Man Booker 2018 Longlist Reaction

I wasn’t initially planning on making a reaction post about this, and I still don’t intend to go through the list title by title (if you’re curious about my thoughts on any title in particular though don’t hesitate to ask!)

But the more I think about this year’s list and the more reactions I read/watch, the more I feel like getting my thoughts down all in one place.

mbp-longlist-fullstack202
Photo from the Man Booker website.

So, in case you missed it – The Man Booker 2018 longlist was announced!  And I think it caught everyone by surprise.  There are a lot of noteworthy elements in play: a graphic novel was longlisted for the first time, there’s also a crime novel (not a first, but still unexpected), there are four debuts, more female writers than male, no countries represented outside the UK/Ireland/US/Canada, and several big name authors who everyone thought were guaranteed a spot were overlooked (Barnes, Hollinghurst, Smith, Ward, et al).

Naturally, reactions have been completely split – a lot of people find the list fresh and exciting, while others find it sophomoric and believe it’s compromising the integrity of the Booker.  I’m firmly in the first camp.

I find the complaint that I keep seeing crop up, that the Man Booker is pandering to a non-literary crowd with this year’s longlist, is incredibly ironic since last year’s list in my opinion supports that claim much better.  Swing Time, Underground Railroad, Lincoln in the Bardo, etc., all of these titles were incredibly mainstream in a way that none of this year’s nominees are.  How many of your non-reader friends do you think are going to pick up From a Low and Quiet Sea or even Warlight?  I mean, obviously literary prizes do not exist in a vacuum, obviously judges look at what their selection as a whole says rather than just choosing the 13 ‘best’ titles.  Obviously this list shows a deliberate interest in debut authors and lesser known works.  But do I believe that this list is less ‘literary,’ less valuable than any that have come before, just because it acknowledges debuts above established white male writers?  Absolutely not.

Also, literary prizes are inherently subjective.  This isn’t anything new.  Judges each have their own strengths and weaknesses as readers, and expecting that subjectivity to be entirely removed from the selection process is utterly pointless.  This year’s panel of judges has a certain vision for the Booker, but who’s to say that next year’s panel is going to be similar?  I think the 2017 and 2018 longlists are night and day from one another – personally I find the 2018 list much more interesting – but all this talk of the Booker essentially jumping the shark in my opinion is totally premature.  It’s difficult to track ‘trends’ with a literary prize that uses a different judging panel every single year.

I don’t know – I just get tired of argument along the lines of ‘is this list really the best fiction published in the past year?’ (usually in reference to the Established White Male Authors who were overlooked) when the answer is always, always, always going to be of course not, of course it’s not the ‘best’ fiction, there is no such thing as the ‘best’ fiction.  171 titles were submitted for consideration this year, and I’m sure that each and every one of them has its merits and shortcomings.  A different panel of judges would have probably selected 13 different books altogether, but does the merit of that hypothetical list negate the merit and validity of the list we were given?

I think it’s an interesting list.  I like that it’s not what we expected.  I don’t think it’s perfect, not by a long shot, but I am looking forward to discovering at least a handful of great new books and authors.

What are your thoughts on the Man Booker longlist?  And the Man Booker (or even literary prizes) in general?  Comment and let me know!

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32 thoughts on “Man Booker 2018 Longlist Reaction

  1. I love it! (your thoughts, I mean)
    I obviously agree and I am really living for the different reactions to the longlist. I find it an interesting mix and I am looking forward to all the reviews that will begin to crop up of books I might have otherwise missed – which is why I love literary prizes so much. Also, it always feels like a neat little world wide book club with lots of people bringing different ideas to the books – and yes to that!
    Subjectivity is THE BEST.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! That is exactly what I love about literary prizes as well. Hearing all the different reactions to the same set of books within the span of a few months is SO much fun. I think that’s what appeals to a lot of people about these prizes, so it’s ironic when these people embrace readers’ subjectivity and then don’t extend that to the judges. Subjectivity is an intrinsic element to this whole thing. Personally I think it’s fun that some people adore the list and some people hate it. I can’t wait for the review posts/videos for these books to start rolling in!

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  2. I’m so excited that this is so diverse and new! I think a lot of literary prizes, and what’s considered “good literature,” end up being pretty much the same all the time. The books by Old White Men or that are similar to what Old White Men would write are considered, and that’s it. I love that they’re becoming more open and diverse and mainstream! Like yes these awards are supposed to be for good literature, but good literature should also be mainstream because ultimately they should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, absolutely! I think all ‘good literature’ should absolutely be accessible. But the whole ‘it’s too mainstream’ argument is so funny to me, because there are SO MANY ‘mainstream’ titles that could have been included on this list (Eleanor Oliphant, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Circe, A Place For Us) that were overlooked in favor of more obscure titles… so there are kind of two levels here: 1) the list is not as mainstream as its dissenters are claiming, 2) mainstream =/= bad literature.

      And I’m so sick of how ‘be a white man’ is essentially the litmus test for literary talent. This list isn’t perfect in terms of diversity but it’s a lot more inclusive than it has been in the past, and that’s a good thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know we’ve discussed our thoughts already, but I just wanted to reiterate that I agree with everything you said here.

    Subjectivity and diversity are key, and since literature itself is ever-evolving, prizes have to be willing to do the same. With different judging panels, different books, different authors, and different publishing trends at play each time, it stands to reason that longlists are going to have a different flavour year-on-year. It’s refreshing and interesting as far as I’m concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes! Willingness for prizes to evolve is so important. I know some people are concerned with the Booker’s integrity being compromised, but in a prize where over twice as many men have won as women, where less than a fifth of winners have been writers of color, I say it’s time to compromise that so-called ‘integrity’. This list definitely isn’t perfect in terms of diversity but it’s such a step up from recent years, and if it helps rejuvenate interest in a prize which has largely been dominated by white men for 50 years, I think that’s utterly fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! Prizes are supposed to be reflective of that year in the publishing world. More women, queer people, and people of colour are getting published than ever before (quite bloody rightly), and so it’s important that longlists reflect that. It was enough for lists to be made up of old, straight white dudes in the past, because they were the only ones taken seriously, but not anymore.

        As for the ‘too accessible’ argument; why should obscurity, experimentation or inaccessibility automatically denote quality? Is ‘readable’ really such a bad thing? 🤷🏼‍♂️

        Liked by 1 person

      • VERY good point – books aren’t created or published in a vacuum so we can hardly expect factors like the social climate and publishing trends to be ignored in literary prizes. Like, is Julian Barnes really the be-all-end-all of the state of publishing? Is that REALLY as good as it’s ever gonna get?

        Ugh, for sure! There are some experimental novels I’ve really loved, but is experiment for experiment’s sake really an indicator of quality? Readability is one of many factors that should be considered an asset, not a detriment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Precisely. I find it so disheartening that so many readers don’t seem to be of the opinion that there’s room for a bit of everything in literature – and that reflecting that in prize longlists is simply natural progression.

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  4. A fantastic post! I completely agree with you – I do think lists from a couple of previous years have been more mainstream than this one. I personally find this one to be refreshing and interesting. Moreover, I could not agree with you more on the whole “is it the best fiction published” attitude. Of course not, and I don’t think that any literary prize is. But I do think that the way the readers react to a list and how different opinions start coming in after the list comes out is very indicative of how the books are perceived and by the looks of it, this is a very intriguing list for the book community! Loved your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you ever so much! 🙂

      It’s just mind-blowing to me that with last year’s list (big name after big name; bestseller after bestseller), THIS is the list that’s being accused of being mainstream and ‘not literary enough.’ Honestly it’s probably some combination of there not being as many male writers as usual, and the snobbery against genre fiction. There are TWO genre fiction titles (Snap and Sabrina) and 11 ~literary fiction – I hardly think the Booker is in danger of being overrun by genre fiction. It’s just how the chips fell this year. And I’m so glad you share my frustrations with the ‘best fiction’ argument, it’s just so nonsensical. Literary quality is always going to be subjective!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear that! The only one I’ve read is the Donal Ryan which I really loved. Otherwise, the ones I’m most looking forward to are Milkman, Normal People, In Our Mad and Furious City. Slightly lower tier: Everything Under, The Water Cure, Snap, Sabrina…. this may be a ‘fuck it I might as well read the whole longlist’ situation but we’ll see I guess! Which are you planning on reading?

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  5. Great post. It’s definitely interesting, and I liked how varied it is. Indeed not everyone is going to love all the selections in the longlist, because not everyone loves all the genres in the world. I myself am quite excited about some of them, especially the crime novel Snap by Belinda Bauer.

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  6. Love the acknowledgment that OF COURSE it’s not a list of the “best fiction published this year”. I think if more commentators were willing to consider that possibility – that it’s the very subjectivity of the Booker and all other prize lists that differentiate them from one another – we’d probably have more constructive conversations about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I’m just so tired of that particular discourse that treats the concept of ‘the best’ like it’s some kind of attainable ideal that the Booker can actually be expected to meet. There are so many more interesting conversations we could be having about this.

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  7. I was intrigued to see what your reaction(s) would be! I don’t know much about literary awards in general, but I know you keep an eye on this one and had heard it was more on the interesting side this year. There were a few that I really want to check out from this list, though. I’ll have to keep you updated on what I end up thinking. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh yes I can’t wait to hear your thoughts! Which ones will you be picking up? I’m entertaining the idea of reading the entire longlist but the biggest issue with that is how inaccessible this list is to US readers, I think there are about 8 that haven’t even been published here?! And I don’t want to bankrupt myself on Book Depository. Ugh. So we’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

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