2018 Man Booker: Longlist thoughts
We’ve reached the end of our longlist reviews and are ready to make our shortlist predictions! Before we make our predictions we’d like to share some of our favorites and least favorites. Similar to last year, each of our panelists responded to a list of 20 questions about the longlist books. We asked about favorite writing, favorite plot, best title, favorite cover, and more. Keep reading to see what each judge selected as their top books for various categories.
- How have you found the process of reading through the longlist? A slog? Fun? Interesting?
Jen: Meh. I found some of the books to be a real slog (Milkman, I’m looking at you). Others I found to be quick easy reads but not in the realm of what I think should have made the list. And I also thought there were a few gems on the list.
Book Worm: Looking back over the list I didn’t particularly enjoy about half of the books the other half I found readable but I am puzzled as to why they were selected.
Nicole: This year was kind of a bummer in terms of some really questionable books. However, I read some stellar books, and had a great audio experience with Milkman, so I’m still happy because I read books I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Lisa: I also enjoy reading books that I may not have chosen to read otherwise. There were a few that I thought were really good. And I really enjoy comparing my reactions to everyone else’s. I found that I tended to like the Irish books — perhaps because we visited Ireland earlier this year. I’ve been thinking about how the different Irish books illuminate different aspects of Irish culture.
Anita: I feel like I MUST have selected the bottom half of the novels to read.
Andrew: Much like everyone else, it felt like a weird year. What the hell are “Sabrina” and “Snap” doing here? And why were the other books so boring? Needless to say, I found it a slog.
- How many books have you read and overall what have you thought about the books you have read?
Jen: I have read all of them, just barely, but I did complete them all. I found it to be an odd mix with many books that I don’t think deserve to called the best novel of the year. Seemed like the judges were trying to put boundaries or push for their own genre of books this year. Overall, I thought it was a pretty weak list. Many books that were high on readability but low on literary merit.
Book Worm: I have read all the books and personally I feel that this year the list has been weaker than usual. I like the fact that the judges have mixed up the traditional longlist format and included genres that wouldn’t normally be featured (graphic novel & crime fiction), however, I felt the books selected didn’t really merit their inclusion.
Nicole: Read 8 so far, hoping for more still … at this point it depends on the shortlist how quickly I’ll get to them. Happy with 8, wish I could have gotten to them all but I’ve had company for what seems like eternity and it’s made it hard to read.
Lisa: I read 8 of the books. I also started Everything Under, but found I really hated it so couldn’t get very far. Some were quite good (Overstory, Milkman, From a low and quiet sea), and others didn’t seem to merit inclusion on the longlist (Snap, The Mars Room).
Anita: I’ve read 6 1/2 of the books (hopefully will be 7 soon). I’m saddened I didn’t read more. I would have read more if it wasn’t for dang Milkman.
Andrew: I’ve read 4.5. That’s right, I’m the slow reader. It all started off so promising with “The Overstory.” I thought with a few tweaks it could have been perfect. Then I bottomed out with “Sabrina” and muddled through “Warlight.” While I enjoyed “Snap,” it had no business being on this list and I gave up on “Everything Under” which I found borderline unreadable.
- Which book was your favorite in terms of writing style?
Jen: The Long Take. Creative, poetic, unlike anything I’ve read before.
Book Worm: Everything Under this one spoke to me and had a magical feel that I love finding in literature.
Nicole: Milkman … haha. I kid. Probably Low and Quiet Sea
Lisa: I’m sorry, it was Milkman. I loved the writing style.
Anita: In terms of writing style, The Water Cure was my favorite. It had tons of other issues, but I love dark, suspenseful writing, and it had that in spades.
Andrew: “The Overstory” by default.
- Which book was the most original/creative?
Jen: The Long Take. Hands down
Book Worm: The Long Take this for me was the most unique in terms of style and I appreciated the way the poetic pacing added to the storyline.
Nicole: Well, I wish I’d read The Long Take, but probably The Overstory
Anita: Hard to say because I’m pretty sure it is amid the six books I haven’t read, but of the ones I have, From a Low and Quiet Sea, for its structure.
Andrew: Like Nicole, I wish I’d been able to get my hands on “The Long Take.” I did like the conceit of “The Overstory.”
- Which book had your favorite plot?
Jen: From a Low and Quiet Sea. I loved the way the author brought all the stories together and made want to go back and read the prior sections to pick up on clues. Overstory was a close second for me.
Book Worm: The Mars Room I enjoyed the way the story was broken up into different narratives from different points of view and the way it progressed in a logical order to a satisfying conclusion.
Nicole: I can’t answer this
Lisa: I agree with Andrew that the books I read this year didn’t really have a plot that moved forward with vigor.
Anita: I’m not quite finished, but so far, Washington Black. It’s not the most original, but there’s a reason a traditional linear approach to storytelling is so popular. Because it works.
Andrew: Of the books I read, a strong plot was not a main feature. I guess “Snap.” If only because it was a crime novel and moved along briskly.
- Which book had the best character development?
Jen: From a Low and Quiet Sea
Book Worm: The Overstory this one was long enough (boy was it long enough) to fully develop several characters.
Nicole: From a Low and Quiet Sea
Lisa: From a Low and Quiet Sea.
Anita: From a Low and Quiet Sea by a country mile.
Andrew: The Overstory. Although I’d argue some of the character development could have been pared back (read: it was really, really long).
- Which book did you enjoy reading the most?
Jen: I enjoyed several: The Long Take, From a Low and Quiet Sea, and Overstory were my favorites in terms of enjoyment. In our Mad and Furious City was one of the ones I appreciated the most but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable reading.
Book Worm: Snap this is not my favourite book but it was the hardest to put down at bedtime I really wanted to know how it would all end up.
Nicole: The Overstory – I loved so much about it and loved loving it.
Lisa: I’m sorry to all of you who hated it, but I really enjoyed LISTENING to (not reading) Milkman.
Anita: From a Low and Quiet Sea, but I love short stories as a general rule so my bias is showing as this book had a very short story like structure. But the half of Washington Black I’ve read is giving it a run for its money.
Andrew: I agree with Book Worm. Not the greatest book, but Snap was impossible to put down.
- Which book did you enjoy reading the least?
Book Worm: In Our Mad and Furious City I really didn’t like this one at all.
Nicole: Snap. And I don’t want to talk about it.
Anita: Milkman. Hands down. One of the least enjoyable works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.
- Which book had the best title?
Jen: The Overstory
Book Worm: From a Low and Quiet Sea sadly for me this was probably the best thing about the book.
Nicole: The Overstory for the cleverness, and also really liked Milkman
Lisa: The Overstory
Andrew: The Overstory. Nice play on forest structure.
- Which book had the best cover?
Jen: Everything Under
Book Worm: Washington Black I love the steampunk air machine.
Nicole: From a Low and Quiet Sea
Lisa: The was the only good thing about Everything Under. The artwork is like a quilt.
Anita: Everything Under
Andrew: Not sure I saw any covers other than Overstory.
- Best first sentence:
Book Worm: The Overstory
Nicole: Milkman (runner up Warlight)
- Which author would you want to have drinks with/hang out with and why?Jen:
Jen: Anna Burns. She clearly has a sense of humor and I’d like to discuss her book with her.
Book Worm: Belinda Bauer I love crime mysteries and would like to talk “shop” with her about ideas and inspirations, plus I get the feeling she would be a fun companion.
Nicole: Richard Powers – I loved the way his mind worked.
Lisa: Richard Powers. I think he is a good observer of humans and the way in which we refuse to do what is best for our own species.
Anita: Rachel Kushner. Her book reflected deep research and intellectual curiosity, and I gravitate toward people who go deep in their life.
Andrew: Richard Powers if only so we could trade doomsday scenarios for Earth.
- Which book will likely give you nightmares?
Jen: The Water Cure. It literally did give me nightmares when I was reading it.
Book Worm: In Our Mad and Furious City this is not the London I know and it is not a London I would like to visit.
Nicole: Sabrina, conspiracy theories scare the bejesus out of me
Lisa: The Water Cure was very creepy.
Anita: Milkman. My nightmare is that someone will make me re-read it.
Andrew: The creeping paranoia and strangely flat affect of “Sabrina” disturbed me.
- Which book(s) made you cry?
Jen: I teared up reading From Low and Quiet Sea.
Book Worm: I honestly can’t remember any of them making me cry unless it was with boredom and frustration at how much I still had to read.
Nicole: From a Low and Quiet Sea
Lisa: The first section in From the Low and Quiet Sea. If the book kept going in that vein, I would not have made it through.
Anita: Washington Black
Andrew: None. I’m an emotionless automaton.
- Which book(s) made you laugh?
Jen: Milkman. As much as I disliked the book, it was the only one that made me chuckle.
Book Worm: Snap some of the police interaction had me laughing.
Nicole: I laugh at everything, Milkman was so clever but I probably laughed at something in most of the books (except Sabrina)
Lisa: Milkman. I just thought it was brilliant.
Anita: Snap. The author definitely wrote some witty cop scenes.
Andrew: There were some good laughs in “Snap.”
- Which book would you most want to reread?
Jen: From a Low and Quiet Sea. After finishing it, it’s hard not to want to go back and see what you missed.
Book Worm: It would have to be Everything Under as I have half re-read that already and I think there would be more to discover with a re-read.
Nicole: I’d like to listen to The Overstory, read Milkman in print, and re-read Low and Quiet Sea
Lisa: From a Low and Quiet Sea. I found myself wanting to think about how the same themes played out differently in the different men’s lives.
Anita: From a Low and Quiet Sea. I think re-reading it knowing the ending would be a whole different experience.
Andrew: None so far.
- Did you fall asleep reading any of the books?
Jen: The Milkman
Book Worm: The Overstory this one really dragged for me.
Nicole: I always fall asleep. No reflection on any book.
Lisa: Ditto Nicole. I read to fall asleep.
- Which book surprised you the most?
Jen: The Long Take. I don’t enjoy reading poetry so I was dreading reading it. I ended up loving it.
Book Worm: The Overstory, but in a bad way. I fully expected to love this and on paper it is practically perfect but I just found it so dull.
Nicole: Snap, for being on the list. (and 100% concur with Andrew on Sabrina)
Lisa: Snap in that I thought it was cool to have a crime novel on the list, but it was not cool.
Anita: Snap in the sense that it is not a book that I would expect to be among the Man Booker nominees.
Andrew: “Sabrina.” For a graphic novel to make this list I figured it would be something special. I was surprised to discover it was terrible.
- If you could ask any of the authors a question, who would it be and what question would you ask?
Jen: Sophie Mackintosh – was the world off the “island” really ending?
Book Worm: Sophie Mackintosh – what the hell was going on with that family?
Nicole: Belinda Bauer – Do you think your book deserved to be on the list? and why?
Lisa: Sophie Mackintosh — Do you have a backstory, and you’re just not telling us what it is? Or is there no backstory? What did your book mean?
Anita: Sophie Mackintosh – Tell me the truth, did you really think you were writing a feminist dystopian book from the get go? Or was that just some publisher’s marketing idea?
Andrew: Richard Powers – Why did you include the storylines of the computer programmer and the couple that didn’t love each other? Could those have been eliminated?
- Do you think one of the books you read will be the winner? If you’ve read all of them, do you think you can predict which book will win it all?
Jen: I have no idea. The judges are off their rockers this year. I think either the Long Take or In Our Mad and Furious City should win but it’ll probably be Sabrina or Snap to infuriate me.
Book Worm: Technically it should be The Overstory. Personally I would like to see The Long Take win, but with the books that made the longlist who knows.
Nicole: I have no idea what will win.
Lisa: Based on the reviews, I wonder about The Long Take.
Anita: No. I only think two books I’ve read will make the shortlist. And I don’t think either will be the winner.
Andrew: I think “The Overstory” has a shot. Beautifully written and crafted, if a bit long. Seems like the kind of thing awards panels like.
For those interested, here are the first sentences for each of the longlist books:
Normal People: “Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.”
From a Low and Quiet Sea “Let me tell you something about trees.”
Everything Under: “The places we are born come back”
Milkman: “The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.”
The Mars Room: “Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays.”
Snap: “IT WAS SO hot in the car that the seats smelled as though they were melting.”
Warlight: “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals”
The Water Cure: “Once he had a father, but our father dies without us noticing.”
The Overstory: “First there was nothing.”
In Our Mad and Furious City: “There were things that I learned to call fury as a younger.”
The Long Take: And there it was: The swell and glitter of it like a standing wave – the fabled, smoking ruin, the new towers rising through the blue, the ranked array of ivory and gold, the glint, the glamour of buried light as the world turned round it very slowly this autumn morning, all amazed.
We want to hear from you! Which were some of your favorites and least favorites from the longlist?