2012 Man Booker Prize


Here’s the longlist for this year’s Booker Prize:

The Yips by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre)

Philida by André Brink (Harvill Secker)

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)

Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt)

Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury)

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)

Communion Town by Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)

I’ve set a personal record this year: I’ve only read one of the 12 (Skios, by Michael Frayn). While I enjoyed it immensely and am a confirmed admirer of Frayn, I do find its inclusion on the longlist a bit strange — farce is not a genre that the Booker usually recognizes and this is definitely farce.

The only other book that I have on hand is Bring Up The Bodies, so I had better get to it soon — I was in the minority in not liking Wolf Hall very much but will do my best to approach it with an open mind.

I’ve read and reviewed the entire longlist in each of the three previous years of this blog’s existence (well, I did cheat a bit last year with one guest review and one title abandoned — you can find previous years’ reviews far down in the sidebar on the right). I’ve checked out the 10 titles that I don’t have and confess that I won’t be attempting the entire longlist this year. I could only find four that interested me (Barker, Levy, Joyce and Thompson) so that will be my “longlist” reading. If enough of the six that I plan to read make the shortlist, I would still intend to give it a go.

Having said that, this year again looks like one where the jury has chosen to make a “statement” by including a lot of lesser known authors and overlooking well-known or well-reviewed ones (McEwan, Smith, Amis, Carey, Warner, just for a start). I don’t object to that approach but have to say at first glance that I don’t think my tastes have a lot in common with their statement.

Incidentally, the Man Booker people abandoned their popular debate forum when they revamped their website last week — a shame because that was where I got interested in online blogging and met many friends, a number of whom show up regularly in comments here. Trevor from the Mookse and the Gripes coincidentally was opening a new forum at the same time — you can find it here . If you check it out, you will find a spirited Booker discussion is already under way — in no way is that meant to discourage anyone from commenting on this post or the books themselves when I get around to reviewing them. We tend to get longer comments here and I don’t want to abandon the Booker completely.


64 Responses to “2012 Man Booker Prize”

  1. Kerry Says:

    Selfishly, I am disappointed I will not get from you the vicarious experience of reading the Booker longlist. But I absolutely understand. Sometimes, prize lists just do not entice. (By the way, of those that do (Giller), your reviews make converts. Half Blood Blues was very good. I mention that because I have not reviewed it yet on my blog (hiatus…boo) despite having read it awhile ago and, so, my thanks to you is overdue. So, thank you.)

    I will, though, be eagerly looking forward to your coverage of those that do interest you. Your opinions are reliable guideposts for me and always entertaining/interesting too.


  2. Michael Says:

    I liked Harold Fry. Garden of Evening Mist is just the same-old Asian exoticism crap from the author from his previous long-listed book as well. Not going anywhere near Hall. I just don’t ‘get’ her historic fiction. The rest looks intriguing (and new) so will do my best to read them all.


  3. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kerry, Michael: One thing that I have learned from the last couple of years is that I only frustrate myself if I try to rush through a bunch of books that don’t have any appeal from the start. If some of them make it through to the shortlist, then I should probably pay attention.

    There does seem to be a lot of variety on this list and that is probably a good thing. Last year’s had a lot of variety as well — the problem was that so many were badly-written. I’m hoping that won’t be the case this year.


  4. Sazerac Says:

    Has it been a year already? I can’t say I’m that enthused by an initial look at the list. And I’m with you on this one, Kevin, I’m not going to give myself a headache trying to read stuff that doesn’t appeal. One thing’s for sure – I don’t think we’re going to have the ‘readability’ debate this time.


  5. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sazerac: The jury did seem to go out of its way to reject the seemingly obvious. And a quick look at some of the descriptions of the books that I didn’t know about suggests that “challenge” might be replacing “readability” with this year’s jury.


  6. Judge Mary Says:

    Here is that judge from Houston again,While I’m sad that “Capital” did not make the longlist,I like opening the doors to writers who are unknown to me. I’m sad,too, that many of these are not available yet. So I have ordered the only two, Kevin, that are, and on which we agree, Joyce and Thompson. I already had Frayn

    Thank you for telling me where to find Discussions.Sometimes I think ManBooker just wants to annoy us.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Judge Mary: ManBooker does seem to do everything it can to get in the way of readers who want to pay attention.

      I too wanted Capital on the list, but I can understand why it got left off. And I hope you enjoy the Frayn as much as I did.


  7. Brett Says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Well, like many (I think), I was surprised by this year’s longlist. I have only read one of the books on the list – “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” – which, while enjoyable (I would call it a “feel good” book), paled in comparison to I. J. Kay’s haunting and complex “The Mountains of the Moon” which did NOT make the list, and is surely one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Forget the longlist this year – read “The Mountains of the Moon” instead.


  8. Guy Savage Says:

    I hadn’t heard of most of these, and as usual when I went to look up the plots, most have ZERO appeal. I bought Skios so that’s an exception, and then there’s The Yips described as:
    “the filthiest state of the nation novel since Martin Amis’ Money.” Filthy. Martin Amis. And funny. I’m in.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Guy: I’ve read two Nicola Barkers — they tend to be somewhat choppy in the delivery but she does have a way about her. I wasn’t surprised to see her make the list.


      • Guy Savage Says:

        Good to know, thanks


        • Guy Savage Says:

          Just dropped by to mention THE BRIEF–along the same lines as SILK. It’s older and not as snappy, strongly characterised or as well edited. After the first couple of episodes, though, I’m beginning to think the crimes are well done. And I’m also seeing some strong connections: the wayward law clerk, being forced to represent marginal clients. Anyway, it’s growing on me. have you seen it?


          • KevinfromCanada Says:

            We liked Silk — I’ve looked at The Brief but we’ll probably save it until next winter. When we are also looking forward to more seasons of Killing, Borgen and the Bridge — Nordic Noir rules!!!

            Can’t wait until The Headhunters comes out later this month as well.


  9. Lee Monks Says:

    At the very least Barker gives you something to think about, be it her unique amalgam of the demotic and the humourously abstruse, or her marginal troupe of bizarros. With Barker on the list, you’ve got someone you can chew over, someone at least striking and divisive. My query about some of the writers on the list is that they are none of those things: they are not interesting in any way whatsoever, or they are marking time, or they are not remotely worthy of some unfathomable omissions. And as John Self reminded me yesterday, they haven’t even put the allowed 13 on there, which is disgraceful. Another disappointment. Once again the other awards, the Giller, the National Book Award, will leave the Booker looking puny and insignificant and ill-considered. I wish someone would sort it out but the whole thing is a mess: last year it was a tawdry farrago all about ‘stories’ and sales, with the eligible books largely kindle-skimmed in taxis and limos; this time it’s predominantly boring, which is unforgivable.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Well, I have to agree that some of the publisher’s descriptions of titles certainly don’t spark my interest. And in the last couple of years it seems to have become fashionable for juries to leave off established “names” — I’m not sure overlooking them serves the Booker goal of increasing book sales.

      As for overlooking book 13, another aspect of this year’s list is that 9 of the 12 titles come from English authors — if I remember correctly it was only a few years back that wasn’t a single one on the longlist. Not sure that I even want to put an interpretation on that.


  10. Sazerac Says:

    There’s something quite annoying about books being on the list when they haven’t yet been published. It really does magnify the impression of a closed circle.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Sazerac: It’s annoying but I can understand it. They want to get the list out in time for maximum influence in fall buying (I certainly appreciate having it in July). Putting novels published in Aug. and Sept. off to the next year would be even worse. I don’t particularly mind having to remind myself to buy a couple later on — certainly the four that I did order yesterday will keep me occupied for a while. And I have something to look forward to since both the Moore and Brink did spark some personal interest (unlike a few that have already been published).


  11. anokatony Says:

    Occasionally I will check the Minneapolis Public Library waiting list to determine a book’s appeal. I saw that the Harold Fry book by Rachel Joyce already has a waiting list of 273. I’m impressed for a book I never heard of.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Tony: Many thanks for that — I’ll take it as a good indication of popular demand somewhere far away from where I am. My theory would be that Fry’s novel has attracted enough attention (quickly) that some of the book identifiers for “ahead-of-the-curve” book clubs have spotted this one. I haven’t read it but reviews suggest it has book club potential — well-written, emotional engagement, nothing too distracting.

      Just as a matter of interest, how many copies does the Minneapolis Library have on hand or plan to order? I buy all my books, so I am out of touch with current library practice.


      • anokatony Says:

        For the Harold Fry novel there are 43 copies available and 273 waiting requests. For ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ there are also 43 copies available and 340 waiting requests. For ‘Gone Girl’ there are 150 available copies and 1466 waiting requests. That is the most I’ve ever seen.


    • Brett Says:

      I HAVE read this book, and (IMO) it is a feel good book at best – along the lines of The Help. I know others have a different opinion, but the story was just too pat for my liking. Just thought I’d weigh in on the discussion.


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Your opinion comes close to mine on the idea of “book club” book. A good story, well presented, but not a serious challenge. I have nothing against that (and look forward to reading it) but I’d like something more from a prize winner.


        • Brett Says:

          Now that I have your attention (:-)) please make Mountains of the Moon a priority. I’m curious to know your opinion in this, I feel, highly overlooked book. ?


          • britta homm Says:

            Something in your comments (Brett) made me order Mountains of the Moon. I am 100 pages in and I am intoxicated. How could this book have been overlooked?


            • Brett Says:

              I’m so glad you are enjoying (if that’s the right word!) it. I read it several months ago and it still haunts me. How this was overlooked is beyond me. Another book you might be interested in is The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan which, sadly, has yet to find a North American publisher.


        • anokatony Says:

          Just as a counter-argument, I will say that the Booker judges must have thought the Rachel Joyce book had more literary value that the new one by Ian McEwan.


  12. Guy Savage Says:

    Look at the mess concerning the recent pulitzer fiasco. I’d be pissed if I spent a year reading books, discussing them for a shortlist and then …. nothing.


  13. Guy Savage Says:

    I was a bit disappointed in The Brief at first as it seemed to be on the copycat side (there’s even a character w/prostate cancer), but then it came first. As I said it’s growing on me and I’m starting to enjoy the characters. I’m looking forward to Headhunters too.


  14. sshaver Says:

    I like the idea of letting some lesser-known people in, as long as their writing is not second-rate.

    The only criterion should be literary excellence.


  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    sshaver: The problem last year was that the longlisting mainly drew attention to books that were simply not well written. I don’t think juries do authors any favour when they draw attention to a badly written work. I am all for promoting lesser-known names, but they have to have produced a work of quality.


  16. Lee Monks Says:

    If the judges thought that the Rachel Joyce book was better written than the Keith Ridgway, Martin Amis or James Kelman book then they are not fit for purpose. It couldn’t be simpler: they are wrong. There are opinions and there are facts. The Booker Prize should not be about anything other than literary excellence. Who cares if ‘the story’ isn’t breezy enough or the writing isn’t particularly easy? Since when did any of that become a virtue when looking out for literary standards? Once upon a time this seemed to be understood, and there are awards out there for nice books that one can read with a cocktail on the beach. Let’s look out for standards – someone has to (the judges don’t seem to be too worried).


  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: Ummm….I gather you find some of the longlist puzzling. Since I’ve only read one of them, I’m biting my tongue for now — although I am scratching my head wondering how they left The Deadman’s Pedal off the list. And I will certainly have an opinion once I have a read a couple more of the titles.


  18. Lee Monks Says:

    Yes but I’ll shut up about it now. It’s just more of the same this year – from both me and the judges. There are some great things out there at the moment that more than compensate for increasingly irrelevant literary awards. I look forward to your future thoughts on listed titles, Kevin.


  19. Mary Gilbert Says:

    I feel, like you Kevin, that the Olympics are holding my attention more than the Booker at the present moment. Road races take up a deal of time and excitement not to mention the hours devoted to my perverse passion for weightlifting. When I do `stick my nose in a book’ as my Gran used to say, I’m enjoying one of your recommendations: Cool Water by Dianne Warren with Ned Boulting’s book about the Tour de France for my non fiction read. Living in France has turned me into a Tour junkie and a thorough Wiggophile. Your preliminary long list comments and those of fellow bloggers like Lee have at least primed me for Booker duties later on in August


  20. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Mary: Thanks for being so understanding — there are some sports (including cycling, I must admit) that I pay attention to only for 17 days every four years. The coverage of the cycling has been superb and would rank as our favorite event so far. Rowing would be right up there but the live coverage is in the middle of the night for us so all we get to see is the last 500 metres.

    Glad you are enjoying Cool Water — it is one of those novels that has got better with time and reading some other books (e.g.Richard Ford’s Canada) set in the same area.


  21. Lee Monks Says:

    Is The Deadman’s Pedal as good as ‘Wiggo”s sideburns, though?


  22. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: “As good” is a difficult term to apply in the comparison. Simon does compare with Wiggo in that he is still searching for his identity. And they both do like the occasional pint.


  23. Anna van Gelderen Says:

    I read Harold Fry last month, found it hugely enjoyable, but far too lightweight to be Booker Prize material. I would be very surprized if it made the shortlist.


  24. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Anna: Now that the Olympics are over, I’ll be getting the blog back in action and get into some Booker reading. I’ve started Swimming Home, Harold Fry is going to be next and then, I think, The Yips — perhaps Mantel, which I do have to get to sometime soon.


    • Anna van Gelderen Says:

      That would be lovely, Kevin. I would be particularly interested in your opinion of The Yips. I have been meaning to read one of Barker’s book for ages, but can’t seem to get around to it (too many distractions, and I don’t even watch the Olympics).
      Mantel’s novel is already on my shelf. I found her earlier A Place of Greater Safety a dreadful slog, but was very pleasantly surprised by Wolf Hall, even though it took me a while to warm to it.


  25. Lee Monks Says:

    Mantel’s popularity surprises me, still. I really like Barker and am enjoying The Yips. But Umbrella is a grand piece of work. I’d love for the latter two to get amongst the final six though that’s surely too much to hope.


  26. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: With the Olympics over, I am back to reading and blogging. Your enthusiasm for Umbrella is duly noted, although with five longlisters on hand I do feel I should get through them first — so Will Self may have to make the shortlist if I am to take him on soon.

    I’m not surprised at Mantel’s success. Booker juries always seem to feel a need to have a longish, historical novel on the list and hers do fit that bill. And she is certainly a book club favorite.


  27. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I’m definitely curious to hear more about the Self. I share Kevin’s lack of surprise about the Mantel, and if they are going to have a big historical novel on the list (and they are) at least it’s by someone who by all accounts can write.


  28. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Forgot to say, do I remember correctly Kevin that you plan to skip the Beauman?


  29. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I’ll be leaving the Beauman until the shortlist. Don’t read anything negative into that — when you haven’t read 11 of the 12 longlist titles, you have to put some off. My going-in issue with him would be that reviews of his last novel left me thinking he is a bit too “cult” for my tastes. And I would love to be proved wrong if I do read his book.


  30. Lee Monks Says:

    I am very confident that Self will make the cut; I know I’ve said such things before but they can’t seriously leave it off. It’s a genuinely brilliant piece of work for me. I hope it gets on there anyway.

    I’m not surprised, off the back of Wolf Hall, to see the new Mantel on there. And she is a good writer. I must confess though that, upon seeing her name included in the initial twelve, I winced.


  31. Max Cairnduff Says:

    John Self abandoned the Self twice interestingly, he restarted it after reading Will Self’s interview in the Guardian but still didn’t get on with it. I’m still very interested in hearing more about it though so I’d also hope it gets on the shortlist so there are some reviews of it from trusted bloggers.

    Assuming Wolf Hall deserved its Booker it would be odd in a way for the ssequel not to be on the list unless she’d had a massive drop in quality (and I’ve heard nothing to suggest that).


  32. mfcrpittman Says:

    I guess since I now have a WordPress account for work, my id is different than my RickP handle from the past.

    It’s Booker/Giller time so I’m back to commenting instead of just lurking.

    I’ve read exactly 0 of the Booker long list thus far but based on the comments here, I’m starting with Mantel, Frayn and Joyce. I’ve aso ordered Barker and Self via the Book Depository.

    I look forward to this year’s discussion.

    I guess I’m not surprised with Man Booker taking out the Forum on their site. The admin errors last year were terrible. They were probably also not anxious to deal with a certain thorn in their side from Western Canada.

    I’ve just started the Mantel.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Welcome back, Rick — your comments are always appreciated.

      As part of your Booker discussion, you might want to check in on the forum that my fellow Shadow Giller judge Mookse has opened — link is http://mookseandgripes.myfreeforum.org/index.php . His main interest is discussion of smaller publishers but the Booker category has separate threads for each book and some general discussion headings.

      And I certainly continue to welcome both Booker and Giller comments here. We’ll be announcing Shadow Giller plans next week.


  33. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee, Max: bookermt, who was a Shadow Giller judge a few years back and is a consistent source of good Booker information, started and abandoned the Self three times, which I interpret as a not-good sign. So far, Lee’s enthusiasm seems somewhat isolated — in no way do I mean to suggest it is wrong. Perhaps the book is one of those that provokes very diverse responses.


  34. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: Well, I guess I have to read Umbrella now that it has made the shortlist. I’ll probably give Moore and Mantel a go as well but have to admit that I have no interest in Evening Mists or Narcopolis, particularly when there are interesting Giller books on the pile.


  35. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I’ll be interested in your thoughts on Umbrella Kevin. On Evening Mists, I have a review copy so I’ll share my thoughts on that in a bit. If it wins it will be a much more traditional sort of winner than this year seems to be favouring generally, but juries by their nature are prone to surprising people.


  36. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I think the longlist showed a split between what I would call the conventional and the unconventional. And that that has been preserved in the shortlist — Mantel, Moore and Tan on one side, Self, Levy and Thayil on the other. Who knows what winner will emerge?


  37. John Self Says:

    For the record, and since I haven’t really commented on it in a ‘permanent’ space elsewhere, I quite liked what I read of the Self (150 pages all told). I also didn’t find it as difficult as some have made out. But I didn’t find it all that rewarding either. I felt, ultimately, that I could have read another 250 pages and felt exactly the same about it as I did at the point I gave up. Certainly the writing is engaging and occasionally brilliant.

    Why did I abandon it then? I seem to have developed an intense opposition to spending time on any book that I’m not getting a good deal out of, even if I actually quite like it. That may seem perverse, and there may be an element of self-deception in it (perhaps it’s more to do with wanting to get through books as quickly as possible, and justifying that in any way I can). I felt the same way about Lawrence Norfolk’s John Saturnall’s Feast, which is published today and which I expect to see lots of praise for in the coming weeks. I read 100 pages of it. It’s a good solid historical novel, well-written and without obvious faults. But I didn’t get that much out of it – and more notably, after his last book, I expected something more ambitious from Norfolk. Interestingly, I found out in an interview with him last weekend that he had indeed started something more ambitious – a novel called The Levels – and had spent five years on it before giving up in sheer exhaustion and inability to pull the elements of it together. I feel that, despite its failure, I’d rather have read that one than the one he did finish.


  38. KevinfromCanada Says:

    “I seem to have developed an intense opposition to spending time on any book that I’m not getting a good deal out of, even if I actually quite like it.”

    My issue seems to be the exact opposite — having decided that a book is worth trying, I feel a need to finish it, even if the experience is proving disappointing. I guess the notion is that I will learn something that might help me avoid the mistake in future.

    Actually, I’m happy I have the time to be able to do that. I can remember when I was writing a book column and interviewing a lot of authors, I had to begin (and finish) a lot of books that had only marginal interest for me. Time for reading was much more constricted then and I can remember longing to be able to have my schedule determined by my interests (flawed though some of them might prove to be) rather than what the current marketing schedule dictated.

    That was certainly a factor in my decision not to take on the Booker longlist this year. While I have read it all for some years, the last two years in particular reminding me of “book column” days — I found myself reading quite a few books that I wasn’t even curious about. This year’s jury is better than 2011 but when only one out of the five that I read makes the shortlist, I’d have to say it reflects divergent tastes. I’ll read Moore, Mantel and Self — Tan and Thayil will only get read and reviewed here if one of them happens to win. I have read every Booker winner and that is not something I intend to abandon.

    I’m quite looking forward to Umbrella, despite some of the negative opinions and my own early concerns about the novel. The Giller longlist this year is very story-tilted (that’s not a criticism) and I’m happy to take on a novel that exercises some different portions of the brain, which seems to be a challenge that Umbrella meets.


  39. Brett Says:

    Hello Kevin,

    I’m not sure if you or your readers have seen this article, but I came across it today on Twitter:


    Just wondered what people thought of it. Seems to me that the Booker Judges are just not pleased with opinions that might contradict theirs.


  40. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Brett: I am going to take the liberty of including a link to John Self’s original Guardian post: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/sep/26/book-bloggers-literary-criticism-stothard — rather than the Twitter feed because John was kind enough to include KevinfromCanada in his short list of worthwhile blogs (and I can report more than 100 people have followed up on the link that he provided and dropped in on KfC as a result). John’s blog, Asylum was one of my inspirations for getting into blogging — he continues to comment here and I value him as a “reading friend”.

    From my point of view, Stothard does raise a legitimate point — those who supply literary criticism for pay are finding their market is shrinking. As John Self points out in the post, however, there are quite a few blogs (I would like to think this is one and apppreciate that he cited it) which are supplying (free) versions of the same thing that in their own way are every bit as good.

    I would like to think that this should be a “both/and” not “either/or” proposition. Certainly, the Times Literary Supplement which Stothard edits prints reviews from academics who are far more qualified than I am — although they tend to pay less attention to fiction than some of us might want. And reviewers at major newspapers in the UK, US and Canada offer insights of value, even if I might disagree with them at times. I still read them.

    Good bloggers add to this mix. I write reviews from the “reader” point of view — why did I choose to read this book? what did the author set out to do? how did she or he fare in that quest? does the book offer value to potential readers? (sometimes) does this novel stand up to the author’s reputation? can I raise subjects for debate for those who have already read the book? what was the jury thinking when they longlisted this book :-)? I freely admit that is hardly an academic approach to criticism — nor a mass-media one, where reviewers need to supply more data on what is in the book than I choose to do here because they are addressing a general reader. On the other hand, I think most regular visitors have an idea of my tastes (biases?) and return because they appreciate my thoughts, even if they want to disagree with them. And those who arrive at this site off a title or author search (and there are a lot who fit that category) are already interested in the book in question — I’d like to think that my thoughts give them a perspective to consider. And, with most titles, if they choose to delve into the comments they will find a spirited and worthwhile debate (good comment debates are one area where blogs excel in a way that academic journals and mass media simply don’t offer value).

    Stothard raises a legitimate point in that the market for the paid critic is a shrinking one. And he is right as well that there is abuse in the “free” critical market (from my point of view, most specifically in mass-generated Amazon reviews, but that’s another question). On the other hand, I believe that visitors here are fully capable of making the critical assessment of whether I am making sense or not. And if I am not making sense, I suspect they won’t return.


  41. Brett Says:

    Dear Kevin,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response to my question. While I abhor the mass-generated how-many-stars-would-you-give-this-book? approach to criticism (and to be honest, I’m tired of being pestered to ‘rate’ things all the time – the person who came up with this system should have his library card revoked), I do tend to seek out book reviews from avid readers, like you, rather than ‘professionals’. I know in my own line of work that those of us who LOVE what we do are often better suited to evaluate and, oddly enough, are more accurate in our assessment of the work of our colleagues than those whose job it is to be critical. While I certainly see the need for Stothard and his kind, I would hate it if I could not turn to KNOWLEDGEABLE bloggers, like you, for a review that’s not motivated by a paycheque. And, as I believe John rightly points out, with the amount of space given over to reviews by respected papers shrinking (I still mourn the loss of the Globe & Mail Book Section), often blogs like yours are the ONLY place some books get reviewed!


  42. Lee Monks Says:

    Kevin, please ignore Stothard. He’s perhaps fed up of acquaintances and colleagues grumbling about having to sell the third holiday home.

    I think the main issue is quite simple: there are now many excellent blogs, such as this one, John’s, Max’s, Trevor’s, Will’s, Kimbofo’s, Tom’s, plenty more (it’s hard to list them all, which speaks volumes) that make the need to crouch deferentially at the foot of the self-appointed literature doyen’s feet and humbly await a definitive verdict non-existent. We now go to critics entirely based on merit, not reputation. Personally, I tend to find the reviews on my favoured blogs far more engaging and reliable than the vast majority of newspaper and magazine copy, all without the nagging thought that the author of a piece may well be drumming up a little florid, biased advert for someone they know rather well. Most blogs are enthusiastic messes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but many are exceptional. And I can think of only Adam Mars Jones as an essential newspaper critic now.


  43. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: I have some sympathy for Stothard and company — making a living off of being a critic was always a challenge but is even more difficult now. One thing that he did not mention is that those who in the “old days” were reliable subscribers of publications like the TLS are now the ones most likely to have a web of competent bloggers (thanks for including me in your excellent list) that serves their needs far better than any paid-for publication. Although most of us, of course, still do subscribe. I was a little peeved that as a subscriber of the London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, Literary Review of Canada, New Yorker and Quill and Quire (I let the TLS subscription lapse this spring — too much paper for the few reviews that interested me), as a blogger I was being portrayed as a threat. Hell, I’m a customer, one of the few remaining.

    This story does have a suitably ironic ending. As noted above, The Guardian got John Self to do a blog post in which he very kindly linked to KevinfromCanada as an example. It was a fine piece (I haven’t commented there since Leyla is off on one of her rants about me in the comments) — and the link has already produced more than 100 hits on the blog. So from this selfish perspective at least, Stothard has succeeded in getting more than 100 Guardian readers to at least sample KfC — I could hardly ask for more.


  44. Lee Monks Says:

    And they will come back, and the star of the doughty critic will diminish further…

    Seriously, there is surely little point taking potshots at bloggers: the internet is what it is, a blessedly democratic realm amidst which, if one sifts, one will find plenty worthwhile, free, emancipated from agenda or influence. I do, of course, agree that it’s unfortunate if exceptional critics are dissuaded from plying their trade due to a lack of financial incentive, but a) most critics are tiresome blatherers doing nothing new or interesting, and b) they are hamstrung, in the main, by having to adhere to the publishing calendar.


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