October 19, 2011: Reading the Booker

PAGES READ SINCE September 27: 438
CURRENTLY READING: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
BOOKS SET ASIDE FOR THE MOMENT: Life by Keith Richards and The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik
-5,706 PAGES

The 2011 Man Booker prize was announced on Tuesday. After three turns as runner-up, Julian Barnes finally came out a winner for The Sense of an Ending. I haven’t read it but it’s now on my list. (I loved England, England and Arthur & George.) Huffington Post Books published a good primer about the Booker prize and why we should care. The piece explains why we’re now supposed to call it the Man Booker even though everyone still calls it the Booker and details a bit of the controversy surrounding this year’s shortlist. Apparently the judges are being accused of being too lowbrow and prioritizing readability over other attributes. Imagine considering whether or not people can actually read and understand a novel when deciding whether it should win a prize.

On the other side of the coin are those people who believe that readability is no test for literature. Consider instead whether a novel’s language expands its reader’s capacity to think and to feel. Serious literature can and perhaps should be hard work (ahem, Anna Karenina) and shouldn’t be dumbed down just because we’re getting dumber as a society. The Booker jury should be championing the power of literature, not the power of a jolly good read, as Jeanette Winterson so eloquently puts it in The Guardian.

I find myself somewhere in the middle. I like to be challenged but I don’t like to spend five months struggling to get through the greatest novel ever written. I like my brief visits with the Twilight series and The Hunger Games, but I wouldn’t want to read them all the time. I’ve enjoyed most of the Man Booker winners of the past decade, but I don’t want to limit my reading to their shortlist. Maybe I should start a quasi-literary-sometimes-fluff fiction prize of my own.

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