Monday, January 19, 2009

The Man Booker Prize

Before I bought my own DVD player and started doing movie marathons, I used to have the impression that I'm a book geek. When I was still in school, I'd scrimp on my food allowance so I could buy books. Or if I don't even have money for lunch, or I'm feeling particularly brave, I'd shoplift in book stores. I'd like to feel guilty when I do it, but there's always the romantic justification that good literature should not be accessible to only those who have money. Of course, at the end of the day, I feel guilty nonetheless.

When I do shoplift, though, I follow certain rules. One, that the risk must be worth it. Two, that I have a plan B, in case I screw up. Most usually, I follow the first rule the easiest way: I pick a Booker Prize winner. As for the second rule, well, that should remain one of the secrets of my trade.

I owe my discovery of the Booker Prize to my Creative Writing 10 professor Butch Guerrero, who gave me my much needed 1.0 to offset my 3.0 in Calculus the previous semester. I think the class was discussing plot and "crucible" when he mentioned Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. One of Rushdie's short stories, The Prophet's Hair, was on the list to demonstrate how a certain circumstance or object could guide characters towards an inevitable end. Right after class, I haunted the library to look for Midnight's Children, but of course, it was only for overnight lease and all the copies were already out. I ended up nicking a copy from a small discount book store. I think it's best not to say which book store.

Right after I finished Midnight (on which I shall dedicate a lengthy post when I find time and the necessary brainpower), I began looking for other Booker Prize winners. I cant recall which came after Midnight, but the Booker Prize winners have since became my default fallback if I want anything good to read.

Booker Prize 101
The Booker Prize right now is officially known as The Man Booker Prize, funded by Man Group plc, an investment group that claims to specialize on "alternative" investments in 13 countries worldwide. It awards the best novel written by Commonwealth and Irish authors. Aside from the prospect of fame and renown, not to mention increased book sales, the Man Booker Prize offers a prize money of 50,000 euros ($66,695.29, at the current exchange rate of 1 = 1.33391). A hefty amount, in comparison to Pulitzer Prize's $10,000.

Judges of the prize range from literary critics, writers, academicians, and, now and then, a "notable public figure" (sic) to give pomp and style to the panel. Remarkably, though, very few Bookers are considered boobies.

In 1993, Booker celebrated its 25th anniversary by awarding the best Booker novel of the past 25 years as the "Booker of Bookers." Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children won the prize. Last year, the same author and book won "The Best of the Booker," an award given to the best novel to have won the Booker in the 40 years of existence.

Rushdie must now be very rich, he no longer cares a bit about that fatwa.

Somebody in an online forum once commented that you fall in love with the first Rushdie you read. I agree, and Midnight shall always be my favorite Booker novel, all 250 pages of it. It's both ridiculously serious and seriously ridiculous, it's my favorite oxymoron of a book so far.

Trailing closely behind would be five-time nominee Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker in 2000. A novel of three stories braided into one, Assassin demonstrates Atwood's ability to conjure vivid characters and maneuver them in a surreal chessboard of events. Many consider Atwood (below) a feminist, but this is a topic that would need a whole post to itself.
Yann Martel's Life of Pi, which won in 2002, is also a favorite. Another novel that plays with surrealism, Pi tells the tale of a shipwrecked boy who endures 227 days in the Pacific. A Royal Bengal Tiger keeps him company in the lifeboat.

Martel has been accused of plagiarism by Moacyr Scliar, to whom Martel dedicated his book, thanking him for "the spark of life." Though Scliar eventually dropped the charges, many of Pi's most ardent fans were dismayed. Which is interesting, since aren't all novels a form of plagiarism, in one way or another? I have always believed a good novel is a well-written collection of borrowed truths and lies. I should know, I plagiarize my life all the time.

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