The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced today and the two books that I have rallied behind are still breathing. Oh yeah. Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger and Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. The former colony is up in yo face!
The shortlist is:
The White Tiger
Sea of Poppies
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
Salman Rushie, survivor of fatwa, ex of Padma, six-time Booker nominee, and winner of the 1981 prize and reigning Booker of Bookers, surprisingly got the axe. As did fellow favorite Joseph O’Neill (Netherland) and controversial pick, Tom Robb Smith (Child 44). The inclusion of Smith to the longlist has been covered at length on the Book Catapult (as well as on more reputable sites and publications) but I think that it’s missing of the cut here actually hurts the prize itself. I mentioned before that snobbery and complaining about including the “thriller” genre threatens to ostracize the average reader and is endangering the cultural significance of awards like the Booker. Two days after I wrote about the uproar over Child 44, I, and some of my fellow booksellers had the opportunity to address 75+ people at my bookstore for a book recommendation night for local book clubs. In my (riveting) portion of the talk, I discussed The White Tiger and Tim Winton’s Breath, and mentioned their connections to the Booker. When I was met with relatively blank expressions, I asked “How many people know what the Booker Prize is?” Maybe 20 raised their hands. When I asked “How many of you have read Life of Pi?”, they all raised their hands. “That won the Booker.” “Ohhhhhhhh.”
This is not their fault – the audience was filled with some very well-read people – their lack of awareness is simply due to the of the lack of mainstream titles to be included on the list each year and the snobbery invloved in the selection process. Hell, I don’t even know anything about The Northern Clemency or The Clothes on Their Backs – they’ve yet to be released in the States. The Linda Grant book doesn’t even have a US distributor yet. I know that the Booker is a British award, but Americans are heavies in the book buying world – how can people be expected to care about the prize if they can’t get their hands on the books? Booker needs to lose the ‘tude, give my man David Mitchell the Prize next time or they’re going to lose all cultural relevance and be relegated to the remainder stacks. And none of us want that.