The (Wo)Man Shadow Booker Shortlist

We’ve spent the last few weeks reading furiously (in more ways than one at times), and we had some debates behind the scenes, but the Shadow Panel now has a shortlist!

A few of these books were obvious locks—everyone who read them liked them and felt they deserved a spot. Our separate shortlists brought eight of the original thirteen to the table, with five books getting no votes at all. So we confined our discussion to those eight books and began looking at rankings.

It was easy to see how these debates can lead to bland compromise choices if it comes down to a straight vote. The one book on every single list ranked low on all of them. (A couple of jurors hadn’t quite finished the full list.) And some friendly controversy arose when we noted that some people’s favorites were others’ least favorite. In the end, we have a list that’s close to most of our shortlists, but not a perfect match.

Here’s the full list, in alphabetical order, with links to panelists’ published comments about each:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James: Shelf Love, Bibliographing, Of Books and Bicycles
Did You Ever Have a Family
by Bill Clegg: Shelf Love, Dolce Bellezza, Nonsuch Book, Of Books and Bicycles
Lila by Marilynne Robinson: Shelf Love
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: Shelf Love, Bibliographing, Nonsuch Book
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy: Shelf Love, Dolce Belezza
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota: Shelf Love

This process was a lot of fun. I got to have some great conversations with other smart readers, and I read a few terrific books I probably wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. On the whole, the joy of the process outweighed the frustration of the books I’d rather not have spent time on. Would I do it again? No promises. But I wouldn’t rule it out.

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20 Responses to The (Wo)Man Shadow Booker Shortlist

  1. Simon T says:

    So pleased to see Lila there, and I want to know SO much more about the discussion! That’s the bit that I always wish I could witness for any panel of judges.

    • Teresa says:

      Lila very nearly didn’t make it, but it had two very strong advocates on the panel (one of whom was me) and one person who personally didn’t like it but said she could see it shortlisted. That one, Satin Island, and A Little Life were the controversial choices, with people feeling strongly on both sides.

  2. Alex says:

    Interesting that Satin Island isn’t there because it’s all over the book blogspehere and for many people it’s a done deal. Are you organizing it again next year? Is it free entry or invitation only?

    • Teresa says:

      Satin Island is on there, but it wasn’t on my personal list. I didn’t like it much at all, but three of the panelists did, so it made it through.

      We haven’t talked about doing it again. Frances was the organizer, and she invited the rest of us to join in. We decided to keep to five people, the same as the actual jury. (If you want to join in next year, you could let her know, in case we do it again and need new members.)

  3. Have not been reading enough this year.

  4. Janakay says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the shadow panel reviews and selections; I’m also in awe of your energy and dedication! I think I’ll make it through the long list this year, but my goal as always is to simply do it before the final award. This year, I’m pretty much on my usual schedule, i.e., I’m down to my last three: I’ve just started “Sleeping on Jupiter;” which seems promising; am looking forward to “The Chimes” and am nerving myself to get through “Lila” (I’ve read “Housekeeping”, Robinson’s first novel and although I found it poetic and beautifully written, it was a long, hard slog and just not on my emotional wave length. Me bad, I guess).

    Based on the ten nominees that I’ve read, I totally agree with your inclusion of “The Year of the Runaways” and “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” I found them both to be incredible novels, combining wonderful writing, great characters and gripping stories. Although it’s a tough choice, I think on balance I’d give the nod to Marlon James, on the basis that his narrative structure was (to me at least) more original and his use of language just so wildly innovative (although making at times for a slow and challenging read). On the other hand, Sahota’s such a great writer himself, with a wonderful combination of compassion and clear-sightedness and it was just so easy to get emotionally involved with his characters (at one point, I was so worried about their ultimate fates I had to check the ending, to prepare myself if necessary for something really sad!). To my surprise, Bill Clegg’s “Did You Ever Have a Family” almost lived up to its hype (I really couldn’t put it down once I started. Luckily it was fairly brief) but I don’t think it was quite at the same level of originality and accomplishment as the two novels I mentioned previously. “Lila”–well, it’s time I tried Robinson again; I’ve read dozens of glowing reviews of her works and I concede she’s a wonderful writer but …. well, I’ll try to keep an open mind! As for “Satin Island” — I read it, found it entertaining in spots and at times was struck by its ideas, but I have to admit that I would have left that one off the short list. Too soon to say whether I’ll agree with your inclusion of “Sleeping On Jupiter,” but based on the first fifty pages or so it seems like it will be a great read.

    It will be so interesting tomorrow to see the official short list! I’ll be so disappointed if “Brief History” and “The Runaways” don’t make it.

    • Teresa says:

      Having a staycation in August and reading A Little Life back in January really helped.

      I agree with you that Sahota and James should be shortlisted–and I could see one of them winning, although the consensus is that Yanagihara will take the prize. I would love to see Robinson win, but her books don’t seem to work for everyone. I’ll be very surprised if Clegg wins. I wonder if it’ll even make the shortlist.

      I left Satin Island off my personal shortlist, but it had some strong advocates on our panel, so it got through.

  5. Nicola says:

    Aw, no Tyler in the shortlist? Glad Lila made it, though!

    • Teresa says:

      I think most of us liked the Tyler but didn’t see it as quite up to the standard of the others. It was a hair’s breath from making my personal list, though.

  6. Lisa says:

    If I haven’t said so before, I’m also very impressed with your commitment to this. And I’m glad you read some of those books (coughALittleLifecough) so I don’t have to.

    What are you looking forward to reading now?

    • Teresa says:

      It was great fun! I’d tried to read the Booker list a couple of times before, but doing it in a group like this was a lot more enjoyable.

      I have so many books stacked up that I want to get to. Right now, I’m reading The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall, which I put aside to do this. And I went to the library today and got books by some of my favorites–Atkinson, Waters, Shirley Jackson–just because I can read them now! And I’ve got a bunch of holds that I suspended until this week, so they’ll be trickling in.

  7. Tony says:

    But now, surely, you have to choose a winner too…

  8. Rajdeep says:

    I’m not surprised Sleeping on Jupiter isn’t on the shortlist. Though a well-written novel, I found the narrative rather dull. Also, Ms. Roy has clearly lifted several ideas — both in terms of thematics as well as narrative technique — from some other novels. I’ll point out a few here: (1) The way Nomi reminisces her childhood experiences reads exactly like how Offred in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale does it. Sometimes Nomi after telling an episode Nomi says “it happened actually happen that way” just as Offred does in The Handmaid’s Tale. (2) The marvelous set-piece in the derelict aashram about the man making statues for centuries is similar to the marvelous set-piece in Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book about someone making mannequins and storing them underground. (3) The beating of the dog with a cricket bat reads like something straight out of Haruki Murakami novel.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m not surprised it didn’t make it, either. Everyone on our panel liked it, mostly because of the writing, but I don’t think many of us counted it as a strong favorite. I didn’t note any of the parallels you mention and they wouldn’t necessarily have bothered me, but I did think the plotting in some of the other books was much stronger. I appreciated what Roy was attempting to do, though, and that’s what edged it onto my list.

  9. Ahahaha, but WHY is the consensus that A Little Life will win the whole thing? I do not WANT it to!! I may have to go back and read some more of the comments on that complainy readalong to console myself. :p

    • Teresa says:

      That readalong is a thing of beauty. I was following from the start and watching the opinions turn was so satisfying. The London Review of Books also has a beautifully fair yet snarky review, which was good consolation in light of National Book Awards announcement. The backlash we’ve been waiting for has begun :)

  10. Pingback: It’s Monday and we’re back from Tahoe! | Olduvai Reads

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