I do not read as much as I would like to, and I see far fewer movies than I used to. As noted before on these pages, many times, I try to keep up-to-date with two sets of award-winners from the worlds of books and movies: Booker Prizes and Academy Awards (or Oscars). I regard them as long-term Projects. Last month, in this piece, I wrote that I am “up-to-date with Oscar winners again”. For the first time since 2021 I have seen ever major Oscar-winner going back to 1947. I am also, for the first time since 2020, up-to-date with Booker Prize-winning novels.
Last year I had a reading binge which lasted for a few months during which I read the 2020 winner “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart. I read it immediately after I had finished the Reverend Richard Coles memoir “The Madness of Grief” and then, without thinking it through, I read “Ironweed”, William Kennedy’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize Winner. These three books deal with alcoholism, in some detail. I can recommend all of them, though maybe not back-to-back.
I also read “Moby Dick” during this binge, the longest novel I had attempted since re-reading “Ulysses” in 2020. My motivation came from re-reading Bob Dylan’s Nobel Acceptance Speech. As he said:
Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.
I had read the other two, but never “Moby Dick”. The transcript of Dylan’s speech was enough to get me started. You can read it for yourself here.
As usual with my reading binges, the feeling of motivation waned and by the autumn I was back to a book a month at best, and back to starting books and not finishing them. The last of these was Graham Greene’s “Travels with my Aunt”, which I was enjoying, but it’s another loose end for me to tie up whenever the reading fit is upon me again.
In the last weeks of Lent, though, I did feel motivated enough to read the two most recent Booker Prize winners, Damon Galgut’s “The Promise” (2021) and Shehan Karunatilaka’s “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida”. In 2016, on a previous occasion when I was up-to-date with the Booker list, I wrote that the books I had just finished (which included “The Luminaries” and “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”) were all set in countries that I had never visited and featured characters doing things that I had never done. The same applied here. The novels were set in South Africa and Sri Lanka respectively, and the lives (and indeed afterlives) of the characters bear very little relation to mine.
The next Booker Prize winner will be announced in six months’ time. The next Academy Award ceremony is 10 months away. I have never been this far ahead in my attempts to keep up with the winners of these awards. Maybe, in the coming months, I will have the motivation to read books and watch movies that do not come with the validation implied by winning major prizes. But, if past experience is anything to go by, it looks unlikely.