TJ Booker

There has been  a lot of talk lately about the Golden Booker. In celebration of 50 years of the Booker Prize they have decided to take what a panel of judges considers to be the best Booker winner from each decade and pit them against each other. I’m not paying too much attention to who they have picked for the short list. I’ve read a fair number of Booker short-listed books, but not that many winners and I doubt I would agree with the panel anyway.

And here is what I don’t get, the first award was given out in 1969, so why are they celebrating 50 in 2018? I’m as old as the Booker Prize and I will be damned if I am going to call myself 50 even one second prior to my birthday in 2019.

What I have compiled below is a top 10 list of all of the Booker short-listed novels I have read.  Since my list is made up not just of winners but of short-listers, I’ve noted in brackets if a short-lister was also a winner.

Top 10

1. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym 1977
2. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan 2007
3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes 2011 [winner]
4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood 2003
5. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark 1970 (Lost Booker)
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 1986
7. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner 1984 [winner]
8. 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster 2017
9. A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr 1980
10. The Glass Room by Simon Mawer 2009

Huh. This list surprises me as much as it may surprise you. Pym is in the top spot because I find her writing to be the result of literary alchemy. Others can write well, but she has a quality, an underlying sparkle and shimmer that all the other fine writers that follow cannot match–even though they may actually be better writers. Both On Chesil Beach and The Sense of an Ending really hit me in an emotional way. When I first created this top 10 list I was surprised how high up I put the Barnes, especially as  it knocked out some real heavyweights in the Hogglestock Pantheon. The two Atwoods and The Driver’s Seat are clever in a way that none of the others in the top 10 are. A Month in the Country is such a perfect little gem it is hard to believe it is as recent as it is. 4 3 2 1 and The Glass Room are both just amazing story telling. In the case of Mawer I feel The Glass Room really outshines his other fiction.

quite enjoyable

Bruno’s Dream by Iris Murdoch 1970
Heat and Dust
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala 1975 [winner]
The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively 1977
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch 1978 [winner]
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald 1978
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald 1979 [winner]
According to Mark by Penelope Lively 1984
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively 1987 [winner]
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald 1990
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields 1993
Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty 1997
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee 1999 [winner]
Unless by Carol Shields 2002
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy 2015

There is no way that any Penelope Fitzgerald, Penelope Lively, or Carol Shields would ever fall below the Quite Enjoyable category.


The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch 1969
The Public Image by Muriel Spark 1969
A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul 1979
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie 1981 [winner]
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan 1981
Small World by David Lodge 1984
Nice Work by David Lodge 1988
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 1989 [winner]
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood 1989
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan 1998 [winner]
Headlong by Michael Frayn 1999
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 2000 [winner]
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 2005
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy 2012
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 2015

enjoyable adjacent

In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul 1971 [winner]
The Folding Star
by Alan Hollinghurst 1994
Brick Lane by Monica Ali 2003
The Sea
by John Banville 2005 [winner]
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 2017


Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey 1988 [winner]
Utz by Bruce Chatwin 1988
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje 1992 [winner]
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf 1993 [winner]
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy 1997 [winner]
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar 2006
Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh 2016
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 2017 [winner]
Autumn by Ali Smith 2017

Unless I missed it, it kills me that Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill was never shortlisted. One of my favorite books and far better than Utz. I started off really enjoying Oscar and Lucinda but then it got very boring for me. I pretended to enjoy The English Patient back when I first read it (prior to film being made) but I think in retrospect I would probably hate it.

painful / tedious

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst 2004 [winner]
How to Be Both
by Ali Smith 2014
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 2015

17 thoughts on “TJ Booker

  1. BookerTalk May 29, 2018 / 10:03 am

    I’m with you in being confused why this is the 50th anniversary. Can’t the Booker people count?? The other baffling things about this Golden Booker ‘award’ are that they made a shortlist by choosing from each decade instead of choosing all candidates from across the 50 years. And then they gave the task to one judge so not much discussion/debate about which to choose.


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 7:59 am

      I think it would have been more interesting for them to choose from the shortlists or even long lists. I’d love to know how they think certain books have weathered the years.


  2. kaggsysbookishramblings May 29, 2018 / 1:49 pm

    Have to agree with you about the Barnes – I’ve had it lying about for ages and finally read it recently for a forthcoming Shiny New Books special and thought it was stunning. Barnes’ writing is just so good!


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 8:00 am

      What struck me so much about The Sense of an Ending is that I have had situations in my life that I remember so, so differently only to find out how wrong I have been and what a huge ass I was.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. winstonsdad May 29, 2018 / 4:58 pm

    Mmm time does change how we view books and winners I love the English patient but maybe now would find it plain. William Trevor should have won his books are great and paddy Clark ha ha and famished road are my two favourite books


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 10:15 am

      I think Ondjaate is a great writer, it just isn’t what I find enjoyable reading.


  4. Pip May 29, 2018 / 6:03 pm

    Their calculations seem correct to me. The first actual prize was given in 1969 so 2018 will be the fiftieth actual prize to be given. In your case, when you were born in 1969, you were zero years old. It was your year/date of birth but not your first birthday as we count them for people. You had to wait a whole year until you were considered to be a full year old and could celebrate your first birthday. Counting from there you will celebrate your fiftieth birthday in 2019. If the actual day on which you were born had been counted as your first birthday, as with the first Booker prize, then you would be fifty years old in 2018. It has to do with it being inanimate whereas you had to “grow” for a whole year before you were considered to be one year old. In Booker terms you will actually have had fifty birthdays this year so take your pick!!


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 8:01 am

      You know, I actually did the math, but I stupidly did the math for my age, not the prize. I put it in a spreadsheet showing year zero, etc. but for some reason I just looked at my age and didn’t plot the prize next to it. I was very conscious about not making the very mistake I made. Hmm.


  5. Anthony Catanzariti May 29, 2018 / 9:06 pm

    It seems we are the same age. And I too love Anita Brookner. But where is your The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan? And Alias Grace – my favourite Atwood novel? And In the Skin of a Lion?


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 7:58 am

      I’m not sure how I missed Alias Grace and In the Skin of a Lion. I probably would have put both of them in the Meh category. AG is my least favorite Atwood. I even read it a second time about 15 years later to make sure I hadn’t missed something the first time. In general Ondaatje is not my cup of tea. As for TNRTTDN, I’ve never read it.


      • Anthony Catanzariti May 30, 2018 / 7:51 pm

        The Narrow Road to the Deep North is probably my current favourite novel, replacing Nikos Kazantsakis’ Freedom and Death which moves into second place.
        It’s possible I loved it not just because of the writing but because the topics it explores aren’t what I usually choose to read about but it was incredible. And I was so moved. I haven’t continued to think about a novel long past finishing it, which I did here, since I read Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron.
        I also just finished reading Kamile Shamsie’s Home Fire which I really liked.


  6. Liz Dexter May 30, 2018 / 5:43 am

    Love this! And at least The Sea, The Sea wasn’t too far down the list!


    • Thomas May 30, 2018 / 8:03 am

      Of Murdoch’s Booker shortlisted novels, I like The Sea, The Sea, the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Grier May 30, 2018 / 12:33 pm

    It’s too difficult to choose a top ten! I agree with your comments on Chatwin. On the Black Hill won the Whitbread for best first novel and the James Tait Black Memorial fiction award for best English language novel in 1982, and I liked it much more than Utz. Time for a re-read.


  8. Literary Relish May 30, 2018 / 3:16 pm

    Great post, so much to think about. Your bit on The English Patient makes me giggle as I was exactly the same and am pretty sure I pretended I liked it when I was pretty indifferent. Felt similarly Oscar and Lucinda as well although I really surprised myself by enjoying Lincoln in the Bardo, unprecedented reaction really. I have a book club discussion on it on Tuesday which I’m hoping will be lively. Also agree on the meh to God of Small Things which was a massive fail as I took it ALL the way to India to read the bloody thing, soak in the atmosphere and all that, and it was still a fail.
    Too many of the good ones to agree on (always easier to focus on the negative XD) but your Top Ten are so different from mine. I never fully embraced the Maddam trilogy to be honest. Particularly the last book. Meh.


  9. TravellinPenguin May 31, 2018 / 8:56 pm

    They awarded the first Booker in 1969 so that is number one. 1969. 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78. I’ll let you continue to count and see how 50 comes up this year. Laughing here. I don’t usually read the Booker prize winners because I have never enjoyed the ones I do read. I’m sure that wouldn’t always be the case so I don’t get too excited with them on the whole.


  10. Susan in TX June 2, 2018 / 11:58 am

    Unless I missed one, I’ve only read 5 of the winners: Hotel du Lac, Remains of the Day, Possession, Wolf Hall, and Bring Up the Bodies. (I accidentally saw the movie of Life of Pi – does that count?) My memory of Possession was that it was a complete waste of time. I’ve read more of the short list – and like you, enjoyed more of them. I also have quite a few on my TBR that I didn’t even realize were Booker short list titles. I’m not sure that I had ever heard of the Booker Prize until I entered the book blogging world in 2009-ish, though, so my lack of awareness is not that surprising.


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