I was a little surprised the other day, perigrinating Powell’s City of Books, to run across an Award Winner section. Maybe they had this before, but it’s certainly noticeable now, and features free bookmarks with lists of winners of the Pulitzer for Fiction, the National Book Award, et cetera. Then, of course, there were shelves and shelves of the books. I took a quick look and realized that I’ve read very few NBA winners, very few Pulitzers. What I do read is Bookers.
- 1981 Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (on my to-read list)
- 1982 Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s Ark (aka Schindler’s List, read)
- 1983 J. M. Coetzee Life & Times of Michael K
- 1984 Anita Brookner Hotel du Lac
- 1985 Keri Hulme, the bone people
- 1986 Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
- 1987 Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger
- 1988 Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda (read)
- 1989 Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (read)
- 1990 A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (read)
- 1991 Ben Okri, The Famished Road
- 1992 Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (read)
- 1992 Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger
- 1993 Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
- 1994 James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
- 1995 Pat Barker, The Ghost Road
- 1996 Graham Swift, Last Orders
- 1997 Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (read)
- 1998 Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
- 1999 J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace
- 2000 Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (read)
- 2001 Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang (read)
- 2002 Yann Martel, Life of Pi (on my to-read list)
- 2003 DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little
- 2004 Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
- 2005 John Banville, The Sea
- 2006 Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
- 2007 Anne Enright, The Gathering
Now, obviously I haven’t read the majority of these, the Booker Winners in my lifetime. But that’s a lot more than I’ve read of the Pulitzer Winners or NBA Winners since 1981.
But another thing I notice is that the ones I’ve read are from 2001 and earlier. Of the more recent novels, the only one that sounds familiar — even having looked at shelves of Booker Winners just over a week ago – is The Gathering, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. It takes a long time for books to come to my attention. Because of this, I am always amazed at how up-to-the-minute some readers are. I’m still trying to catch up on all the books I didn’t have time to read during grad school, a few classics I feel a dunce for not having read, any number of modern sci-fi works because my sci-fi reading was guided by a member of a previous generation. How do people manage to have read most or all of the Booker shortlist in time to have strident opinions about it? (The Booker’s juried, so their opinions are just that.) Are they all librarians and booksellers, book critics and Lit professors, so that it’s part of their job to know what’s coming out and whether they should read it? My way of reading is more haphazard, more organic. I gather suggestions and sometimes act on them immediately, sometimes wait for more information or opinions. I don’t buy many hardbacks and I borrow things from the library, on the whole, for which I don’t have to wait on a list.
I suppose the reason I’m faintly nervous about this topic is that I recently lurked on a forum discussion about SFWA members and the Nebulas. (SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Active members can recommend works in the various categories for the preliminary ballot and vote on the preliminary ballot, which determines the final ballot that goes to judges.) Basically, the gist was that SFWA members aren’t active enough in recommending stories, and sometimes vote based on notoriety if they haven’t read the works. I’d like to be a full SFWA member someday (I am becoming a
junior Associate Member as we speak) and I worry. I want to be diligent and do my civic duty (as a citizen of the galaxy). Am I going to have to be up-to-the-minute? Buy hardbacks, wait on library lists? Shove my half-read classics and obscure nonfiction reading aside to tackle the latest and greatest? But, then, I suppose, if I get to be an Active Member, doing the diligence will be part of my job too. Maybe I worry too much, because I feel like that would make me more proud than put upon.