Tag Archives: Jennifer Egan

Ex-US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Guide To The Man Booker Prize 2012!……….

……….To much publicity, controversy, chagrin and the odd bit of pompous crap, the Booker Prize list for 2012 was announced 2 days ago. After 48 hours I’ve already enjoyed reading some really good articles and blog posts about the Booker longlist for this year – mind you I’ve skimmed a few as well!

So in getting round to writing about it 2 days later, I think I’m pretty slow. No doubt every angle of the Booker list has been covered – but as the American politician and one time Presidential candidate Mo Udall said of a US political debate, “Everything that can be said on this topic has been said – but not everyone has said it yet!!” Well, I’m writing my Booker Longlist twopence worth in exactly that spirit!!!!!

So my challenge to myself is to write something fresh about the Man Booker when everything has already been written – that’s where Donald comes in. For those of you who don’t know, Donald Rumsfeld was US Defence Secretary twice, latterly under George Bush (a time which might aptly have been celebrated by the Specials singing their classic song “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum!). As well as slightly-to-the-right-of-Genghis-Khan political beliefs, Donald Rumsfeld was also well-known for his, what you might call “way with words!”. And I’m using one of those classic Donald speeches to guide you through the Man Booker Longlist for 2012.

The Donald Rumsfeld Guide To The Man Booker Prize 2012

It seems to me that one of Donald’s most famous speeches lends itself perfectly to a personal review of the Man Booker Prize 2012 longlist.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Like a knife through butter (and an axe through logic and a sledgehammer through the beauty of the English language) Donald Rumsfeld allows me to strip the Booker list instantly into its three key components – and as I hope to show by the end, this isn’t just some random categorisation! I’m talking about a sociological truth, an indisputable law of book nature, and I think I have the evidence to prove it!

Category 1. Donald’s Known Knowns

These are the books that I know that I know. That’s to say I’ve read them, I know I’ve read them, and knowing I’ve read them means I know whether or not I think it deserved to be on the list – though of course at this stage known knowns can only be compared with other known knowns, as it would be unfair to compare them with known unknowns and impossible to compare them with unknown unknowns! Still with me?!

So my known knowns are:

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. (Great book – really loved it!)

And that’s it I’m afraid! At this stage I haven’t read any of the other books on the list – but I’m glad this one made it. And that’s not me comparing it to known unknowns or unknown unknowns – that’s me comparing it to all the other known knowns I’ve read this year which didn’t make the list!

Category 2. Donald’s (Completely, Or Slightly) Known Unknowns

Now some of these are books where I know the author but don’t know the actual book itself. And the reason is they are famous. So they are known but the book is unknown. So my Completely Known Unknowns are:

Umbrella by Will Self (Mmmmm – Will Self always seems a miserable git really – will wait and see if this makes the shortlist before I decide whether or not to read it – secretly and irrationally I hope it won’t!)

And that’s it I’m afraid! Will Self is certainly well known to me but his books are absolutely unknown to me. I’ve read articles in newspapers and magazines and seen him on TV – not my cup of tea I fear!

On the slightly known unknown front, these are books I know of, by authors I know of, but not specifically books I actually know or authors I actually know! So my Slightly Known Unknowns are:

Skios by Michael Frayn (I saw this mega-cheap in the Oxfam bookshop on Wednesday and decided against buying it – am now kicking myself!!)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (this is in my ‘What Next’ pile and I’ve read great reviews of it elsewhere so it will be getting promoted up the queue!)

Category 3. Donald’s Unknown Unknowns

These are books I’ve never really heard of, by authors I’ve never really heard of – till now!

The Yips by Nicola Barker (I was given her novel Darkmans as a gift but it seems to be one of those books with lead weights in it – I’ve never plucked up the energy to read it – I can barely lift it! If this weighs less I might have a go at it!)

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (apparently part of the story is a man on a restorative walking holiday with “events” unfolding around him – sounds like a perfect book for the evil Kindle so I can read about all that walking while I’m walking the dog!)

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil ( A story about a Mumbai opium den and its users which the review in the Guardian in February likened to an opium-induced dream – and as I am always up for an opium induced dream, I think this will be a definite for me!)

Communion Town by Sam Thompson (which tells the story of a city – possibly New York or London – told from the perspective of 10 different characters – not sure about this one yet!)

Philida by Andre Brink (one of the very few non-British authors on this year’s list with a story about a slave in South Africa in the 1830’s – I can find no real reviews of it but something about it sounds good – another one I think I’ll read myself!)

The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (another non-British author and perhaps one I should have heard of as a previous book of his was nominated for the Booker in 2007 – but I didn’t pay as much attention to the Booker back then!)

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (The review I read of this makes it sound like an intriguing possible! It’s about a middle class family, holidaying in France, who find a woman swimming in their pool. She stays with them and the novel charts what happens from there! However, in addition to the review, the book also apparently has an introduction by Tom McCarthy. I recently read and absolutely loved his novel “C” – so if Tom McCarthy likes it then this moves from an intriguing possible to a dead cert for me!)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (It’s a great title – but I’m wary of some novels with great titles as in my experience the odds are 50:50-ish that the inside won’t live up to the promise of the great title! And to provide further evidence to support my 50:50 notion a review of this book a few days ago in The Independent compared it to the work of David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan – for me I loved Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and thought Jennifer Egan’s Welcome To The Goon Squad was awful! 50:50!!! I’ll stay in two minds about this for a while!)

The consequence of all this is that knowing so few of the books on the shortlist has been a blow to my intellectual ego – in fact my “fiction” intelligence is feeling a bit like poor old Donald Rumsfeld! I can’t help asking myself how come I read so much, write a fair bit now about reading, read a fair bit about what other people write about what they are reading and I’ve still read only one of the Booker short list and even worse haven’t heard of most of them!!!!!!

But Donald has the answer – f0r I think I can prove that the unknown unknown syndrome is pretty common among us, the reading public. And here’s my evidence.

I looked this morning at an on-line poll in The Telegraph “Books” section asking who we fiction fans think will win the Booker for 2012 – and the leader, by a country mile, is Hilary Mantel! Now is that because most of the respondents could say all twelve books were known knowns and they think Hilary’s is the best?! Or is it because they’d only heard of one or two and, like me, the rest were unknown unknowns to them!

Need further proof? Well, lo and behold, look at the next three places in the poll – Micheal Frayn, followed by Rachel Joyce and Will Self – my known unknowns. And finally, bumping along the bottom, pretty much evenly, are all those unknown unknowns.

So it’s proven –  it would seem that Donald Rumsfeld holds the key to understanding the Booker and the book reading public after all!!!

And who will win? The bookies favourite is of course Hilary Mantel (and why wouldn’t she be – if she’s the only bloody known known for most of us avid readers and book bloggers, then there’s no chance the bookies have heard of any of the others either!!!)

But to be sure, before you part with your money by betting unwisely, I’d like to go back to Donald Rumsfeld for the answer to the question of who will win! As Donald also one said:

“If I know the answer I’ll tell you the answer. If I don’t, I’ll just respond cleverly!”.

So that tells you two things – I’ve no idea who will win and neither does everyone else – but my clever response money is on a book from the unknown unknown list – and that will allow the final part of Donald Rumsfeld’s Guide to the Man Booker Prize to be used:

“I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.”

That my friends tells you the winner will be Nicola Barker – at the moment that doesn’t look obvious because it’s the future, but when it’s the past, you’ll look back, read this post and think – well I never. Good old Donald Rumsfeld! Now why the hell didn’t I predict that too!!!!!!!

Goodbye John Humphries, James Naughtie, Sarah Montague et al…..Hello Madeleine Miller And All Who Will Follow Her!……….

……….I’ve spent the early part of the week commuting into the city – not the norm for me – and as a result I’ll be starting a new job at the end of next month. While going in and out on the train and the Tube this week, I’ve been reading ‘The Song Of Achilles’ by Madeleine Miller (it’s brilliant by the way!).

Normally I go to work by car and so my early mornings are spent with the Today Programme on Radio 4 – and have been for about 10 years! But from August I’m going to be swopping the car for the commute into London to work – and among the things I’m most looking forward to are reading every day on the way in and the way back, making homeward bound detours to Waterstones in Oxford Street or to Foyles at Charing Cross or to the many independent bookshops all over the city, and I’m looking forward to having the chance to go to author talks in the early evenings in venues across the city.

Reading On London Underground

For the last few days I’ve been struck by just how many people read while commuting – the trains and tubes are full of people with their nose in a book or a Kindle! Among the books I saw were Chad Harbach’s “The Art Of Fielding” (in my TBR pile), Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” (liked it but not the best of his stuff!), William Boyd’s “Restless” (another in my TBR pile), Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (not my thing really!) and Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (I didn’t like this at all though I know others who loved it). Obviously I’ve no idea what those who had Kindle’s were reading – although I have to admit that each time I saw someone with a Kindle my brain pondered “Do they look like they are reading Fifty Shades????????!’. Bizarre I know – even more bizarre was I thought some of them were – prejudice in overdrive I fear!!!!

My favourite though was the woman I saw at Liverpool Street still reading, book in front of her face, weaving from the train platform, across the station concourse and down onto the Central Line – she put her book down only to swipe her Oyster card – apart from that she was on a kind of automatic pilot and it was up to everyone else at rush hour to swerve and weave out of her way! I had to admire her sense of direction, her disregard for the rest of the commuting world and above all her obvious passion and enjoyment of her book! (Couldn’t see what it was – might she have been a Fifty Shades reader?!?!?!)

I’m looking forward to the commute by train and tube – although I’ll have hassles like everyone else, it’ll allow me to use the journey time to indulge in something I love – reading more and more books! At the moment, the car journeys are ok when you’re moving – but let’s be honest around the M25 and London ‘traffic’ and ‘moving’ are almost contradictory terms!!! Once I’m stationary, it always seems like such an awful waste of precious time!

However, while I won’t miss the traffic jams, I’ll miss the Today programme on Radio 4 – or at least large parts of it (I’ll still listen in over hurried breakfast and getting dressed if I can!). It’s one of the things that I think define me as “getting older” – my family prefer Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio  in the mornings – and I admit any time I listen in I think he’s hilarious. Twenty years ago he’d have been my morning radio choice without a doubt – but now I’m fifty and I’ve got grey hair and my knees creak, I feel at home with Radio 4! (Sorry to any fellow R4 listeners who are offended by the implication that we’re mostly getting on in years!).

Radio 4 Today Programme Presenters
John Humphries – The Best Voice On Radio Sarah Montague – and my favourite Scotsman, James Naughtie

But nothing beats listening to the Today programme to start the day – I look forward to John Humphries baiting and devouring politicians and their egos for his breakfast, I could listen to Sarah Montague’s fabulous voice reading the telephone directory aloud, I love the spark and energy of Evan Davies, the measured deep tones of Justin Webb, and above all I think James Naughtie is wonderful – whether it’s politics or the arts or just the weather, he’s bright, intelligent, engaging and always sounds like he’s enjoying whatever he’s doing! If he and Alex Salmond were put in charge of the Scotland football team, we might win the World Cup!

Though I’ll miss them, I now have more time than ever to spend reading. Which is just as well, as my To Be Read shelf has never been longer (in fact it’s no longer a shelf – it’s now more like two and a half shelves!) and my What Next list would use up every penny I earn if I was to buy everything on it! As my start date is still about a month away I don’t know what will be my first book to mark my new commute – if anyone has a suggestion for something apt or just plain fantastic, let me know!

While I can predict I’ll read more than ever, I’m certain that for as long as my commuting goes on, I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing this!

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

Simon Cowell, the “filthy” rich and fifty pound notes……………………………..

A while ago, while visiting a zoo or a theme park or somewhere, my daughter bought a packet of paper tissues with £50 notes printed on them (like most kids our best efforts to educate and introduce her to culture, heritage and nature founder on the inevitable truth – what she’s really interested in is going to the shop!)

This morning she decided to take them to school and share with her friends in the playground! All well and good. But she then broke the sleepy ease and soothing silence of our school run with the following statement “Some rich people use real £50 notes to blow their nose you know!”. She then went on to regale me with the details of how they will use a handkerchief if they have one but if they haven’t they just go into their wallet (it’s always men who display this decadence never women – I think she believes that even fabulously wealthy women have some sense!) and then they take out a £50 note and wipe their nose with it! To this tall tale she then added slander by stating that she knew Simon Cowell did it. When I asked her where she heard this and how she knew this was true she told me “It was on the internet!”

This got me thinking about three things

1. I’m thinking of writing a novel and currently gathering ideas (I’ve shared the basic plot with my daughter – her constructive and practical criticism was “Sounds boring!”). I’m inclined to use this information about the filthy rich and their nose blowing techniques for one of the characters! In addition I think I’ll litter the text with odd and a-typical uses of £50 notes!

2. If Simon Cowell and the filthy rich do this in real life (I’m sure they don’t, although the evidence that “It was on the Internet so it must be true” is powerful stuff!!!) then I’d dislike it intensely – I’m too plain to like anything ostentatious or bizarre in real people! But in books – that’s a different matter! It struck me that instead of being put off by outrageous behaviour such as this in book characters I tend to rather like them for it. I loved Cameron Colley in Iain Banks’ “Complicity” sitting behind the wheel of his car driving with no hands at 100 miles an hour while rolling a joint on his knee – I admired the sheer chutzpah of Don Emmanuel washing the fluff from his genitals in the stream in Louis De Bernieres “The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts” – has there ever been a more charming and likeable asocial serial murderer  than Sebastian Faulks’ “Mike Engleby” – and on the nose side of things my favourite book character ever,  Saleem Sinai in Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, was in part at least, a glorious evocation of all things snot!

I wondered if I only like the outrageous side of life on the page rather than real life – but that can’t be true because I really didn’t like Bernie Salazar in Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (mind you I didn’t like anybody or anything about that book!) and in real life I love Eric Cantona!

3. I worry like hell for my daughter and her generation and those to follow – we seem to be making a right bloody mess of the world we live in and which they’ll inherit – but my worry increases a little further when I realise that at the moment she thinks if it’s on the Internet it must be true! If that was the case then Nicholas Cage really might be a vampire, Steve Jobs may well have been a ninja warrior and the Seven Dwarves really were a metaphor for the different stages of cocaine addiction! (This garbage and much more is out there – why aren’t there warm and comforting rumours on the internet like “God sends a message to Earth that Scotland will qualify for and win the next World Cup”!). But, more than anything, if what is on the Internet really is all true then it would also mean the most ludicrous thing of all was true and that I’ll never accept, so I’ll end my post by stating it clearly – Katie Price is NOT a proper author and as far as I am concerned never could be and never will be!!!

Now excuse me while I go blow my nose – where have I left my wallet……………………………………!