Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Julian Barnes wins the 2011 Man Booker Prize with "The Sense of an Ending"


As you may have heard already, Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his excellent novel/novella The Sense of an Ending. After a bit of reflection, this is without a doubt who the winner should have been. Sure, it's not the most fun title on the shortlist (that would Jamrach's, and I still stand by all my support of the book), but really, The Sense of an Ending showcases the most literary mastery of the lot. It's a book where every word counts, where every sentence is a tightly wound around a simple and devastating core.

Here's a signed copy of the first UK edition of the book. Take a look at the black edges--a well-placed design element that perfectly matches the book's somber tone.


And here's a shot of Barnes's surprisingly modest signature:


Those of you who were able to snag a reasonably priced signed copy ($20 for this one) will be pleased to know that these are fetching close to $150 dollars on eBay. Timing is always tricky with this sort of thing--too late and you might miss the rush, but list it too soon and you might not get as much money as you could.

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...it's been a strange Booker year. A lot of bad attitude emerged, and much of it, in my opinion, is from a reasonable place. The question of "readability" has come up with the suspicion that Booker judges have leaned towards this concept in lieu of true literary merit. When the longlist was announced, I felt this year's picks were similar to this rush of "mature" alternative and genre fiction that we've all endured these past few years in television and film. This was the comics-and-True Blood longlist... but as a fan of such things, I met these selections with open arms. Were these picks especially readable? Sure. But, do they represent the acme of literature from the British Commonwealth?

Well, I don't know the answer to this. As a US reader, nearly all these titles were new to me. I've deeply enjoyed following this list, and I think there's something to be said for that... but are these the best of the best? I've no idea. Since I'm not directly tuned into British literature, this is what I've got to go on... if it weren't for the longlist, it's likely I wouldn't have heard of any of these novels. The list of authors I've discovered through Booker nominations is pretty exciting: Sebastian Barry, Tom McCarthy, Howard Jacobson, John Banville... the marketing behind these guys is fairly minimal here in the States, so I'm very grateful to have found them through the various longlists they've graced.

This week, a new prize was announced called the "Literature Prize" and it hopes to counter the Booker by awarding "quality and ambition" over readability. Perhaps a little petty, but I see this new prize as nothing but a good thing--this will only spread the word of more great books that US readers might miss.

I don't really care to see whatever glaring difference there is between future Booker Prize and Literature Prize winners, because, as an avid reader, I have winners of my own. Last year, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet took my prize, and this year (despite Barnes's best efforts) that award goes to Jamrach's Menagerie. Because, really, all these awards are a matter of opinion and I surely have a few myself.

If there's anything to be upset about, it's over whatever titles are excluded from the longlist. This is where the real introductions occur, and where readers like me find new books.

Congratulations to Julian Barnes and The Sense of an Ending. I hope readers out there pick this one. Barnes deserves it. But I really hope Booker interest in the US doesn't end with that--I want to see Jamrach's and The Sisters Brothers out there just as much.

Currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Currently listening to:
The Marshmallow Ghosts S/T LP

Monday, October 17, 2011

2011 Man Booker Prize announced tomorrow

Hi everyone, a quick post to let you know that the Booker Prize will be announced tomorrow. Just for fun (and maybe some money if I'm right...), my bets are on Carol Birch and her excellent novel Jamrach's Menagerie:


Stay tuned tomorrow for a post on the winning title! It might be a bit later in the evening, but in that delay I imagine I'll be able to see whatever Booker buzz there is on the secondary market.
Currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Currently listening to:
"Kangaroo" by Big Star

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 US Edition (designed by Chip Kidd)


Although it'll be all over bookstores in a few weeks, I thought I'd give you an early peek of Murakami's new novel, 1Q84 (which I've decided to pronounce in my head as "Q-teen eighty-four"):

The book was originally published in Japan in three volumes, the first two released simultaneously and the third volume a year later. In an interesting move, UK publishers are trying to recreate that gap by releasing Books 1 and 2 in a single volume and Book 3 separately a week later... but here in the US we get all three volumes in one massive, 950 page collection. It's better this way, but very tough to read on a crowded subway train!

So far, the novel is a great time. I won't go too deep into plot details (and save it for a full review at about.com) but the story is split between two protagonists and deals with a hitwoman, a teenage sci-fi writer, a doom cult, and little lilliputian monsters (or something).

What I would like to focus on is Chip Kidd's excellent jacket design. The dustjacket is made from a very thin, nearly-transparent paper. The "1Q84" on the jacket is printed in color, but underneath, the year is written in white. On the spine of the jacket, only the "1" and "8" are printed, leaving the actual spine of the book to only have the "Q" and "4".

Sounds so simple, but it makes a great effect, and one that very successfully captures the twinning, mirrored themes of the novel. Here's what the jacket and boards look like when they don't line up straight:


And another shot with the jacket almost removed:


Lastly, there's some craziness with the page numbering. One side of every page-spread has the title and page numbers printed backwards! Take a look:


While very cool, I find the numbering just a little bit frustrating. The backwards and forwards numbers change sides inexplicably throughout the book, sometimes in the middle of a chapter. If there is some reasoning behind this switching, please let me know! I'm so curious...!

1Q84 hits bookshelves on the 25th. Murakami fans, I wish you happy reading! I'm very much enjoying the novel and I'm sure you will too.

Currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Currently listening to:
Something on WFMU

Monday, October 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (with early artwork)


My review of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marraige Plot is online and can be read here.

One perk of being a reviewer is seeing early artwork. Here's another look The Marriage Plot ARC:

This one's a bit more geometric than the cover art that's in bookstores. They did away with the Venn Diagram, and replaced it with a big "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize" note. Both look pretty sharp, though!


Currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Currently listening to:
The Afghan Whigs in Basel, 02-03-1994

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer wins Nobel Prize for Literature


Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for Literature this morning. I'm not a poetry buff, so his work is entirely new to me, but I did find online a lovely cover to an old poetry collection that I thought I'd share. It's always interesting when these awards come out, as I'm always reminded how worldly and non-American the Nobel is. I'll try to check on Tranströmer next time I see a good opportunity.

Anyone read any of his work? Any advice on where to start?


Currently reading:
My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec (Open Letter)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobel Prize for Literature, announced tomorrow

I don't know about you, but my bets are on Peter Nadas for the Nobel Prize tomorrow. There's something about the forthcoming translation of Parallel Stories that has me captivated. I'd previously read his short work A Lovely Tale of Photography (published in English by the outstanding Twisted Spoon Press), and although I've got nothing else to judge him by, the quiet hum I'm sensing over Parallel Stories gives me a hunch it might be Nadas's year. We'll see tomorrow--I'll update again with the winner in the evening! Stay tuned.


Currently reading:
The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyateslav Pyetsukh

Currently listening to:
"Alligator" by The National