London in October: bookshops and the long and short of Booker-prize long lists and short lists

We at Madeleine’s were in London last October ….

And how we do love London in the autumn especially when the weather is great!

But which large city in this world has had a book prize every October for the last 50 years?

It’s fun to be in London walking around the book shops in October … Of course it is fun to visit and revisit our favourite bookshops in London, and how can any booklover not smile and feel the warmth in the “Welcome Book Lovers, you are among friends” banner at Foyles’s flagship store in Charing Cross Road?   (And by the way, we loved this “best gifts for booklovers that aren’t books” as well as this one especially learning about the meaning of the Japanese word “tsundoku”.)

But more than that, if you are in London in October and you love books, you are in luck as during the early weeks of October there is almost always a literary buzz in the air between the announcement of the Booker Prize shortlist and news as to who has won.  Every year the Booker Prize long and short list (and sometimes what has been left “off” it) attracts much attention and discussion and sometimes strong views.

Every season, as the long list is announced, industry insiders, columnists and journalists would all be screwing up their eye-brows and, in all likelihood, letting out a collective howl about their favourite writers being excluded.  Still, for all its madness and hype, the prize at least often inspires passion and lead readers to books.

How can anyone not feel the distinctiveness of the voice in The God of Small Things (Booker Prize winner in 1997)? And what a labour of love.

Equally, no one can walk away from reading Midnight’s Children and forget the storytelling (or author Salmon Rushdie mentioning his televised acceptance speech that it was wonderful that his “real children” was accepting the prize on behalf of his “imaginary children”).

Nor can anyone forget young Ben Okri’s rise to fame with the beautiful tales he spun around the spirit children in The Famished Road.

And then of course the even younger Eleanor Catton won the Booker at the age of 28 – how exciting!

And even more recently, can anyone forget Paul Beatty the American winning the Booker in 2016 and speaking about how “heartbreak is part of doing anything you want to do”, of being “thunderstruck” by art that “charged something in you”?

And if anyone wanted more, the Guardian newspaper these days run the Not The Booker longlist poll every year, inviting its readers and non-readers to submit book reviews and suggestions.

For those who are always curious (even if not interested in more buzz), what can beat the 2018 longlist (of 12 novels) with a trio of 3 young female authors at its heart as well as the inclusion of a graphic novel and a novel in verse?

Amongst this list, we loved this (very mathematical) line in Daisy Johnson’s shortlisted (2018) debut novel:


      For you memory is not a line but a series of baffling circles, drawing in and then receding. 

Equally lovable was one from 2016 from Madeleine Thien (Do not say we have nothing, in the 2016 shortlist):


      He had been listening to Bach again.  How had this composer from the West turned away from the linear and found his voice in the cyclical, in canons and fugues, in which Bach referred to as God’s time and in what the ancient Song and Tang scholars saw as the continual reiterations of the past, the turning of the wheel of history?  

And then there are those who got left out … Of the Guardian’s “Unlucky 13” of Booker prizewinners that never was, compiled in 2008, we especially love Oranges are not the only fruit (Jeanette Winterson), A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth) and Zadie Smith’s take on London in White Teeth, 3 original takes on a particular layer of our universe that is inhabited by so many different peoples, communities and neighbourhoods whose hearts beat to such varied music.  We would most wholeheartedly add Divisadero (Michael Ondaatje).

Watching Londoners discuss and debate about the Booker offers up a true meaning of the word “popular”.  Isn’t it great to have an annual book prize that engages the public and anchors popular discussions for a month?  If ever a political leader (or indeed a CEO) were to consider a new initiative that would unite popular and literary taste, he or she may do well to look into the success of the book prize that London has shown us.

We leave you with a few quotes we came across on our travels and travails – with some rummaging and rendez-vous – across London ….

“So many books, so little time”

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”

“I have lost and found myself in books.”

See more at Madeleine goes to London.