Booker Chat, Bets, & Latin Errors

A beautiful book and a safe choice.

The safe bet:  a stunning lyrical short novel

At our house we are reading the Man Booker Prize longlist. Not the whole list! Leave that to those who aren’t also finishing a huge book by Mr. Trollope.   But we have a stack of  Booker-longlisted  books, plucked from the library shelves with absolutely no waiting list, proving that no one in “X,” Iowa,  is overly excited about the finalists.

Hystopia David Means 51sgTORYDGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The risky bet: a stunning alternate history

I loved Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, a lyrical novel about a difficult mother-daughter relationship. This is a shoo-in if the judges are looking for a brilliant slender book along the lines of  Julian Barnes’ The Send of an Ending. I am equally thrilled with David Mean’s Hystopia, a  psychedelic alternate history of the ’60s about the effect of the Vietnam War on Americans, but it would be riskier:  it’s much more structurally complex, post-modern, experimental, outrageous, and, to be honest, it’s SF, so this would be a first for the Booker.

My husband has begun to weigh in on his reading.  He says of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, “It’s a first person letdown.”

the-sellout-51vbrqyhpzlHe is currently reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, and is reserving judgment. Unfortunately, he has found Latin errors.  Yup, my husband and I met in an “Age of Cicero” class, went to grad school together, and taught Latin.  And these errors ARE the editor’s fault, because Latin is complicated, endings on adjectives depend on the gender, number, and case of the noun, but, for heaven’s sake,  my husband and I aren’t the only classicists who see these at a glance.  (Or are we?)  Anyway, Mr. Beatty  writes some very nonsensical Latin, and here he can’t get the adjectives to agree with the nouns. (The errors are in bold print.

unum corpus, una mens, una cor, unum amor  (translation: “one body, one mind, one heart, one love”)

The correct version is:

unum corpus, una mens, unum cor, unus amor

The mistakes occur in the third and fourth pairs:  cor (“heart”) is a neuter singular nominative noun, so the adjective should end in  -um. Amor (love) is a masculine singular nominative noun, so the ending is -us. Continue reading

The Woman Question: The Man Booker Prize Longlist

man_booker_prize_logoThe internet has ruined literary awards for me.

Every year there is a new Man Booker Prize scandal.

I used to love the Booker Prize and have over the years read some great books on shortlists and longlists.

But, due to the fabulous invention of WiFi, I  can now read endless, wearisome Man Booker Prize gossip in The Guardian and other papers.  They report on the judges’ latest faux pas (and really why should we care?), the writers’ insane outbursts, and the bookies’ odds on the winner.  I love the longlist and the shorlist, but by the time the award is announced, I no longer care.

And now let me join the scandal rehashers.

This year’s scandal is woman-related.  The writer Kathy Lette complained to The Telegraph that there are only three women on the Booker longlist:  Ali Smith, Karen Joy Fowler and Siri Hustvedt.

I didn’t notice, because my feminist antennae are on vacation for the summer, and I mostly read dead writers anyway.  I may have a slight bias in favor of women writers, but we’re lucky in this era to find ANY good books, so gender doesn’t matter.  As one of my friends recently wrote, “I’m surprised there are any books left.”

But now I have to consider the woman question again.  Here I am, in late middle age, and nothing has changed since I was a young woman in the ’70s.

I’m reminded of Norman Mailer’s silly arguments that women couldn’t write.  He said he wrote with his penis.  That must have been very painful.

On the longlist are:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J,  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us, David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog, Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

The only one I’ve read is Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Prize.  I loved it, it is one of the best books I’ve read this year, but it might be a little too short for the Booker.  Don’t they usually go for the doorstops?

The other big scandal this year:  no Canadians on the longlist.

Oh, Come on! The National Book Award Fiction Finalists

Atia (Octavian/Augustus' mother) in "Rome" (played by Polly Walker)

Atia (Octavian/Augustus’ mother) in “Rome”

When I saw the announcement of the National Book Award fiction longlist in the Washington Post this morning, I thought, Here’s something I can get behind.  But then I nearly spit out my tea.

“This is a f—–g starf—-ers’ list!  The trollops!”

Excuse the f- words. I’m watching the second season of the HBO series, Rome, and every other word is f—.  “Very British,” my husband says.  “Very HBO,” I say.  I also now call everyone a trollop, because Atia, Octavian/Augustus’s mother (played by Polly Walker), uses the t-word.

The National Book Award has long been the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, to my mind:  I’ve never taken the Pulitzer seriously, what with their occasionally refusing to award it.  Now the NBA has a longlist-shortlist system, just like the Booker.  The poetry longlist was announced on Tuesday.  The nonfiction yesterday.  Today the fiction.

I don’t mind that my favorites of the year (see sidebar) didn’t make the longlist.  What I do mind is that there are only four writers on this list whose work I’ve never read.

Come on, give me something to work with here! I like to discover something new.

The list:

National Book Awards fiction 2013 lonTom Drury, “Pacific” (Grove).
Elizabeth Graver, “The End of the Point” (Harper).
Rachel Kushner, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner).
Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Lowland” (Forthcoming from Knopf on Sept. 24).
Anthony Marra, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (Hogarth).
James McBride, “The Good Lord Bird” (Riverhead).
Alice McDermott, “Someone” (Farrar Straus Giroux).
Thomas Pynchon, “Bleeding Edge” (Penguin).
George Saunders, “Tenth of December: Stories” (Random House).
Joan Silber, “Fools: Stories” (Norton).

I’ve read reviews of every book on this list except Pacific.

I’ve read all of Alice McDermott’s books.  I’ll read this one, too.  She won the National Book Award in 1998 for Charming Billy.

I admire Joan Silber, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri, James McBride, and Thomas Pynchon (who won the NBR in 1974 for Gravity’s Rainbow).

And so there are only four I’ve never read a word of.

“Is something wrong?” a family member asked.  He had spilled coffee all over his tie so wasn’t in the best of spirits.

“They’re trollops!”  I answered.

“Trollope?”  he asked.

“The judges!”


He went out the door.  I know I will have better luck discussing this online.

The judges are:  former New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath (chair), Charles Baxter (a brilliant novelist and short story writer),  Gish Jen (ditto),Rick Simonson, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, and René Steinke (a novelist I haven’t read).

Perhaps all these books are masterpieces.

Perhaps the judges have their eye on one of the few, very few, longshots.

It’s always wonderful when the award goes to someone unknown, though of course the unknowns are no longer unknown:  Lily Tuck, Andrea Barrett, Jaimy Gordon.

Perhaps the judges should develop a narrative about the writers for us so we’ll have something to care about.

MEANWHILE, EVERYONE IN THE UK is raging because the Man Booker Prize has been opened up to Americans.  They much prefer the Commonwealth, they say.

What is the Commonwealth?  one wonders.  O Can-a-da!  India, South Africa, Australia… is the “wealth” really “common”?

The Americans revolted long, long ago.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident…,” etc., etc.

There is no reason for the Booker to be open to Americans.

Americans do qualify for the Orange Prize/Women’s Prize, and often win it.

And so the Brits and I are steaming about different awards.