Booker revisited…and a pledge

I have been fondly remembering the first time I experienced the Booker Prize from the perspective of being a bookseller. It was 2003 and I had started as a temp at Harrods the Christmas before. ‘It will be a baptism of fire with me at the front desk’ said Richard, who had worked there for longer than the youngest Christmas temp had been alive. It was indeed a baptism of fire but I can still remember the absolute joy of realising that I had found a job that I was good at. And that I got to talk to strangers about books all day long. And that those strangers were interested in my opinions. And would come back to say thank you and ask me to recommend more books…

So, when the Booker long list rolled around I read not quite all but most of the books. My favourite was The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time which didn’t make the shortlist (what were they thinking? I’m still a bit cross about that.)

I read all the shortlist and got it wrong again. Vernon God Little was the one I liked least of the six. And I still think Notes on A Scandal was robbed.

But even if I didn’t agree with the choices I was sold on the drama. Because the reason why bookselling is so exhilarating and infuriating all at the same time is that all opinions are subjective. No one can actually agree on what ‘good’ is. No one really knows which books will take and which will sink.

 I like to think I have a ‘nose’ for a great book. I swear I had a tingle in my fingertips the first time I touched the jacket of The Curious Incident and I knew that Room was remarkable after a page. What I am less sure about is confidently dismissing something. If I don’t like it I tend to think it isn’t for me but I doubt that means it isn’t a good book. (I could write a whole post on ‘books I don’t really see the point of that are a huge literary and commercial success’ – perhaps one day I will.)

Anyway, I am intrigued this year by the debate around the long list and I am going to read all the books before the shortlist is announced on 6th September. And blog my thoughts.  And make some predictions. I may not be right but that is the magic of bookselling. The thing is to have an opinion in the first place. I don’t think any of those people who were knocking around Harrods in 2003 are worse off for reading Notes on a Scandal rather than Vernon God Little…

I had already read four, so I’ll post about them next.

Anyone else doing this? My friends Melissa, Mark and Sam are all giving it a go. It would be nice to have more company along the way. I do think that reading is the most sociable thing that you do alone…

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6 thoughts on “Booker revisited…and a pledge

  1. “Reading is the most sociable thing that you do alone” – what a lovely end to a lovely piece. I’m along for the ride – I think this is the best Booker longlist for a while.

    Can’t wait to compare notes.

    And for what it’s worth, I agree about ‘The Curious Incident…’.

  2. Michelle, I was wondering the same. How on earth do you find the time? I’ve heard that ‘Pigeon English’ is good so I’ll start with that one, but doubt I’ll read them all.

    Looking forward to reading your blog.

  3. Hi everyone,
    Thanks for your comments. Really nice to have a bit of company.
    How I’ll do it? I read very quickly and I don’t watch TV. Not a moral thing, I just don’t really like it. Though I do spend far too much time lately ‘reading’ twitter…
    And I’ve decided to have a couple of booze free weeks, in fact, maybe I should make that my marker? No booze till I’ve finished the longlist.
    Cheers for the inspiration.

  4. I’ve just discovered your blog (thanks to the tweet from @sandstonepress) and it sounds as though we have a very similar opinion on books. I agree that Notes on a Scandal was robbed and I’d also like to say that I thought Room was magic as soon as I heard the premise – the first few pages only confirmed that! I’m planning to try the entire long list, but so far (I’ve read 5.5 I’m not falling in love with any of them) I’ve got my fingers crossed for Jessie Lamb as that sounds the most intriguing book on the list.

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