Oh, it's that time of year again. The bookies are taking bets and the pundits of the book world are either casting aspersions or offering panegyrics. In other words, a longlist of the 13 novels nominated for the 2008 Man Booker prize has been announced.
What the judges themselves noted as they announced the list was both the prominence of "large scale narrative" and the "striking use of humor" among the nominated works (which include Salman Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence," "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill, "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga, and several titles which have not yet been released in the US.)
What commentators noted was the fact that five of nominated works were first novels (see Claire Armistead in the Guardian) and that four were from the Indian subcontinent (with a fifth by Michelle de Kretser, a Sri Lankan-born author now living in Australia.) The question of geographic diversity left some pundits wondering if the judges were trying just a bit too hard for global reach, and if so, where were the African voices on the list? (See John Sutherland, also in the Guardian.)
We still have a ways to go till we learn who will make the shortlist (to be announced in September) and then of course the winner (to be announced on Oct. 14.) In the meantime, there will be plenty of time and space for speculating, disparaging, and second-guessing.
But whether the 2008 list leaves you feeling invigorated or baffled (and there will be plenty in both camps), book lovers should take heart. It's hard to find much genuine downside to an event that gets the English-speaking world thinking, writing, arguing about, and reading books.