The Booker Prize – what’s it all about?

It occurred to me last week that I didn’t know much about the Booker Prize. First established in 1969, the annual prize is awarded to the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Each year a new panel of five judges votes on the best book. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. The winner also receives global recognition and is what the Booker Prize website calls “a prize that that transforms a winner’s career.” It’s actually a big business and publishers also get into the thick of it when they nominate potential winners.

You can read all about the history of the prize here.

There is also the International Booker Prize, for a book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

The prize has had plenty of controversy. In 1980, Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers) was up for the award, along with William Golding (Rites of Passage). Burgess demanded to know the winner ahead of time and said he wouldn’t attend if Golding won.

Anthony Burgess – Wikipedia

According to anthonyburgess.org, “Burgess did not attend the ceremony, reportedly informing Martyn Goff, the administrator of the Prize, that there was ‘no way I’m putting on evening dress and coming unless I know I’ve won’. Looking back, Burgess claims that missing out on the Booker didn’t cause any anxiety. ‘It was evident to me,’ he writes. ‘that my novel was not Booker material.”

In 2019, the judges split the award (and the prize money) between two authors: Margaret Atwood (The Testament) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other). Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize and critics were outraged that she had to share it with another author. When asked if she would have preferred to be the only winner, she replied, “What do you think? Yes, but I’m happy to share it. That’s the kind of person I am.”

Pictured below: Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo.

I’ve read a few of the winners – all excellent (The Blind Assassin by Atwood, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) and I recognize several others among the winners. But otherwise, most of the books on the list of winners have passed me by. This may be too literary a list for my tastes!

You can see all the winners here.

What do you think? Do you regularly read the Booker Prize winners?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Thanks to the following sources:

thebookerprizes.com
The Booker Prize – Wikipedia
britannica.com
 “Backlash after Booker awards prize to two authors” from The Guardian
“Inside the Booker Prize: arguments, agonies and carefully encouraged scandals” from The Guardian
Anthony Burgess – Wikipedia
Burgess’s Booker Prize nomination from anthonyburgess.org

39 thoughts on “The Booker Prize – what’s it all about?

  1. Our own Damon Galgut won it last year for ‘The Promise’ which I have but yet to read. Thanks for providing the list Barbara – I’ve read a few – definitely the Hilary Mantel ones but not her latest. The Margaret Atwood ones I’ve read but not ‘The Testament’. Disgrace by Coetzee is also our own SA writer which I read a lonnnng time ago. Anita Brookner ‘Hotel du Lac’ is one I reread every now and then.

    1. Quite a few others now that I’ve had good look at the list – our own Nadine Gordimer, Anita Brookner, Jacobson, Life of Pi – I’m not really influenced by winners of the Booker Prize though it’s a worthy one.

      1. Hi Susan – I’m probably like you. There are a few I would like to read, but while it’s a worthy prize I’m looking in other places for books as well.

    2. Thanks, Susan – great to have your input! Oh how I wish I had unlimited time! I’ve always liked Margaret Atwood, yet for some reason I wasn’t interested in The Testament, even though I really liked The Handmaid’s Tale. What are HIlary Mantel’s books like?

      1. They were slow reads – but delicious. Cromwell and the kings and queens – all the plotting that goes on. Same like today – different place and time but similar dynamics –

  2. Thanks for showcasing these authors, Barbara. I wonder if the Booker prize is the same as another prize I’ve heard of: the Man-Booker prize. I guess I’ll have to look it up. 😀

    1. Hi Marian – it is – it was renamed that briefly. Now it’s back to just Booker Prize. You can click on the link in the post to read all about it. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Of course, I had heard of the Booker Prize and perhaps had read some winners without knowing it, but didn’t know anything about it. Interesting stories. Thanks! So many books, so little time!

    1. Yes, you’re so right. I guess I’d never paid too much attention to the behind-the-scenes stuff. Sounds like things get a little huffy! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  4. Great info, Barb. Thank you for sharing this. Sadly, I’ve currently only read three books that have won this award (Lincoln in the Bardo, The Life of Pi and The English Patient). So many books, so little time!

    1. Hi Donna – of those three I’ve only read Lincoln in the Bardo and that only recently! I thought about reading The Life of Pi but, put it on hold…As you say, not enough time. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’ve often read Booker Prize shortlist authors. In my opinion they are usually good but I’ve really wondered about some of the choices. My leisure reading has really dropped off because of work, so there are lots of them now on my list. Thanks for posting about the Booker. Cheers.

    1. Hi Lynette – I think I’m drawn more to the Pulitzer winners, although there are a few on this list I would want to read. Thanks for stopping by – hope you get some lesiure reading in soon! 🙂

      1. I’m retiring in 14 months, so I should have some time then! Interesting that you’re more drawn to the Pulitzer winners. I’m the opposite. I think that perhaps shows some differences in culture. Fascinating. Cheers.

  6. Thanks for the background on the “Booker”. I admit that if the book is advertised as a winner, it draws me in to read but like everything else, I have been at times underwhelmed with the choice.

    1. Hi Bernadette – I think that’s a common experience among readers. Lots of hype for some books chosen by a selected few. But they do sometimes pick good ones and that’s why I’m drawn to the lists of award-winners. Thanks for the visit and for commenting!

  7. I’ve never thought about what the Booker Prize was all about so thanks for doing the research. I don’t read any book just because it got a prize. I read what catches my eye regardless of it being a prize-winning book.

    1. Hi Ally – I’m all over the place when I pick books, and have been disappointed by award-winners. I picked Shuggie Bain because I purchased it for our library collection at work and was interested in it. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I read one Booker Prize on purpose, and I didn’t like it, so I tried another year/book. It was worse. I guess the things the judges look for and I enjoy in a book aren’t the same thing. Except I do like Atwood. I definitely should read The Testament.

    1. Hi Priscilla – I think sometimes the judges are so intent on picking books with messages or ones that are intellectually challenging that they overlook the obvious excellent ones. I haven’t read The Testament – I did read The Handmaid’s Tale. I know this is a stupid reason, but I don’t really like the cover to The Testament! Thank you for reading and commenting, Priscilla. I hope you are doing well 🙂

  9. Really enjoyed learning about the Booker award and the 2019 tie is a curious thing! Cheers to both winners but not sure how I feel about that.
    Also -at first I thought burgess was being a poor sport – but I can see some of where he was coming from – and I like how he said his book wasn’t “booker” material which shows a nice objectivity about not getting selective
    judging can be so subjective and the same book that gets overlooked can win awards ina different venue – hmmm

    1. Hi Yvette – awards in general are so objective I can see how authors get heated about the process. I remember when Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer for Less and people were outraged. I thought the book was excellent, although lighter and sweeter than other winners in years past. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      1. Hi – light and sweet can have its own merit, eh? I bought an old “wellness-themed” paperback book from the 1960s and the minimal tidbits on each page reminded me that some folks were doing minimal a long time ago – (not new) and perhaps the light and sweetness offers us refreshment from the denser and longer reads.
        and by the way
        have you read Huey Long by T. Harry Williams (Knopf).
        If not – put it on your list.
        It won Pulitzer and is super long – but also super great.
        When my boys were in college they did not reach out to me very often. In fact, I only helped son 2 o ne time 9with ERD diagrams and that was the challenge of the decade – lol)
        and then son 1 only reached out twice – once with Glass Menagerie and then when he regretted picking “Huey Long” (T. Harry Williams) for his semester book eval – he waited to read it and then was shocked that it was almost as long as the Bible – hahah
        not really but super long – and also so good.
        So we used “Skype” and plowed through chapters (using Skype shows how long ago it was) – anyone, I was elated to find the content so interesting – and remember one chapter had “blood on the marble floors” and it reminded me that corruption in politics is nothing new.

      2. Hi Yvette – thanks for the recommendation. I hadn’t heard of Huey Long. I’m going to take a break from massive books for a while (have one more to read in May), but I’ll put it on my list.

      3. Hi – massive is a good word for that book – but it wasn’t a bore either – if that makes sense. At least from what I can remember – it was enjoyable at the time – and I hope to revisit it again soon – but not in the mood for “long” or massive right now either.

        hope your week is off to a nice start

  10. HI Barbara, this is an interesting post and I have not read any of the books out of the first thirty or so. I am not really into reading books with heavy modern messages unless they are apocalyptical and I haven’t as yet read Margaret Atwood. I’m not sure if I ever will. She doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t like books where women are pushed down. There is enough of that in real life.

    1. Hi Robbie – thank you for reading and commenting – you might like Margaret Atwood’s other books, though. The Blind Assassin was excellent and she’s written a lot of great short fiction. But I get what you mean. I also like apocalypitic fiction. Have you read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel? Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Oh good to know, Jeff. I’m not sure about some of these on the list. I may generally prefer the Pulitzer winners, but I liked Shuggie Bain very much. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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