On reading every Booker Prize winner, revisited

Back in 2016, in this piece, I wrote about reading every Booker Prize winner. I had just finished Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”, which won in 2015. Until last month I had not read any of the books that won in the following three years.  As of yesterday evening I am up-to-date again, having completed 2017’s “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders.

Before that I read last year’s winner (“Milkman” by Anna Burns) and 2016’s “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty. I had started the latter but went through a prolonged reading drought which has only recently come to an end. I go through phases of binge-reading and then not finishing a whole book for months at a time, as noted before on these pages.

This is the fourth time that I have been up-to-date with the Booker Prize. The first was in 2011, the day after Julian Barnes won with “The Sense of an Ending”. The next time was early in 2013 after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring up the Bodies”. Later that year, a month before the awards ceremony, I read “Harvest” by Jim Crace. It was a front-runner for the prize but lost out to Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”. If “Harvest” had won instead I would have been ahead of the game. As things turned out, it took me until 2016 to work my way through the next three winners.

This year’s award will be on 14 October. According to this “Non Sports Betting” page the favourite is Lucy Ellman’s “Ducks, Newburyport” (all 998 pages of it) which is available at best odds of 5/2. If successful it would overtake “The Luminaries” (a mere 832 pages) as the longest book ever to win the prize. I assumed that Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments” would be leading the way but it’s priced at between 4/1 and 6/1. She won the Booker in 2000 with “The Blind Assassin”. The only other previous winner on this year’s shortlist is Salman Rushdie. His latest, “Quichotte”, is the outsider in the bookies’ eyes, at odds of up to 10/1. For the record, the other three nominees are Bernardine Evaristo (“Girl, Woman, Other”), Chigozie Obioma (“An Orchestra of Minorities”) and Elif Shafak (“10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”). The combined page count for the shortlist is well over 3,000. At 200 pages a day you could still work your way through all six nominated books just in time in for the prize-giving. I flicked through all of them earlier today in a bookshop, but that’s as close I will come to reading them between now and mid-October.

The highest number of shortlisted books that I have read from any previous year is four, from 1984. By the time I got round to the winner (Anita Brookner’s “Hotel du Lac”) I had already finished “Empire of the Sun” (J. G. Ballard), “Flaubert’s Parrot” (Julian Barnes) and “Small World” (David Lodge). The other shortlisted books that year were Anita Desai’s “In Custody” and Penelope Lively’s “According to Mark”, neither of which I have ever seen. I am tempted to download both of them (combined page count under 500) so that I could complete at least one set of nominees. For now, I am enjoying the fact that there are no more Booker Prize winners left for me to read, until 14 October at least.




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