I need a Booker book

May 29, 2022 • 9:15 am

It’s a sleepy day at the University today, as everyone (save me) is Out of the Office enjoying the holiday. I, too, will take off early, but first I want a book recommendation, as I finished my last book two days ago. (I no longer buy books as I have no room on my shelves, but get them from the UC Library, which can get anything if you include interlibrary loans.)

Some time ago I vowed that I’d work my way through all the Booker Prize winners, the first of which was announced in 1969. I’ve read a few (see below), but would like some recommendations. The stacks are closed at the Regenstein Library across the street, so I have to make a “pick up” request. You can see the list of winners at the link above, and I’ll give you the winners I’ve already read. Then I’m asking for me a couple of suggestions.

Why the Booker Prize? Because I’ve found the quality of the winners to be higher than, say, America’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a Booker Winner that was a dud, though The Siege of Krishnapur I found tedious at times.

Here’s ones you needn’t recommend as I’ve already read them.

  • In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
  • The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell
  • Staying On by Paul Scott
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

That leaves a lot of books to consider!  Let me add that I think several of the books I’ve read from the list are world-class novels, and if you enjoy fiction you must read them. I’ve put them in bold above.

Two notes here: Staying On is the sequel to Scott’s four novels The Raj Quartetand the Quartet is in fact better than the sequel, though all are worth reading. I was pleased to discover, many years after I’d read the five novels, that Christopher Hitchens praised the quintet highly. You must read them all in sequence.

Likewise, The Ghost Road by Pat Barker is the third volume of her WWI trilogy, called, in toto, The Regeneration Trilogy. Like Scott’s work, all preceding books in the series should be read before you tackle the winner. The bold print indicates the whole series of which the book is a part.

Ishiguro is always worth reading, and The Remains of the Day is in my view his best; it’s also a fantastic movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Midnight’s Childrenwhich I discovered completely by accident browsing at a book vendor’s at Connaught Place during my first long trip to India, is the best of all the “magical realism” novels, and garnered an extra Booker Award:

It also was awarded The Best of the Booker prize twice, in 1993 and 2008 (this was an award given out by the Booker committee to celebrate the 25th and 40th anniversary of the award).

Any help rendered will be appreciated, but do stick to Booker Prize winners. Reading them all is on my bucket list.

A first edition of Rushdie’s book, unsigned but in good condition, will run you about $2500.

71 thoughts on “I need a Booker book

  1. The thing I’ve found with holidays/vacation/travel is – I’m still me – even in Cancun with a piña colada.

    I have no books to offer in this spirit so I listen in.

  2. Winds of War
    War and Remembrance

    Herman Wouk’s two-volume saga of world-wide events during the second world war. Takes you everywhere, diplomatically and militarily, and the story overlaps with the personal account of a writer in Italy caught in the dragnet leading to the death camps.

  3. Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace is a good story. I recommend that one. Based on real historical events too.

  4. The 2003 winner, Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre is eerily prescient of the events in Uvalde. The calamity sparking the tribulations of the protagonist is a school massacre in the fictional Texas town of Martirio that could well have been modelled on Uvalde.

        1. I don’t often hate books (because usually I just stop reading them if I dislike them a lot), but I did come close with A Little Life, probably partially because I wish I hadn’t read the whole thing. The abuse went on and on and on until it became unintentionally comical and then annoying and then I got angry at the writer. I know a lot of people love that book and that writer, but I don’t get the attraction.

          1. Hanya’s latest novel (To Paradise) is a remarkable work, tripartite in structure but with each of the three different narratives almost entirely independent of the others. The final (and longest) portion is a brilliant and very moving (as well as scientifically fascinating) piece of dystopian fiction, and one could certainly choose to read it by itself.

          2. Well I understand your perspective. Hard to discuss without venturing into spoiler territory. For me, it was an incredibly sad story and a difficult journey, but it had me from the beginning. If a book makes me think about it for a few weeks after that says something. Happy reading!

        2. No, not very often. Some books I give up on if they are too predictable, hokey, or woo-ish.I did read the whole thing and though I found the four guys quite interesting at first, it became just too repetitive, especially the “spoiler” part. I think it would’ve been better with a bit of editing. I try to read all of the Booker short listers, but recently I’ve had trouble liking some of them.

  5. Someone here recommended Lincoln in the Bardo, but not the print version. I took their advice, got the book on CD. It is read by many actors and is very different from anything else I’ve ever read. Definitely get the audible version. Memorable, weird, funny, sad. Creative.

  6. How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson. An in depth look into the American history and attitudes that have lead to our current National divide.

  7. I am a big fan of The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (winner in 1978). It’s melodramatic and implausible but it’s wildly readable and entertaining. I have read it four times because it’s such fun.

    1. I immediately ordered it from the library after reading your description. It sounds like exactly what I’d like to read right now. Thank you. I get so many good book recommendations from people here.

  8. Of the winners I’ve read, remember liking, remembering why I liked them, and not on your list, my personal preferences would be Hilary Mantel’s two (of three) fictionalized accounts of the life of Thomas Cromwell. Initially I found it hard to get into the flow of the narrative, IIRC, as there wasn’t enough punctuation or indication of who was speaking, until it was clear that unattributed lines were the thoughts (spoken or not) of Cromwell. Sort of a first person narrative written in the third person, if that makes any sense.
    IMO, the Wolf Hall was the better of the 2, and best of the 3. In fact, I never finished the third, as it seemed to veer off sideways midway through, introducing a fictional daughter and starting in on her story.
    Of the also-rans, too much to choose from. Curious to see others’ opinions.

    1. I read the first one and own the others but I think I have to read again because I couldn’t keep track of all the Toms & got confused with who was narrating.

    2. Yeah once you get into the flow, these are amazing reads. Guess I didn’t know the daughter was fictional, but the last book had me holding my breath through the last third, waiting for the inevitable.

  9. I really enjoyed Possession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt. I think it was the winner in 1990. It explores academic research and rivalry, poetry and Victorian & modern views of the world.

    1. I recall liking that a lot but can’t remember much about it, which may say more about me than the book.

  10. Not a Booker Book, but a remarkable revealing of the incompetence of the USA and UK during the 1930’s in not preventing the rise of Hitler; Insightful and making me very angry and sad due to the parallels with the liberal politicians today not recognizing the extreme danger of the rise of the white christian gun-worshiping nationalists rallying behind Trump https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/03/books/review-all-frequent-troubles-of-our-days-american-woman-resistance-hitler-rebecca-donner.html

  11. I enjoyed Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, the start of which draws heavily on Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Carey also won the Booker with True History of the Kelly Gang (which I haven’t read).

    Hilary Mantel is another double Booker champion and Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are worthy winners.

    I read and enjoyed Keri Holmes’ The Bone People (though it might be a little too Mātauranga Māori).

    AVOID Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils!

    1. Why avoid The Old Devils? I think it’s hilarious, and typical of Amis in his grumpy, misogynistic old age.

      His much earlier book about (other people’s) old age, Ending Up, is just as funny, and gratifyingly heartless to boot.

  12. The latest international Booker winner At Night All Blood is Black, by David Diop, is fantastic. I read the French version,Frère d’Ame. About Senegalese troops fighting for the French in WWI. Grim but brilliant. Current regular Booker winner, The Promise, by South African Damon Galgut is pretty good, too. I found Lincoln in the Bardo too wooing for my taste.

  13. John Banville’s “The Sea” (2005) finally won a Booker Prize, and his earlier “The Book of Evidence” (1989) was short-listed for it. But I think his finest novel is “The Untouchable” (1997). It combines his usual prose wizardry with an important historical context, and a sociology of inter-war and post-war Britain. [I suspect it wasn’t even short-listed because the jury was aghast at the keen analysis of British mentalities by an Irishman.] His work has, of course, won all kinds of other prizes.

  14. Lincoln in the Bardo, Wolf Hall, and Bring up the Bodies are all incredible books. Lincoln in the Bardo is about grief (well it’s about a lot of things, but grief is one of the main things) and yet it’s also got some very funny passages. Some of the characters in it are spirits in a graveyard, and there’s a mix of people from different ages and social classes-I loved the passages where they interact and talk about their lives (and their deaths), and Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies have haunting, powerful passages about revenge and rage. The protagonist is one of my favorite characters. In fact, I’m dragging my feet about reading the last book in the trilogy because I can’t bear to see Cromwell’s downfall.

    1. Apologies if this is a duplicate. I’m dragging my feet as well on Mantel number three. Got it on Kindle. I’ve read the first two books and really enjoyed the TV rendition of it.

  15. Not a Booker book, but you might try “American Harvest”, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett.
    She’s half-Japanese, grew up in Carmel, California; father (American) grew up in Nebraska, where the family still owns land, which is in wheat, contract farmed and harvested. She spends the summer with the harvest crew (farmers from Pennsylvania, who contract harvest in summer), traveling from the south (Crowell, Texas) north and west as the grains ripen. A different view of “flyover country”.

  16. Not a winner, but shortlisted and, I think, one of those books that will be considered *should* have won the Booker, is David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, an absolutely dazzling display of linguistic virtuosity. Six stories, all in different genres and registers, two of them set in the future with invented vocabularies. We get the first half of each story in chronological order, then the second halves in reverse order, ending where and when we began. Each story has thematic and plot links with its neighbour’s in subtle and unexpected ways. Highly recommended.

    1. Agree. I also liked his “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” but couldn’t get into his sci-fi-ish stuff, just not my taste.

    2. Cloud Atlas. Definitely my favorite of the past 20-ish years. I love that he knows it’s kind of gimmicky, calls himself out on it, but still delivers a perfect time and place-spanning story. The movie was a nice try, but a bit too much Wachowski

      1000 Autumns is a fantastic historical fiction with some extremely memorable characters. I have to believe PCC(E) would love Marinus.

      I recommend these to everyone. No exception here.

      (Side note: I heard a guy on NPR talking about birthing his botfly the other day. I thought, I know someone who had that same story! Guess who it turned out to be!)

  17. I enjoyed everyone’s recommendations, thank you. Just a note – the Amazon ‘Send a free sample’ option is very handy – it allows you to read enough to find out if you are going to like a book before purchasing, or before borrowing from the library.

  18. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. A magnificent achievement in terms of plot, characterisation, and historical authenticity.

  19. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga was great. So was The God of Small Things. True History of the Kelly gang as mentioned before. And Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books. I also liked Coetzee’s Disgrace a lot. McEwan’s Amsterdam not so much.

    1. Funny, I was just mentioning Coetzee’s and McEwan’s Booker winners below. You’ve made up my mind…I’ll start with “Disgrace”. Thanks!

    2. I could never get into The God of Small Things, but I have to say that the first page is probably the most evocative description of a far-off location that I have ever read.

      1. God of Small Things had maybe 5x too many similes for my taste iirc. It did have a beautiful cover🤓

  20. I have about 50 pages left of Scott’s 1st novel of the Raj Quartet, “The Jewel in the Crown”. It’s very sad, but beautifully written (somehow, that’s almost an understatement). The characters and the setting/landscape are unforgettable, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Including the 5th book mentioned here that I didn’t know about. So thanks! Bookshelf grows by one more book today. 🙂

    I’ll also second your recommendation for Pat Barker’s trilogy…absolutely fantastic.

    I’ve been wanting to read the Booker Prize winning books by Coetzee (“Disgrace”) and McEwan (“Amsterdam”) but I haven’t gotten around reading them yet, so can’t recommend; though everything I’ve read by those two authors has been brilliant.

  21. Yes to many of those above.

    Two others:

    Last Orders, by Graham Swift (1995): not quite his best book (which in my view is Waterland), but a worthy winner. (I was in the same class as Swift in our second year at secondary school – which he is on record as saying he hated).

    How late it was, how late, by James Kelman (1993): working-class Glaswegian misery at its finest.

    1. Yes, Waterland is better than Last Orders, but both great. Shame he hated your shared school days.

    2. How Late it Was was really good,though very dark. Loved the Graham Swift books, too. I’m doubling up on my comments because for the past 6 months or so I’ve had to fill in all my info every single time. Oh, speaking of dark but excellent, Shuggie Bain!

  22. I read only nonfiction so here are two of my recent ones: Garbriel Garcia Marquez “Scandal of the Century”, a collection of his actual news stories written when he was writing for a major Colombia newspaper, before his great novels were written. This is extraordinary and gripping journalism, as good as his novels, a real page turner. And Douglas Murray’s latest book, The War Against the West”, which is not a diatribe or political rhetoric but a documented comprehensive overview of
    wokeness, the dumb gender debate, Identity Politics, and the growing anti intellectualism and anti western civilization that is undermining academia and social discourse. He is also one of the best speakers of English and one of the best minds of our time, someone who still believes in logic, reason, evidence and the importance of knowledge and history. A breath of fresh air and sanity.

  23. In March, I was a poll worker for early voting at a local library. A lot of the people who came in to vote were people who were picking up books and decided to take care of the election while they were there. One of the voters had a book titled Beasts Of A Little Land by Juchea Kim. I was intrigued, and put a copy on hold. It is a story of life in Korea during the Japanese occupation between WWI and WWII, and I found it quite engaging. I recommend it heartily and look forward to reading Ms Kim’s future works.

  24. I recommend the 2014 Booker Prize winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan Let us know how you like it. I consider it a very important read.

  25. How to be Perfect: The correct answer to every moral question by Michael Shur of “The Good Place” TV series fame. Lots of humour mixed in with interesting moral philosophy discussions.

  26. The amount of people recommending non-Booker prize winners! Odd. Why do it? The host was very clear.

    Lincoln in The Bardo is exceptional and is also a very quick read. I purposefully slowed down so as to enjoy it more, but still finished in about 5 days (I read an hour or two before bed and usually have a few books on the go). I have it my Top 5 books of all time.

    The Promise by Damon Galgut is the most recent winner I’ve read and I can recommend. It’s dark, but aren’t many of the Bookers? I have Shuggie Bain on my shelf as my next one to read.

    I also found The Siege of Krishnapur very heavy going and is the one Booker I did not enjoy.

    1. I liked Siege of Krishnapur and liked Troubles even better.I have a third book of Farrell’s I’m waiting to read: The Singapore Grip.
      As an aside, I’m FINALLY immersed in Richard Powers’s masterpiece, The Goldbug Variations. I seem to be reading 600-pagers these days, so don‘t get through quite as many as usual.

      1. What did you like about it? It’s obviously good given its awards and reviews and Farrell’s reputation, but my recollection is that it really dragged. Many years ago now though!

        I do like the Wikipedia write up of The Troubles and have been tempted to give Farrell another go.

        1. It’s been so long that I don’t remember the specifics, just that I gave it a high rating on my excel books-read list. Troubles rated even higher and may be less of a slog.

  27. Paul Beatty’s “Sellout” is a hilarious (and serious) book about a black man who tries to re-institute segregation in order to get even. When white folks start to want to come to black schools… Not for snowflakes, the n-word pops up in every other sentence.

    1. Oh I LOVED Sellout. I read it when in came out and had forgotten all about it.Thanks for the reminder. It’s searingly funny.
      And btw Beatty is black.

  28. My top pick would be ‘Wolf Hall’. It’s a marvellous story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, who must be one of the great characters in literature. The novel is steeped in history too, but Mantel’s skill is to imbed it in the story; there are no long speeches or paragraphs whose aim is purely to “educate” (or to show how educated the author is, a failing of many historical novels). I also like how the writing revolves around Cromwell – “he” in the text always means Cromwell, and everyone else, even Henry VIII, is named, to differentiate them from him.

    I would also highly recommend ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’. Perhaps a little difficult to get into as it’s written in a highly vernacular style, but once you do, it’s an real adventure story of another great character (great in the literary sense, obviously).

    Happy reading.

  29. Don’t just stick to winners, as sometimes the committee messed up. I remember at the time the outcry when Golding won with Rites of Passage (a dismal and brief book which won because Golding was old and sick and at that point had been passed over for a Nobel) over Burgess’ masterpiece, Earthly Powers. I far preferred the runner up the previous year, Kenneally’s Confederates too. But Keneally did win a couple of years later, with Schindler’s Ark. So Earthly Powers, Confederates and Schindler’s Ark are my strong recommendations.

  30. This isn’t a Booker book, but I’m about to begin Christer Sturmark’s To Light the Flame of Reason — Douglas Hofstadter translated the book and wrote the Forward. I actually started reading the book a couple months ago, but in the very first paragraph of a chapter entitled Prelude, Sturmark mentions Stefan Zweig who, I’m ashamed to admit, I never heard of, so I stopped reading so I could learn about Zweig. I’ve now read a few of Zweig’s books and just finished, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the end of the world by George Prochnik.

  31. Not a Booker but I recommend, Gilgamesh, New English Version by Stephen Mitchell. In spite of its Marvel Comics like hero, I found the epic deeper and more human than the Jesus myth.

  32. I am reading Richard Powers Bewilderment, shortlisted last year. not so taken with it. He is a great writer, but Overstory I thought was very good, again shortlisted not a winner….


    I read the shortlisted Anita Mason, The Illusionist, 1983, & thought it really good – about a Jesus type figure, Simon Magus – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Illusionist_(Mason_novel)

    I enjoyed Peter Ackroyd’s short-listed Chatteron, decades ago.

    I find however I have not read any winner!

    1. I’ve been disappointed in Powers’s recentish books that you mentioned. His earlier Prisoner’s Dilemma and The Goldbug Variations were much much better, imho. His latest books have brcome too “preachy”.

  33. Atwood: The Testament

    Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo

    Mantel: Wolf Hall

    Roy: The God of Small Things

    These are those I’ve read and all are at least very good.

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