honored her with the virtual award, handing the actual title to THE OTHER. Translation: she gets screwed and not in a fun way.

This, loves, is how the Man Booker Prize works: when it doesn’t go madly off the rails, careening to and fro like a ping pong ball smashed by a body builder, that is. All my years of following its progress, added to experience having judged other literary awards, have taught me This Big Lesson. I am now imparting it to you, anointing the Next Great Generation of Man Booker Supposers.

When the Short List’s out we’ll see how the chips fall.

Then there will be two.

Marilynne Robinson and fill in the blank…

[curtain falls] [exeunt]

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton




  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316074314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316074315


“Reason is no match for desire: when desire is purely and powerfully felt, it becomes a kind of reason of its own.”

The Luminaries


“It’s a lot of fun, like doing a Charlotte Brontë-themed crossword puzzle while playing chess and Dance Dance Revolution on a Bongo Board. Some readers will delight in the challenge, others may despair. I went both ways: always lost in admiration for this young New Zealander’s vast knowledge and narrative skill, sometimes lost in her game, wishing at times for more warmth, delighted by her old-school chapter headings (“In which a stranger arrives . . . ”  “In which Quee Long brings a complaint before the law . . . ”), puzzled by her astrology, Googling everything twice and three times, scratching my head, laughing out loud, sighing with pleasure at sudden connections, flipping back pages and chapters and whole sections for rereadings, forging ahead with excitement renewed.”

– Review: Bill Roorbach, The New York Times


I made it through this year’s Booker Prize winner but it was exhausting. The book’s a brick, packed with characters, the plot twisting and turning on itself so many times I didn’t even try to keep count. I didn’t keep all the plot lines straight, a fact that may make other readers feel a little better. The reviews I read revealed the major relationships to watch and I heeded their advice. Aside from that, I managed to follow a couple others and that’s as well as I could do without keeping a score card. If you can honestly say you made it through this book without nearly losing your mind, I salute you. In my case, I highlighted passages madly, thinking I could always come back to them, trying to make sense of things. Trouble was, things weren’t conveniently truthful nor linear.

In short, my method didn’t work so well.

The Luminaries is set in New Zealand, during the late 1860s gold rush, similar in many ways to the California rush of the 1840s which I suppose makes sense. One gold rush in a largely unpopulated and wild area is equivalent to another, I imagine. I find the gold rush era compelling and it’s certainly a fantastic setting for all manner of depraved and troubled characters. Catton took full advantage of that, creating such a cast of characters I’ve personally never encountered outside the novels of Charles Dickens.

What a wild, wild ride…

The setting of the book is unrefined, populated with prostitutes and prospectors, bankers and opportunists. Chinese workers perform the hard work for a tiny percentage of the profits. Murders aren’t uncommon and jailers are so busy prisons are in desperate need of expansion. Back-stabbing, suspicion and any vice you can name run rampant, including very high-profile drug addiction.

As the tale opens, a new arrival named Walter Moody enters the scene, finding a group of twelve men gathered in a hotel for the purpose of trying to get to the bottom of a murder, as well as a disappearance, of two local men. As for the rest, I can honestly say it’s far too complicated for me to dissect, as stories are told and disproved, alibis declared and found to be lies. In the end there is a trial. Witnesses testify to things the reader could never have guessed, while in the midst of it all everything is confused, turned on its head. I couldn’t explain it all if you paid me.

The very heart of the book actually contains a romance, if you can digest that. The young whore, Anna Wetherell, is in love with… No, I won’t tell, not that it really gives much away, in the grand scheme of things. I could reveal a few dozen plot points that would still have no chance at all of spoiling the plot of this book. It’s just… Oh good God. It is what it is.

The question remains: was it a worthwhile read? Tough to say. Had it not won the Booker, and had NetGalley not provided me with a copy, I wouldn’t have finished reading it. As it is, I picked it up and put it down innumerable times, when it’s a book best read in long sessions. Note taking is highly encouraged. I don’t know how one can keep track of anything, otherwise. I don’t have time for such extensive scholarship, not when it’s a modern novel. A classic, okay. But The Luminaries isn’t time-tested. It just exhausted me.

If you enjoy 800+ pages worth of convoluted puzzles – and unreliable characters – you may find this the god of all such books. It isn’t without merit, by any means. It contains lots of fun passages, many tongue-in-cheek humorous moments, as well as some which are poignant. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc. The characterization is staggering, the handling of so many plot lines impressive to the extent I can’t even think of a word to describe it. Masterful, that does the trick.

The fact the author was 22 when she wrote this book will make your head explode. If you’re a writer, it will send you away sobbing. It’s just unnatural what Eleanor Catton managed to pull off. No one should be able to create such a symphony from this wild cacophony. But she did. I bow to her, while at the same time I admit it was all far too much for me or my enjoyment.

As author Jay Parini puts it:

“All really good books shatter their generic origins, becoming a thing unto themselves. But rarely has this axiom held more firmly than in Eleanor Catton’s thrilling – in every sense – second novel. The sheer weight of the narrative might seem daunting; but dismiss that. She is among the finest of storytellers, drawing us forward through a labyrinth of lives, all of them converging in ways you could never easily imagine. I didn’t want this novel to end.”
—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

Unlike him, I wanted it to end, before my brain exploded. My mantra: please let it end, please let it end… It’s a singular experience you can only understand if you attempt it. Let’s leave it there.

I’m a bit befuddled as to why the Man Booker committee chose it, and still think the honor should have gone to the incredibly spare prose of Jim Crace, but there’s no accounting for it. I guess it was the mammoth accomplishment of the book, which I still maintain was far, far too much. Earlier I compared the work to Dickens but I love Dickens and find his complicated plots satisfying. The Luminaries? Not quite so much.

But congratulations, Eleanor Catton. You managed something that will keep the literati busy a long time. Well done for that.



Man Booker 2013. The winner is: Eleanor Catton



Congratulations, Eleanor!


Seems my guess was the kiss of death for Jim Crace and NiViolet Bulwayo. Sorry about that, you two. Especially to Jim Crace. That man should not stop writing, almost as much as I should, in order to protect the innocent. I’m upset with him for his insistence he’s done. He wants to fish, he says. To relax and fish. Well, maybe he’ll change his mind one day.

Speaking of, have you read a book by him yet, have you? We had this discussion (I did, at least) a few weeks back. Everything he’s written is touched by God Himself. Read all his books, write reviews of him in all the places and maybe he’ll see them and feel all nostalgic and weepy about the terrible feeling of facing the blank screen (or notebook, I can’t recall offhand what he said). I would email him again and instruct him to get back to work but I’m afraid he’ll develop Sebastian Barry complex and begin to look at me askance. Truth is I am the most innocent thing. A bit excitable (only about books, otherwise I pretty much just stare into space) and passionate (ditto) but not at all scary.

Convincing? Should I revise?


luminariescatton2Lots and lots of copies of the book I couldn’t get through.


But the point – lost long ago, in a fit of wildly careening writing – is the Big Prize went to the one novel I tried to get through and couldn’t! Huzzah…?

What’s wrong with me? It’s not a bad book. Not bad bad, I mean. The fault was in not giving it enough undivided attention, I’m almost certain. I’m sort of bad, that way. It’s well-written and about the intriguing and new-to-me subject of the gold rush in New Zealand:

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

The Luminaries

Sounds lovely when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Well, as far as I know it’s still on my Kindle (I have a free eBook from the publisher, which will disappear when they decide to “archive” it), so I’ll get back on it or die trying. With Moby Dick still ongoing. And that doorstop Tudors.

At least Henry’s dead now, (the VIII, not some random Henry) finally, and Elizabeth’s primed for crown and sceptre, once that pesky Edward gets out of her way. I’d grown tired reading about Henry and his sadism. What an @$$hole, really! Boiling people alive? Dismembering, chopping off heads, hanging and burning? Not to mention the destruction of all those beautiful churches and the illuminated manuscripts. Did you know they used those gorgeous works for toilet paper? Turns my stomach. Ten centuries destroyed in one fell swoop, Ackroyd wrote, and I wanted to weep.

Why the fascination with the Tudors? Shame on us all. While the kind, caring rulers are gathering dust in their marble sarcophagi we’re lusting after the Tudors, because a hot little minx or three and a few messy beheadings make a good story, I suppose. Better we should forget the ulcerous old bastard and look to Elizabeth I. She had her own moments but she is a female role model, of sorts.

Because who needs a king? Not that one, that’s who.


elizabethiThis one, that’s who.


Back to the Bookers, sorry. I get prattling and things go awry, then I don’t feel like working on segues and here we are.

I knew I was off my game this year, as I told you in my last post. My prediction for either Jim Crace or NoViolet Bulawayo didn’t materialize but I had an unsettled feeling I wasn’t quite getting it. My intuition didn’t sense it as strongly this year. Something was off-kilter: my Karma or what-not. For so many years I’ve been nailing it. Not so 2013. Sigh.

I’ll get back to the Catton, with a dose of Melville and Ackroyd on the side. And, well, okay a dash of Joyce Carol Oates’s My Sister, My Love, my creepy pleasure of the moment. It’s based on the JonBenet Ramsey case, if you remember that child murder from years and years ago, about the beautiful six year old whose mother whored her up like a slutty Barbie doll, entering her in beauty pageants (do not start me on that rant). Still unsolved, unbelievably. And just now I read this article, from two days ago saying the slaying indictment, which was never prosecuted (?!), may be unsealed.

You can’t hear it but I’m making a disgusted sound at the thought of how wrong the world is right now, for JonBenet and so much else. Now my forehead’s hitting the desk. You can’t see my desk – THANK GOD – but it’s very 1990s and I want to burn it. The drawers tend to fall out when you open them. It’s an optional feature I chose. In another 100 years it will come back into style, complete with a charming patina of coffee cup rings and stray ink marks.

This would be it for this time but I didn’t direct you to my review of Nicholson Baker’s Traveling Sprinkler, published on the New York Journal of Books website. It’s a  little rambling but they took it, so phew! Relief making the deadline is all I can say. Strike that. I could say much more but I have to go start dinner. Plus, if you’ve read this far I feel badly on your behalf.

Now my work here is done, for this time. I’d meant just to talk about my Man Booker fiasco but then things got away from me. Woe is you!

Ta, loves. And keep reading.



Reading catch-up: October 2013


The Man Bookers, 2013



The days are winding down. Not long to go now. Six days until the big winner is announced.

As for my own progress, I tried so, so hard to get through Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. It’s well-written but I found it so bloated with extraneous detail and repetitive material I was forced to throw in the towel. Yes, I did like that at first, considering I was having so much trouble recalling who was who and Catton’s tendency to repeat herself was a plus. But that got to be old.

I have so many other eBooks on the go from NetGalley something had to give. So I put The Luminaries aside for Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors. Yes, another book about Henry VIII. It’s a weakness.


Lahiri’s publisher sent me a copy of The Lowland, which I’ll try to fit in. And I really want to read Ozecki’s book, too. and NoViolet Bulwayo’s.

Lots of ambition, little time.

I have a feeling it will come down to Jim Crace’s Harvest and Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. So, barring any last minute change of mind, I’m thinking one of these. Either Crace’s to keep him writing or Bulawayo’s to honor a new writer whose book sounds wonderful. SOUNDS WONDERFUL. Notice I haven’t even READ IT. Which stops me from expressing an opinion, oh, never.

I also have the sneaking feeling I may be WRONG in my prediction this year. Disconcerting. If I’m wrong, will you still respect me in the morning?

Will see soon enough.


Moby Dick. I think I’ve been covering my progress with it pretty well. And it continues…



John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley. Did I mention I’m reading it? In case I didn’t, I’m reading it.

It’s Steinbeck in a camper/pick up truck, his big poodle Charley and a journey across America. It’s my health club (elliptical and stationary bike) read and it’s funny and interesting to read about America from several decades ago, what’s changed and what hasn’t.

HINT: Most hasn’t.

Its light prose (with deeper insights) makes a good accompaniment to sweating and swearing.

I long to do this one day, to take off and visit small town America, writing about what I seem and who I meet. I’ve seen a lot of my country – more than the average American – but never just for the sake of analyzing it and writing about it. It’s always been rush, rush, rush from one site to another. In other words, your standard family vacation. But the difference is we didn’t spend a lot of time in the little places, off the beaten path. We did drive, which is rare in these days after the invention of the Big Silver Bird, so we were at least old school in that way. I want to take off with no destination in mind (Steinbeck did have a map, I have to qualify), just rambling, writing and taking pictures.

Some day? Probably not. That’s how life goes.



Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors. Looks like it was released this week, so I’m hoping NetGalley doesn’t yank it away from me. It’s a really long tome, written in Ackroyd’s smooth, readable prose. Finally I’m getting the hang of who Cardinal Wolsey was, as well as Cromwell and a few other historical figures who’ve been muddled in my mind.

From Amazon:

Above all, however, it is the story of the English Reformation and the making of the Anglican Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England was still largely feudal and looked to Rome for direction; at its end, it was a country where good governance was the duty of the state, not the church, and where men and women began to look to themselves for answers rather than to those who ruled them.

I bought the first volume in Ackroyd’s new history of Britain series, Foundation, which covers the period from its earliest beginnings up to the Tudors. Tudors goes along well with my having just read Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam (read it! it’s phenomenal!) as it deals with religious liberalism and what was coming out of that Dutch culture at the same time Henry was having his religious “issues”. Serendipity.

For the sake of continuity, I may have to purchase Tudors as well. How can I own a partial set of books?

Heresy (irony intentional).





Aside from dips into this ‘n that, this covers the bulk of my recent reading. I’m in my usual panic, looking at my overflowing bookshelves upon bookshelves upon bookshelves added to what’s coming out every day (damn the fall publication titles!). I purchased the new Barnes, Levels of Life, which I’ve been waiting for forever, since it was of course published in the UK first. I had that on Amazon pre-order.

And the new Drabble Pure Gold Baby. Same thing.

And a few others. OKAY. QUIT TWISTING MY ARM. On my crazy weekend away with my galpal I visited Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee, WI. Aside from a plush Charles Dickens doll (I know…), these jumped into my arms:


I’ve lost my copy of Christopher Morley’s classic The Haunted Bookshop. And look how pretty this edition is (top)!

Then, A.J.A. Symons’s The Quest for Corvo:


One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe’s Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn’t, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel—”a masterpiece”—and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled “an experiment in biography,” is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and sympathy that inspires the biographer’s art.

I had to. Plus, you’ll note the Bargain Book sticker, thanks very much.

Finally, Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements by Dwight Garner

Because how often do you run across books like this? AND, another Bargain Book.

Don’t judge me…

Trouble is, I feel like I’m missing one. Ah, well. Neither here nor there.

Then, a partial pile of review books lately arrived:


Gosh, I’ve missed several other review copies, I realize now, including a paperback copy of Crace’s Harvest (I had the hardback for review). I’ll put those on the accompanying Bluestalking Tumbler Blog. Problem solved.

It’s nice reminding myself what I’m reading. I rely on my blog a lot for that but even that’s a struggle. A written book journal would go a long way toward helping me keep up at a glance, now, wouldn’t it. Making mental note. That’s what this blog was originally meant to do but I can’t seem to keep things organized enough even with that. The books just KEEP ARRIVING! Strange how that happens.

Back soon. In the meantime, read on, my loves! Read on! And don’t spare the horses.



Photo credit: Dennis Camp Photography

Photo credit: Dennis Camp Photography


Man Booker Shortlist 2013


And then there were six…


  • Eleanor Catton – New Zealand

  • Jhumpa Lahiri – UK/US

  • Colm Toíbín – Ireland

  • Ruth Ozecki – Canada/US

  • Jim Crace – UK

  • NoViolet Bulawayo – Zimbabwe




From The Telegraph:

The Books:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The only debut novel on the shortlist. The 31-year-old Zimbabwean author tells the story of Darling who lives in a shanty called Paradise.

Judges said: “In the course of our epic readathon we met many, many child narrators, an exhausting number of child narrators, but none stood out quite like Darling.”

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

New Zealander Catton, 27, is the youngest author on the shortlist. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal (2008), was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

The book features Walter Moody, who is drawn into a mystery when he attempts to make his fortune in New Zealand’s goldfields.

Judge Natalie Haynes, a classicist and critic, added: “When an 823-page book turns up in a parcel, a sinking sensation could occur to a person who is trying to read a book a day while doing the things that pay their mortgage, but within about six pages of the book I felt like I’d got into a bath.”

Harvest by Jim Crace

Hertfordshire-born Crace, 67, the oldest author on the shortlist, has been writing fiction since 1974. Quarantine (1997) was previously shortlisted for the Booker.

The book charts, over the course of seven days, the destruction of an English village and its way of life after a trio of outsiders put up camp on its borders.

Crace has said the book will be his last work of fiction.

Judges said Harvest continued to “haunt” them after months of reading, adding: “When you think about the eruption of strangers into this enclosed world, the resentment caused by these outsiders, you begin to get a glimpse of some of the troubling debates in modern life.”

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

London-born Lahiri, 46, lives in the US and holds UK and US citizenship. She has written four works of fiction including The Namesake, which was adapted into the film of the same name.

The Lowland, featuring the lives of two once inseparable children raised in Calcutta, is a novel about entangled family ties.

Judges said: “This is a novel about distance and separation … a novel about the impossibility of leaving certain kinds of past behind.”

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Canadian-American writer Ozeki, 57, was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in 2010 and is the author of three novels.

A Tale For The Time Being, which features cyberbullying and a 105-year-old Buddhist nun, centres around a mystery that unfolds when the protagonist, Ruth, discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home.

Judges said: “It’s a Zen novel if such a thing is possible. It’s about dualities at every level – East to West, cruelty and kindness, forgetting and remembering, and releasing and enclosing.” The book is “incredibly clever, incredibly sweet and big-hearted”, they added.

The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin

Irish author Toibin, 58, is the author of five novels, including The Blackwater Lightship (1999) and The Master (2004), which were both shortlisted for the Booker.

“A woman from history (is) rendered now as fully human” in the book, which features Mary, “living in exile and fear, and trying to piece together the events that led to her son’s brutal death”.

Judges said the book was a “beautifully crafted, passionate story that most people think they already know”, which the author “turns into something wonderfully fresh and strange”.

Judges admired “the power of Mary’s voice” and said it was a short novel but one that “lives long in the memory” with a narrative that ranges over a lifetime in just over 100 pages.


My take:

I’ve read The Harvest and pronounce it positively masterful. It’s very dark and grim, a sepia-toned portrait of Medieval Britain and the conversion from an agrarian economy to the wool trade. Sound dull? Oh, no. The plot is menacing and riveting. More about the loss of livelihood of former serfs, narrated by one living amongst them but shunned for being born “outside,” it draws a picture of the basic inhumanity of man when faced with impending poverty and homelessness.

It is anything but dull.

I’ve reviewed the book, then interviewed Crace and was impressed with his candor and the cut of his jib. He says this is his last novel of his writing career. Read all his books to understand what a travesty this would be. A Booker win could change that. Part of me pulls very strongly for Crace.


I’m currently reading The Luminaries. It’s a sprawling, many-charactered novel set during the gold rush in Australia. It’s a HUGE tome and it’s difficult keeping the characters straight. Fortunately, Catton knows this and repeats who each one is, from what profession and how s/he relates to the story frequently enough the reader can rest a bit easier. It starts slowly but builds very well. Its Booker potential lies in its entertainment factor, partially. I’m finding parts of it funny, in a low-key way. It has the quality of being a sort of comedy of errors at times. And then there’s the mystery element, who killed whom for gold and how will the whole thing come together? In more than 800 pages.


Knopf/Random sent me a copy of The Lowlanders, bless them! Haven’t had a chance to even open the cover yet but I’m reading as fast as I can…

The others I don’t own but can remedy easily enough. Well, save the $ issue. Can’t take that lightly.


Remember how I said I wasn’t going to get sucked into the Booker race this year? I’ve been sucked into the Booker race this year. ‘Tis a pity she’s a book whore.

Particularly tight race this year. I’m torn between believing the committee wants Jim Crace to keep writing, and the quality of his book is stellar, but competition is fierce. I am pleased by the diversity, though, and happy to see writers of partial US citizenship in the running. Toíbín, The Telegraph fails to say, is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, right here in the U.S. So I’ll claim him, just a little.

The winner? Still leaning toward Crace. What can I say? But I’ll keep reading.





No Booker post? How remiss of me




Not a secret I’m notorious for being a slave to the Bookers, pouncing on that Longlist the minute it comes out (almost literally) (literarily?) hoping to read all the eligible titles before the release of the Shortlist (to see if my picks match theirs) but this year, with the added stress of job hunting plus thises and thats of “real” life, I’ve hardly had time to think about it. I glanced over the list when it was released but that was that. I was interested but not INTERESTED.

Yes, I really just said that. Me, the BookerWhore.  Even I may faint from shock and I already knew all this.

fancyline7The Longlist


Unexploded Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton)
Manbooker longlist
So, there it is.
Out of these I’ve read only Harvest by Jim Crace, which I reviewed then interviewed him for
What a charming man!
Jim Crace
 Jim Crace is not just a writer of unparalleled skill but also a long-suffering gentleman who withstood my falling all over him, head over heels for his book, which is set during a purposely vague time somewhere in Middle Ages Britain. The agrarian culture is starting to give way to the wool trade, many tenant farmers kicked off the land they’d worked their entire lives and forced to roam until they found work elsewhere. And, with so many displaced at the same time, work is becoming scarce. Kind of like the present era, actually.  Substitute the internet for the wool trade and it’s not far off.
This is a major shift in British history, one that will have a huge impact on its entire economy and politics as the rich get richer and the powerful attempt to keep the poor from rioting.
But Crace’s focus is very tight on this one, particular community, using it to represent “anyvillage” in this period of upheaval. They’re a very insular group, these villagers, born and raised together, marrying amongst themselves with no trust in strangers or the unfamiliar. At once a simple people they are also dangerous, their ignorance lending itself to irrational, paranoid delusions about things beyond their ken.  Nor are they patient or reasonable people. The village is a powder keg waiting to explode.
At the center of the story is a man (unnamed) from “outside” who married into the community after growing up there, his father an employee at the manor. When his wife died he became the village pariah, blamed for everything that went wrong, distrusted all the more since he grew up a playmate of the current Master. The poor man had a very hard time of it.
His unique position as outsider – as well as a more rational, intelligent man – adds credence to his narration of the story. Growing up in the village he knew all that went on, being not “of them” lent him impartiality. Crace chose the ideal approach to this tale. It’s a stroke of brilliance, unsurprisingly, for a novelist with so much accomplishment.


When the book opens the village is preparing for the harvest and celebration that traditionally follows, once the work is done. It’s the most anticipated time of the year, when the crops are in and the tools put away. Not long after the harvest another outsider, a man hired to measure the land for its conversion to pasture, enters the picture. He’s suspected, naturally. The villagers, who can’t read or write, have no idea what he’s doing.
And then they learn the truth:  their livelihood and homes are to be taken from them, suddenly and with little to no warning. The situation quickly degenerates into mayhem. And blood is spilled.

Short summary via Amazon:
On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner’s table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion.One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master’s outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village’s entire way of life.In effortless and tender prose, Jim Crace details the unraveling of a pastoral idyll in the wake of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, framed by a beautifully evoked world that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading.
Aside from having read The Harvest, I own a review copy of TransAtlantic. And that’s the sum total of my connection to any of these books. I feel very out of the loop this year; I’ve only heard of six authors and five books from the list. Supposedly this is the most diverse list yet. Maybe but I thought last year’s was. In any case, I’m hardly in any position to know, not that that stops me from my early speculation the winner will be one of these two:
Again, that’s very early speculation, based on almost complete ignorance. It’s how I make most of my life decisions and it’s given me ALL THIS. (You can’t see it, so the meaning’s pretty ambiguous. And this isn’t helping.) But I have successfully picked the Booker winner more than once. KEEP THIS IN MIND. Just because this year I chose the only two books I have any connection with doesn’t mean they won’t win. It’s unlikely but not impossible.
In any case, I have no time or money to even think of reading all the Longlisters  (EVEN IF THE PUBLISHERS SENT ME REVIEW COPIES!!!!) – and not all are available here in the Colonies yet – so I’ll wait to see what the Shortlist brings. It’s due out September 10 (winner announced October 15). Maybe, MAYBE, I’ll tackle a couple titles that make it through the first round. If I can lay hands on them.
The Luminaries, for one, isn’t due to wash up on our shores until October 15  – THE DAY THE WINNER IS ANNOUNCED. That’s a little irritating. Though this is a British prize they could be a little more empathetic, for the sake of the rest of us. Would it kill them to care? Just a little? I could order the book from the UK – for an additional cost – but we’ll see if it makes the Shortlist, first.
May have to sit this one out, watching from the sidelines, rooting for Jim Crace, who claimed The Harvest will be his final book.
Or will it, after all?
Sly thing…
P.S.: Here’s a list from GoodReads, speculating as to the full list of 150 eligible books from which the judges picked. Is it correct? I dunno but it’s interesting.
P.P.S: And here’s a blog participating in the reading of the nominated books. I’ll have to keep an eye on them…