What's So Special About the Booker Prize?Why has the TurboBookSnob been devouring book after book by Booker Prize finalists and winners for the past two years? What would possess someone to launch a website devoted to a British literature prize?
Literature prizes seem to be a "dime a dozen" these days. Britain has the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Guardian Prize for Fiction, and of course, the Booker Prize. The United States now boasts the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Book Critics' Circle Award. On a worldwide scale, there is the Nobel Prize for Literature, honoring an author's lifetime works, rather than a specific novel. If you follow modern literature, it seems as if a new prize appears every time you turn around.
The TurboBookSnob could make the argument that the Booker Prize is special because not only is it perhaps the most prestigious prize awarded for a specific novel in existence today, but also it is the most widely followed (more so than the Pulitzer Prize in the United States).
In the United States, there is very little "buzz" surrounding the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, the announcement of the winner receives the requisite attention on CNN and in other national news outlets the day after the prize has been awarded. That is typical coverage for any award, in literature or in entertainment in general.
In Britain, however, the focus on the Booker Prize remains a presence in the national media throughout the year, swelling in popular interest and speculation by the time the longlist is first announced in mid-August. The Guardian regularly publishes commentary on the prize. The BBC Arts bulletin boards contain thousands of postings from everyday people speculating on who will make the longlist, who will win, or valiantly waving their flag in support of their favorite novel of the year. Visit Amazon UK after the longlist has been announced, and search for any longlist candidate. You will find erudite reader reviews emphatically proclaiming the merits or faults of the book in question. The British even go so far as to gamble on the outcome of the prize. The Booker "bookie" William Hill announces odds on the prize soon after the longlist is announced.
As an Anglophile obsessed with British literature, the TurboBookSnob covets this level of interest and sense of community. She is not referring to interest in the Booker Prize specifically, but rather to a spirit of intellectual curiosity and an underlying belief that literature matters. Certainly literature exists to entertain, but it also has the ability to shine a light on our common human condition, to address issues of vital social relevance, and to help shape how we view the world in which we live.
As a reader, the TurboBookSnob has had the most success in broadening her horizons and challenging her thought process with novels culled from the Booker Prize list.
Because the Booker Prize is open to any citizen of Great Britain or the Commonwealth, it attracts submissions that are as diverse as the countries their authors come from. Since the TurboBookSnob has been making the Booker Prize part of her reading list, she has read books on topics she would not have gravitated to naturally:
The TurboBookSnob must admit that she loves the challenge of trying to predict what the judges will do. If she tries to imagine what it might be like to be a part of the deliberations, she is driven to distration with envy that she is not a part of the process. What better way could one find to spend her time than to immerse herself in the best of modern literature?
The TurboBookSnob started predicting the shortlist in 2002. She picked 4 out of the 6 finalists. She did think that Zadie Smith would make it, and she selected Howard Jacobsen instead of Carol Shields. The TurboBookSnob adored Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and that was her pick for the winner, with Life of Pi by Yann Martel (the 2002 Winner) running a close second.
In 2003, inspired by learning Six Sigma methodology, she decided to try to select her picks from quantifiable metrics I established for each book. Using these metrics, the TurboBookSnob tried to predict the longlist for the first time. What a challenge that was, just to learn about books published in the UK during the required timeframe! Out of a longlist of 23 last year, she picked 7:
For the 2003 shortlist, the TurboBookSnob selected Brick Lane by Monica Ali, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee, Schopenhauer's Telescope by Gerard Donovan, Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall, and Waxwings by Jonathan Raban. It was a tough decision, and the TurboBookSnob teetered between what her data indicated and where her heart was leaning, and in the end, she must admit, she went with her heart.
The TurboBookSnob chose Brick Lane by Moica Ali as the 2003 winner, instead of Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. Brick Lane was her sentimental favorite from the start, and a remarkable accomplishment for a first-time novelist.
The TurboBookSnob must make a disclaimer. She is well aware that literature prizes are not worth anything in and of themselves (except perhaps the £50,000 the winner receives). While their judges are usually respected authorities in their fields, they are not divine or infallible. In the end, some part of the selection of a winner must naturally come down to personal preferences and tastes. The TurboBookSnob has completely agreed with the Booker judges' choice in some years, while in others, she rated the shortlist candidates very differently.
In the end, the Booker Prize is near and dear to the TurboBookSnob's heart because it connects her with authors she might have otherwise never heard of, its books represent a diverse tapestry of cultures, histories, and belief systems, and she thrives on the challenge of trying to predict what the judges will do each year. It is certainly more intellectually stimulating than betting on horse races!
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