Thursday, August 14, 2014

the man booker prize is taking over the world.

Maybe you've heard, but the Man Booker Prize is now open to Americans. Those priggy, unposh English-speakers over here in Amurrrica.

Previously, the prize had been reserved for novels whose author's hail from Britain, Ireland, and the British Commonwealth. That there even still is a Commonwealth at all seems so very vintage to me. Older than vintage. Antique. It harkens to days of imperial rule and bossy monarchs. Well, it is the most prestigious literary prize under the Union Jack.

But, we aren't here to discuss Britain's secret (and maybe not so secret) desire to get back to its old prime. We are here to talk about this year's long-listed novels for the Man Booker Prize. There's been some controversy over whether it should have been open at all. Here, the UK Independent expresses "shock, as Man Booker prize plans to consider Americans." Shock! Shock, they say. . . rather, they exclaim, over pints at a pub and tight accents.

But, I get it. The Man Booker was distinctive as to who could play. Now it's open to nearly any English speaking novel writer. Before I knew I'd get a taste of colonial India, or upper crust London, or snappy New Zealand. Areas of which I have no life experience. There was a vibe, a setting, a feeling along with the Man Booker nominees. For me, they were going to be (often, though not always) different from what I regularly read. They were definitely going to have a setting I was not accustomed to. Now, it's open-game. I don't entirely disagree with Jim Crace's statement that the prize would lose focus, lose its "sense of the Commonwealth" or Melvin Bragg's notion that it would lose its "distinctiveness." But, did many of the Canadian novels in the past really feel all that different form an American novel? Some will staunchly argue that Canadians and Americans aren't the same. Sure, they aren't, but if you've ever been to both countries and met people of both nationalities, they're pretty darn similar and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. When I got to Canada, which is often, I don't feel like I should be drinking tea, playing rounders, and watching the Manchester United.

That said, I don't have a lot in the ring. I am happy to read any good book, no matter where it hails from. I'll be interested to read the Americans that have been long-listed this year. I want to see if and how they feel different. And after this, will the Man Booker prize nominees be distinctive from other books or will it just be a good-book-prize?

Here's the long-list of this year's contenders. Like last year, I'll be blogging over at BookerMarks as I and other book geeks bloggers share our reviews, feelings, and coverage of this year's prize.