The Two-Way
8:53 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Book News: Booker Prize, Now Open To U.S. Authors, Longlists 5 Americans

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The 13-book longlist for the Man Booker Prize, the U.K.'s most prominent literary award, was announced Wednesday. The prize is traditionally open to writers from countries in the Commonwealth and Ireland, but this year marks the first time the award will "recognise, celebrate and embrace authors of literary fiction writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai." Five American authors made the cut: Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Richard Powers and Irish-American writer Joseph O'Neill, who are all critically well-regarded, if not household names. Opening the longlist to Americans sparked fears that Commonwealth authors would have a harder time making it onto the list, and indeed the list includes only one Commonwealth author — Richard Flanagan of Australia — and no authors from Africa or India. U.K. authors Howard Jacobson (who won the prize in 2010), David Nicholls, David Mitchell, Neel Mukherjee, Paul Kingsnorth and Ali Smith also were nominated. Lastly, Irish writer Niall Williams was longlisted for his novel History of the Rain. Notably, the list includes a crowd-funded novel, Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, which is set after the Battle of Hastings and written in an invented dialect meant to give the feel of Old English. Chair of the judges A.C. Grayling said in his announcement, "This is a diverse list of ambition, experiment, humour and artistry. The novels selected are full of wonderful stories and fascinating characters. The judges were impressed by the high quality of writing and the range of issues tackled — from 1066 to the future, from a PoW camp in Thailand, to a dentist's chair in Manhattan; from the funny to the deeply serious, sometimes in the same book." The winner will be announced in October.
  • Zadie Smith has a quietly devastating short story, "Big Week," in The Paris Review: "He could not know that her mind had drifted strangely: to her stepdaughters, whom she placed now in rooms of her own design — twin aeries either side of a chimney breast — in a shingled house that sat on a bluff, over a wild beach of dunes and sea grass, in America or in Africa — in some dream combination of the two."
  • Arcadia author Lauren Groff visits the Weeki Wachee mermaids and explores their fishy charms for Oxford American: "I think the widespread ubiquity of these dangerous, capricious female figures has less to do with lust and mistaken sea creatures than with a stunning human capacity for metaphor."
  • John Cheever's house is for sale.
  • "I love Dickinson. Her edgy brilliance, the way things implode in her writing, geographies, little longings and big ones, even cosmologies. I loved her writing always, and was scared by it. The whole question of decorum, growing up as a girl, and then finding Emily." — poet Meena Alexander, in an interview in Poetry magazine.
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