The Man Booker Prize

Since my blog features books which are award-winning and recognized, I decided that it would be good to feature awards from time to time. So I decided to start with one of the largest book awards, The Man Booker Prize.

The Man Booker prize, or more commonly known as "The Booker" is an award given to original full-length fiction novels written in the English language (which means, no translations). They are awarded to authors living in a country which is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (all countries which were former British colonies, or Britain itself). This also means that the United States isn't included, so does the Philippines. It is chosen by a panel consisting of big names in the literary world (publishers, writers, book critics, literature professors). Publishers submit their candidates and suggest other books to be part of the reading list, a panel member may also suggest a book not on the list. It is a very tiring process as they have lots of books to read, with this year reaching a record number of 132 books!

The Booker is one of the most prestigious book awards, comparable to that of Cannes or the Oscars for film. Just being part of the longlist is a big deal, so getting shortlisted, and ultimately, winning, would rocket the author to literary stardom. A few of the literary stars which have either won or were shortlisted for the booker are Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith, J. M. Coetze, Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy, and many more. The shortlists create quite a huge buzz, which signals the start of "Booker Shortlist Marathons," and certain predicitons on who would win. They are also huge since most books which are shortlisted have also been nominated, or have already won other awards. Below is a short video featuring the nominees of the 2001 Booker Prize. This Shortlist created quite a stir especially since all of them have other nominations and wins connected with them. A lot of people were surprised how The True History of the Kelly Gang, won over The Dark Room which won the LA Times award of that year. What made the win even more of a controversy and surprise is its triumph over Atonement, considered one of the great works of the new millennium, which have already been shortlisted for several awards (Whitbread, JT-Black) and continued on to win the following year's NBCC and LA Times.

The awards started in 1968 and has had a huge following since then. The first winner was P.H. Newby's Something to Answer For. The latest winner, 2008, was Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. For me, The Booker is quite a dependable award when you're looking for a great read, though from time to time, it misses the mark. With Booker winners, you only get extremes, its either its really good or really bad, depending on your taste. Below is another video (now longer) on the history of the Booker Prize, surprisingly it is quite under-viewed based on the hits it got on Youtube but it's really fun, lively, and informative.

Here are some highlights of the video:
  • Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) gets overly ecstatic upon winning his much-deserved prize. Wow, we can really see here how big of a deal it is to get one. He seems so happy... :D
  • Penelope Fitzgerald (Offshore) talks about squandering her 10,000 pounds. That's a lot of money, I didn't know that a writer can earn that much.
  • Arundhati Roy talks about how her novel is inspired by the things she sees on the street. It's very touching, we feel how much heart she put into writing The God of Small Things.
  • DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little), real name Peter Finlay, a former drug-addict with a made-up pen name accepts the award. I didn't know Booker winners can be this wild.
  • Allan Hollinghurst (The Line of Beauty) creates a stir after his novel, which features a homosexual protagonist and focusing on the issue of AIDS, wins the Booker.
  • Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children wins the award as being the best Booker winner for both its 25th and 40th anniversary.
  • Now my favorite, John Walsh, a writer (not a Booker winner) gives his concept of a classic Booker shortlist, together with winners I think fits the description the closest:
"There's always...
  1. a book on India (White Tiger?)
  2. a tremulous introspection by a lady in her 50s (Blind Assassin?)
  3. a long historical novel (Midnight's Children?)
  4. an eccentric one, which isn't really quite a novel (I have no idea what this means... - maybe the "non-fiction novels" like Schindler's Ark)

There have been several versions of the Man Booker Prize which gives the chance to other countries. One is the Russian Booker prize started in 1992. Another is the Man Asia Prize started just recently, 2007, and where our very own Miguel Syjuco won last year for his novel, Ilustrado (does anyone know where to get this, if ever it has been published? I've been looking for it for so long).

All in all, the Man Booker prize is a celebration of the world's great literature, even giving chances to the young authors, which aims to give recognition and bring attention to the seemingly fading world of books.

Since I have only recently started on reading full-length novels, I decided to read the more recent ones and other great winners (White Tiger, Inheritance of Loss, The Gathering, Life of Pi, The Blind Assassin, The God of Small Things, The English Patient, Midnight's Children). Any other Booker Prize winners you guys would like to suggest?

Here is this year's (2009) Booker Calendar:
  • July 26: Booker "Dozen" (Longlist)
  • September 9: Booker Shortlist
  • October 14: Booker Winner
Here is their official website: Man Booker Prize

The Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Title: The Life of Pi

Author: Yann Martel

Year Published: 2001

Awards/Recognitions: 2002 Man Booker Prize, 2001 Governor General's Finalist, 2003 Boeke Prize (South Africa)

After reviewing a Man Booker Prize winner which I personally think is not worthy of the award, I will be reviewing one which more than deserves it, even lacking the recognition its worth. The Life of Pi is one phenomenal book by Canadian author Yann Martel.

The book talks about a young Indian boy named Piscine "Pi" Patel who gets lost at the Pacific Ocean while his family was emigrating from India. He was able to save himself from the shipwreck and climb into a boat, there was only one problem: he was joined by a menagerie of animals including a humongous Bengal Tiger. The entire book basically tells how Pi manages to survive the ocean with only a limited supply of food and a huge tiger as a "roommate." The story is narrated by Pi himself while he was being interviewed by the authorities regarding the shipwreck; this was difficult for Pi especially since he has to convince his interrogators that he spent a few hundred days in a boat together with a vicious animal, and survive.

Martel is able to narrate Pi's amazing story with great detail and an engrossing narrative. He keeps the pace quite fast without losing the content. He talks a lot about religion, including an enlightening overview of the world's major religions in the novel's first few chapters. Yann Martel also gives out some basic and practical survival tips that can become useful once lost in sea. He was able to write a book which mixes adventure, philosophy, and spirituality.

What makes this book exceptional are its mind-blowing final chapters. This ending is actually one of the main reasons I became interested in reading fiction novels when I encountered it a few years ago. It is one which will make you think and persuade you to read the book again even though you've just finished it. I have yet to encounter any other ending which matches up to this one. So what exactly does this ending contain? Well let's just say that it turns the whole story around.

"The Life of Pi" easily makes its place into one of my all-time favorite books, considering its one of the first full-length novels I've read. It's a bit disappointing however that the book is only capable of winning a few major awards like the Booker since the author is Canadian and most major prizes (Pulitzer, NBA, NBCC, Whitbread) is limited only to American and British authors. I was also surprised how this book failed to make it to a major book list called the Time 100 Best English-language novels, even though its more deserving than most of the ones that made it.

"The Life of Pi" is a fresh, amazing, and though-provoking book. I highly highly recommend this book.

Rating: 10/10

Favorite Passages:

"If you take two steps toward God, God runs toward you"

"Life on a lifeboat isn't much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn't be more simple, nor the stakes higher."

Edition: Mariner Books Paperback

Length: A bit over 400 pages.

Time Read: 3 Days

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Title: The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga

Year Published: 2008

Awards/Recognitions : 2008 Booker Prize Winner

I bought this book right after it was announced the winner of last year's Man Booker Prize expecting a good read, but I was a bit disappointed.

"The White Tiger" is a novel composed of letters from Balram Halwai, nicknamed the white tiger, to the Premier of China, narrating his rise from rags to riches. This story isn't your regular rags to riches story with overwhelming amounts of luck wonderful people who help in achieving each other's dreams, and the perfect soulmate but one which includes heinous crimes. Balram narrates how he had to make his way to the top while contrasting the extreme poverty of the town he grew up in to the extreme wealth of the people whom he later worked for in New Delhi. This book is all about extremes, looking at opposite sides of the picture with vivid imagery. Though in doing this, we fail to see India as a whole, we fail to see its good side and its good people.

Adiga then makes up for his biased views with writing with metaphors and personifications in a grand scale. He was able to utilize these figures of speech to bring the reader to a world of filth, anger, lust, and greed. One example is when he made the whole city of New Delhi speak to Balram and persuade him to commit his crime, giving the reader a chill of foreboding that one gets when walking at dark streets.

If there was one thing I remember from reading this book is how much I hated the main character, Balram. At first, you will be on his side, knowing about the difficulties he suffered as an impoverished child but as the story progresses your sympathy then plummets to a zero up to the point where you get to loathe him. His pride and self-centeredness overflows from the book. Even if there are times where he tries to justify his actions, it doesn't really work unlike that of Nabokov's Humbert.

"The White Tiger" is one of the less known Booker prize winners, winning no other prizes and garnering no other, if not a few, recognitions. This is probably due to its overly simple plot using an overly used setting without really bringing something new to the table, it probably just won because of some great literary techniques thrown in. The novel is easily overshadowed by other Booker Prize winners which used India as its focus or setting such as Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, Roy's The God of Small Things, and Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

The novel is basically "Slumdog Millionaire" minus the game show, Latika, and all of the kind-heartedness, then add in theft, prostitution, and murder. I do not really recommend this book, but if you want to read something new and is comfortable with a simple plot and all the grime of India's extremes, then go ahead.

Rating: 5/10

Favorite Passage: "The story of a poor man's life is written on his body, in a sharp pen (The White Tiger)"

Edition: Atlantic Books Paperback

Length: A little over 300 pages.

Time Read: 1 Day

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

Title: Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Year Published: 1955

Awards/Recognitions: Time's 100 Best English Language Novels

Being one of the most controversial books of the past century, Lolita created quite a huge stir especially in its portrayal of pedophilia between a handsome widow named Humbert Humbert and a 12-year old American girl named Dolores Haze, who was then given the nickname "Lolita". With such a huge buzz, that only meant one thing, and that is, I have to read it hoping that my 16-year old mind is mature enough to handle it.

The novel starts out with a pseudo-introduction by a certain John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., saying that Humbert's case would be a great example when studying psychology. This is very true for we see how Humbert started out from having a destroyed marriage, to fantasizing about little girls, and his outright denial of destroying Dolores' life even if he detests and mocks psychiatry throughout the novel. The book then moves on to Humbert Humbert's hypnotic narration of his life, a very interesting and messed-up life.

He talks about his life in Europe, his childhood, his failed marriage, and how he sits innocently on a park bench while watching preteen girls he calls "nymphets" play around him. He then talks about how he moves to America and finally becomes a boarder of a certain Charlotte Haze from where he meets the wonderful and later on pitiful Dolores. From there, he proceeds to his whirlwind conquest to obtain her and all of the "things" he did after that.

The plot isn't very complex and the pace slows down upon reaching Part Two, but this is one of the books which you don't really read to be blown away by the story, but the book which you read for the beauty of its writing. Vladmir Nabokov writes his prose so superbly that you can't resist but get caught up in Humbert's story and even get you to side with him in his conquest for Lolita. He is able to use the language to favor his side of the story and make it look as if he didn't do anything and that it was Dolores who was to blame for his actions. It is written so well that at times, one gets to believe him and sympathize with him despite the grim nature of his actions. It is also amazing how Nabokov manages to write seemingly explicit scenes very artfully and as the Introduction states, without using any foul four-letter word that people tend to throw around these days.

"Lolita" is a wonderful novel of so-called love and madness discussing a very sensitive and controversial topic. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 9/10

Favorite Passage: "Unless it can be proven to me—to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that, in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, life is a joke) I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art."

Edition: Vintage 50th Anniversary Edition (warning: if you are not versed with the French language, then do not get this edition for it doesn't have translations to the small French passages)

Length: A little over 300 pages, just right.

Time Read: 3 days

Bookmark Making During Free Time

Since it's difficult to find a good bookmark which I actually like to be used on my books, I decided to just make my own using Photoshop. It measures 6 inches x 1.5 inches, big enough to fit a regular paperback book.

I decided to use the cover arts of my favorite books with this bookmark. I placed my initials on the front part of the bookmark so that no one else can use it :D

The back part features a quote I saw from the widget I attached to this blog. It's not really your usual book quote, but I like it because it reminds people that even though how much you love books, it's the practical stuff that's always more important.

These are the books from which the covers came from (in order of appearance):

Atlas Shrugged
The Great Gatsby
A Clockwork Orange
One Hundred Years of Solitude
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
The Life of Pi
Midnight's Children

What do you think?