Thursday, March 24, 2011

Orange Prize Longlist - 20 great reading suggestions

Longlists: I'm not really sure what to think about them. It seems like its only in the last decade or so that they've become a part of the popular book awards. It used to be you had a shortlist and then you had a winner, but then the big awards started giving us this longer list of titles that they were considering. I'm sure the judges always had a longlist that they whittled down to a shorter one and then to a single winner, but when did this trend start to publish them?

The Man Booker started doing it in 2001, the Giller started in 2006, somewhere in the middle of that, or perhaps since, it seems like everyone's been doing it. I don't know why it rubs me the wrong way, but it kind of does. The spoken intention seems to be to give a wider range of books a bit more of a chance to get in the spotlightand that's a good thing: but I can't help but feel the real reason is a little less altruistic, because it certainly it gives the awards themselves another chance to make it into the spotlight.

From what I can tell, the Orange Prize has been publishing a longlist since at least 2000, and possibly since their founding in 1996. When the announcement of their longlist came last week, I didn't react with my usual distrust. Maybe my warmth for the Orange Prize longlist stems from the overtly activist mandate of the Orange Prize, which considers only writing by women because "At the time it was set up the considerable achievements of women novelists were often passed over by the major literary Prizes." Whatever the reason, this year's list is rich with books that grabbed my attention and which I want to now read.

As a British award, it makes for some interesting selections that I wouldn't have otherwise heard of—as a few of the books have had British releases but remained relatively under the radar in North America. (Hence the reason a few aren't in the library catalogue—but fear not, we're trying to track them down.) And at least one book has worked the opposite way, a title by American author Samantha Hunt was released in 2005 on this side of the Atlantic, but made its debut in the UK just this past year. It's billed as her first novel (which it is) but she's already had her second released (2008's The Invention of Everything Else).

Two Canadians are on the longlist this year: Newfoundland's Kathleen Winter, and Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. The longlist is below. And if you'd rather wait for the shortlist, it will be announced on April 12th.

Lyrics Alley
by Leila Aboulela

Jamrach's Menagerie
by Carol Birch

by Emma Donoghue

The Pleasure Seekers
by Tishani Doshi

Whatever You Love
by Louise Doughty

A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

The Memory of Love
by Aminatta Forna

The London Train
by Tessa Hadley

Grace Williams Says it Loud
by Emma Henderson

The Seas
by Samantha Hunt

The Birth of Love
by Joanna Kavenna

Great House
by Nicole Krauss

The Road to Wanting
by Wendy Law-Yone

The Tiger's Wife
by Téa Obreht

The Invisible Bridge
by Julie Orringer

Repeat it Today with Tears
by Anne Peile

by Karen Russell

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
by Lola Shoneyin

The Swimmer
by Roma Tearne

by Kathleen Winter

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