Tag Archives: super booker

More Indignity

Is it too much to call this the last straw for the “Super” Booker Prize?

In Life after ‘Nemesis’ in the Financial Times Jan Dalley profiles Philip Roth, who will (not) be picking up the Man Booker International Prize on Tuesday (he will be “celebrated” on Tuesday, but only in abstentia, as he apparently can’t be bothered to show up).

Dunno, but after pseudo-dq’ing the bulk of the competition because they weren’t written in English only to find that the one dude who did write in English doesn’t even care enough to come and be feted by you, seems that the “Super” Booker would want to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Incidentally, I’m always aghast to see writing like this (which comes from a profile of Philip Roth in which we learn that he won’t make the trip to London):

“I’ve stopped reading fiction. I don’t read it at all. I read other things: history, biography. I don’t have the same interest in fiction that I once did.”

How so ?

“I don’t know. I wised up . . . ”

And with those three words he gave me a long look from those fierce eyes and then a significant glance at my notebook, as if to say: that’s what I want you to write down.

Are we still interviewing Philip Roth or have we somehow entered a time warp into John Wayne’s idea of the Wild West?

They Have To Be In English

Via Garth’s old piece on literary prizes, I am reminded that one of the rules of the “Super” Booker is that the author has to be in English:

The Man Booker International Prize is unique in the world of literature in that it can be won by an author of any nationality, providing that his or her work is available in the English language.

Which makes “Super” Booker judge Rick Gekoski’s remarks completely nonsensical. On the one hand translation is a requirement of the prize, but on the other hand, any translated work will be competing at a disadvantage and therefore cannot win.

With judges like this, I don’t see how anyone can take Roth’s “win” seriously . . .

“Super” Booker Strives for Irrelevancy

Now a second judge from the recently announced “Super” Booker has come out with some fairly incendiary remarks post-prize. These include:

Unless you have the original language you cannot say with any precision how well an author writes. Yes, sometimes you can guess. I am told that Juan Goytisolo is very well translated, and Wang Anyi often is not. We encountered a number of writers who we rather suspected were of top quality, but whose work was dreadfully translated, often by local cooperatives, university presses or cack-handed professors (often American). I remember one translation of a Chinese novelist in which the father and mother of a family were called “Mom” and “Dad.” In another, a dreadfully sadistic guard at a prison is described as “really mean.”

Michael Orthofer has a good response:

I have to say: if this is their — or even just his — opinion, then they/he have no business judging an international literary prize of this sort. Indeed, I think on the basis of these two to-dos — the Callil fiasco, and now this (and inclusive of their picking a list of finalists — remember, the then-still-three judges were the ones who selected who was in the running — doomed to failure (i.e. turned into a Roth-versus-a field-we’re-not-willing-to-seriously-consider pseudo-debate)) — one can argue that this is the worst literary prize judging panel ever (or at least in recent memory). And I certainly can’t see that anyone would let Gekoski play along on any literary prize jury again, not after he couldn’t even hold a three-man-jury together (or come up with a winner that all could agree on) and now this admission that the authors-in-translation basically had no chance in hell of being seriously considered for the prize.

I’ll add to this that it might have helped if the judges could read in languages other than English. (It would seem that this one can’t, and I’m guessing that the total languages represented on the three-person panel was low.) True, you’re probably not going to find a three-person panel with enough languages to read everything in the original, but there certainly must be qualified candidates out there with a good 10 – 15 languages between them.

To me, this simply indicates what a joke the “Super” Booker has become, driving relentlessly toward irrelevancy before it’s even gotten started. I recall when they initiated this prize six years ago there was plenty of skepticism, and with stunts like this the skepticism seems to be proving itself right.

Resignation Over Philip Roth

As you’ve probably heard, “Super” Booker judge Carmen Callil resigned from the three-person jury after the latest of the Super Bookers went to Philip Roth. Her public remarks on the issue are as follows:

“I don’t rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire – all the others were fine,” said Callil, who will explain why she believes Roth is not a worthy winner in an outspoken column in the Guardian Review on Saturday 21 May. “Roth goes to the core of their [Cartwright and Gekoski’s] beings. But he certainly doesn’t go to the core of mine … Emperor’s clothes: in 20 years’ time will anyone read him?”

Founder of the feminist publishing house Virago, Callil is also the author of Bad Faith, a history of Vichy France. “I’ve judged many prizes before and I’ve rarely had my own favourite – it’s always a question of ‘I think X is a genius and you don’t, so let’s go for Y’. That didn’t happen,” she said. “We should have discussed everything more, but Philip Roth came out like a thunderbolt, and I was too surprised. We took a couple of days to brood, and then I spoke to Justin and said I thought I should give in, if I didn’t have to have anything to do with the winner. So I said I didn’t want my name attached to it, and retired. You can’t be asked to judge, and then not judge.”

She also remarked, “he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”

I’m not the biggest Roth partisan in the world, and I’ll leave it to others to argue the merits of his work, but even my decidedly cursory knowledge of his novels indicates that charges of “emperor’s clothes” and writing the same novel over and over are ridiculous. I’ll readily agree that at this point his oeuvre is puffed up with a lot of novels that won’t last, but he has given us a good 5 to 10 solid-to-stellar novels.

That’s no mean achievement. I have no idea if it’s worthy of a Super Booker–or even what exactly is the criteria of being worthy of a Super Booker–but I would argue that resigning over Roth’s selection for one is very poor form. Most reasonable people would agree that he’s in the conversation for leading novelists worldwide (he always lists at good odds on the Nobel shortlist), so this quite clearly comes off as sour grapes.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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