The Man Booker International Prize 2018 Short List: In My Opinion They Got One Right

As you may have noticed, the Man Booker International Prize 2018 short list was revealed yesterday. But, I didn’t write a post on it yet because I needed some time to absorb the judges’ decision, as so often happens with literary prizes for which I am reading. Of the six books listed, I have read all but one (Vernon Subutex 1); of the five I have read from this list, I feel only one really ought to be on the short list.

Each book does, of course, stand out in its own way:

  • Han Kang’s writing in The White Book is gorgeous. But, I could find little connection with her content.
  • László Krasznahorkai’s book, The World Goes On, is deep and insightful, yet hopelessly dark.
  • Like A Fading Shadow would simply not end in a drawn out, boringly repetitive account of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray and his attempted escape to Lisbon.
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad dealt with a corpse made up of body parts from the deceased in Iraq; I found it rather forced, and an ineffective way to describe the horrors within that country as the monster elicited no compassion within me, unlike the other monster by Mary Shelley. Also, what some described as humorous, I found tragic.
  • Which leaves me with Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, a book I thought to be brilliant the first time I read it, and hoped to be included in the short list. From these six, may her book be the one which wins.

All opinions are my own, and they are not to be confused with the Shadow Jury’s thoughts. Many of us are quite happy with the short list, as you will discover on Thursday, or thereabouts, when we reveal ours. Until then, here is the official list in case you haven’t yet seen it:

The 2018 shortlist (link to the brief video here):

Author (country/territory), Translator, Title (imprint)

• Virginie Despentes (France), Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1 (MacLehose Press)

• Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith, The White Book (Portobello Books)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes, The World Goes On (Tuskar Rock Press)

• Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain), Camilo A. Ramirez, Like a Fading Shadow (Tuskar Rock Press)

• Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld)

• Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Jennifer Croft, Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Let’s talk about what determines a prize winning novel, shall we?

The Man Booker International Prize short list will be revealed on Thursday, April 12. I am sure that the official judges are pondering each of the thirteen novels on the long list, discussing amongst themselves which six ought to be included in the final round. It can’t be an easy job. It isn’t easy for me, and I am not an official judge, a professor, or professional reviewer. I simply stand on the five decades of experience, and volume of books, I’ve accumulated as a reader.

Yet there is the matter of personal preference, which came up today in a fragmented discussion between me and a fellow shadow jury member. He feels a very strong emotional attachment to a book I cared about not in the slightest. I value his opinion highly, and I stand in awe of his beautifully articulated reviews. So where do we go from here? The other members of the shadow jury will weigh in, and we’ll sort it out. But, there are a few qualities which make me feel a book is prize-worthy beyond the quality of the writing itself.

For me, an exceptional book must have an honorable aspect, something that sets it apart from the common, degrading, dark aspects of life. Of course those elements exist, but I need to have more to hang on to. I need to know that there is something beyond filth and despair when I have finished such a novel, even if it is only a lesson. (Charlotte’s Web is a good example. One could argue that it contains aspects of murder and death as Wilber is slated for slaughter and his best friend does, in fact, die. But, balanced with this reality are honorable things like friendship and self-sacrifice and hope for the future.) Don’t give me a book which is nothing but bleak despair, leave me with only that in my mind, and expect me to claim it deserves an award.

The other thing a novel must have, for me, is an emotional connection. I need to feel that if I haven’t cried, at least there were tears close at hand; if I haven’t laughed, at least I’ve smiled. I need to put the book down from time to time in order to fully absorb it, or record some powerful thought. I need to care about the characters and what happens to them, even if the outcome is only derived from my own imagination. They need to breathe and move and leap off the page for me, instead of laying there inert.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not representing a specific publisher or author, that I write my blog purely for my own pleasure in recording what I’ve read and my opinion about those titles. Surely members of the Shadow Jury panel don’t agree with me completely; after all, we take into consideration the quality of the writing, the content of the novel, and the longevity we think it will hold in the future. No where is there a category to score a novel in terms of “honor” or “emotional impact”. Those are just two qualities which are important to me.

And you? What makes a book most noteworthy in your opinion?

Thanks for your help; here’s what I bought:

I am sitting at my desk with an iPad Pro, in rose gold (if that matters) and a Logitech keyboard which is excellent! It’s backlit, it’s sturdy, and I have all the perks of an iPad and a laptop in one. I couldn’t be happier.

Reading all of your ideas was helpful. But, it’s rather like helping someone choose a lipstick. Revlon makes a great one, and so does Chanel; it really is up to the individual user to determine what will suit her needs.

There is a most annoying thing which I keep on forgetting: nothing is perfect.

I look for perfection wherever I go. The perfect size and weight (for myself). The perfect shade for my mouth. The perfect job, career, occupation. It isn’t possible. The best thing to do is to make the wisest choice possible, and be content with what you have.

That is the lesson from my searching for a device; it’s a lesson I’m learning over and over again. And in the meantime, I surely do love this tablet/laptop combination.

Even though I keep reaching for a mouse which isn’t there.

Quick Question: On which device do you prefer to blog?

I am considering whether I should buy an Apple laptop as an early retirement present for myself. At first, I was thinking of the MacBook Air, but now I see that the iPad Pro, which has an attachable full-size keyboard, would be comparable in price with more power and portability…

I’ve used a Dell laptop, an iPad Mini, and my phone (of all crazy things to blog on), but I would truly value your opinion.

So speak to me, friends. What do you use? And, are you happy with it?

We Should All Be So Joyful About Such Simple Things

“Hi, Mrs. Smith!” says Saahithi, jumping into my room this morning. “Do you notice anything different about me?”

“Well,” I say, “your hair is in a beautiful pony tail…”

“No, I got new shoes! My bedtime is normally 7:30, but I went to bed at 8:00 last night because we went to the Premium Outlet Mall, and I got new Nikes!”

“Wow! They are purple and they have green accents,” I say. “Now those are gorgeous!”

“I know, right?!” she replied, happily smiling and turning her foot from side to side for me to admire every angle.

The bell rings, and I have to send her onward to her fourth grade class, but the joy of a nine year old thrills my heart. Oh, that we wouldn’t lose it.

On the Fleeting Nature of Things

Sometimes we know when it will be the last time we ever do something. Parent teacher conferences were Thursday, and I’ll never meet with a parent to discuss his child’s progress again. Institute Day was Friday, and I’ll never have to sit through hours of tedious in-service again. Valentine’s Day was last month, as everyone knows, and I’ll never have the chance to make valentines, or receive them from my class, again.

But, sometimes we don’t know when it is the end of something. When was the last time I ever wrote with a piece of chalk on a blackboard? Used transparencies on an overhead projector? Ordered films which came in tin canisters and had to be threaded reel-to-reel? More importantly, when was the last time my son jumped into my arms where I then shifted him onto my hip for easier holding? When was the last time I drove through Paris, or kissed my first husband, or played a Bach fugue on the piano with authority?

Billy Graham’s funeral was yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his children will not see him again as long as they are on earth. He made it to his last destination. And I am considering good-byes today. Remembering, or trying to remember, all the things which have passed by or transitioned into something new. Thinking about all the things of which I will have to let go.

Probably it is healthiest to welcome the changes that have come into our lives. But I am a nostalgic person by nature, and I am sad about things gone by to which I never had the chance to say farewell. I never had the sense to know it would be the last time.

The Journey Toward The Man Booker International Prize Begins Again for The Shadow Jury

Just as the drab chill of winter seems it will drag endlessly on, along with the flu it has brought me just before Valentine’s Day, a bright spot appears on my reading horizon: the formation of the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury.

There are some changes this year, as a few former members have stepped down, but new members have stepped up, and I’m so pleased to introduce the 2018 panel to you here:

Tony Malone is an Anglo-Australian reviewer with a particular focus on German-language, Japanese and Korean fiction. He blogs at Tony’s Reading List, and his reviews have also appeared at Words Without Borders, Necessary Fiction, Shiny New Books and Asymptote. Based in Melbourne, he teaches ESL to prospective university students when he’s not reading and reviewing. He can be found on Twitter @tony_malone.

Lori Feathers lives in Dallas, Texas and is co-owner and book buyer for Interabang Books, an independent bookstore in Dallas. She is a freelance book critic and board member of the National Book Critics Circle. For the last two years she has served as a fiction judge for the Best Translated Book Award. Her recent reviews can be found @LoriFeathers

Bellezza (Meredith Smith)is a teacher from Chicago, Illinois, who has been writing Dolce Bellezza for twelve years and has hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for 11 years. Reading literature in translation has become a great passion, especially since the five years she has been a shadow juror for the IFFP and now the MBIP. Her Twitter name is @bellezzamjs

David Hebblethwaite is a book blogger and reviewer from the north of England, now based in the south. He has written about translated fiction for Words Without Borders, Shiny New Books, Strange Horizons, and We Love This Book. He blogs at David’s Book World and tweets as @David_Heb

Vivek Tejuja is a book blogger and reviewer from India and based in Mumbai. He loves to read books in Indian languages and translated editions of languages around the world (well, essentially world fiction, if that’s a thing). He also writes for Scroll.In and The Quint. He blogs at The Hungry Reader and tweets as @vivekisms. His first book, “So Now You Know”, a memoir of growing up gay in Mumbai in the 90s, is out in April 2018 by Penguin Random House.

Paul Fulcher is a Wimbledon, UK based fan of translated fiction, who contributes to The Mookse and The Gripes blog and is active on Goodreads, where he moderates a MBI readers’ group. He is on the jury of the Republic of Consciousness Prize (@prizeRofC), which rewards innovative fiction, including in translation, from small independent presses. His reviews can be found at @fulcherpaul and via his Goodreads page.

María José Navia lives in Santiago, Chile. She has an M.A. in Humanities and Social Thought (NYU) and a PhD in Literature and Cultural Studies (Georgetown University). She is currently an Assistant Professor at Chile’s Catholic University. She is also a published author (one novel, two collections of short stories) and is in the process of translating Battleborn (by Claire Vaye Watkins) into Spanish. You can read one of her stories, in English, in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of World Literature Today. She blogs at Ticket de Cambio and her twitter name is @mjnavia

Naomi Morauf is a voracious reader and avid tweeter with a particular interest in translated and speculative fiction. She moved to London for her philosophy degree and fell predictably into its clutches, working in media analysis as a broadcast editor before moving into book publishing. A Creative Access alumna and active member of the Society of Young Publishers and BAME in Publishing, she is a regular at Post Apocalyptic Book Club and the Dark Societies series of events. She is currently reviewing submissions at Unsung Stories.

Oisin Harris lives in Canterbury, UK and is an editor-in-the-making with a Publishing MA from Kingston University and an English degree from Sussex University. He is an academic librarian, and a freelance editor and proofreader. He has written about Women in Translation, Book Histories and how they can affect Book Futures, as well as on Islam and Literature in the West. When not reading or writing he can be found on Twitter @literaryty

Frances Evangelista is an educator from the Washington DC area who has been blogging about books for over ten years at Nonsuch Book and chatting on Twitter about the same @nonsuchbook. She has participated in a variety of projects including a Man Booker Shadow Panel for the last three years, and is eager to spread her wings with this MBIP panel.

We eagerly await the arrival of the long list on March 12, hoping to read and review every single book before the short list appears on April 12. Certainly the job will be done by the announcement of the winner on May 22. Be sure to check out our blogs, and Twitter-ings, as we read and discuss what consistently proves to be the most exciting reading I do all year.

Books Read in 2017

Books Read in 2017




  • Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
  • The Golden Key by George MacDonald (short story)
  • The Years That Followed by Catherine Dunne (unfinished)
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (translated from Swedish by Henning Koch)
  • Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, MBIP 2017 short list)
  • War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (translated from Dutch by David Mckay, MBIP 2017 long list)
  • The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, MBIP 2017 short list)
  • Fish Have No Feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson (translated from Icelandic by Philip Roughton, MBIP 2017 long list)
  • Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (translated from Polish by Eliza Marciniak, MBIP 2017 long list)


  • Mirror, Shoulders, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated from Danish by Misha Hoekstra, MBIP 2017 short list)
  • Judas by Amos Oz (translated from Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange, MBIP 2017 short list)
  • Letters and Papers From Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (translated from German by Christian Kaiser Verlag)
  • Compass by Mathias Enard ( translated from French by Charlotte Mandell, MBIP 2017 short list)
  • Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (translated from German by Katy Derbyshire, MBIP 2017 long list)
  • Earthly Remains by Donna Leon



  • A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
  • Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare (translated from Albanian by David Bellos)
  • The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (for the JLC11)
  • The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue



  • Penance by Kanae Minato (translated from Japanese by Phillip Gabriel for JLC11 and Women In Translation Month)
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)
  • Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)


  • The Red-Haired Girl by Orhan Pamuk (translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap)
  • Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
  • Billy and the Minpins by Roald Dahl
  • If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxes




It’s Time To Go Back

Christmas has been put back in the box. Gone are the faerie lights and evergreen boughs, the red ribbons and mercury glass, the candles, the cookies and the creche.

Now there is a small bouquet of fresh white roses in a crystal vase and austerity everywhere I look. It is time to go back to school tomorrow.

I will never have another Christmas Break. I will never go back in the beginning of January to finish a year half done. In May, teaching will go back in the box, never to come out again.

My friends will be sorrowful to be back at work tomorrow. There will be some complainers, who never should have been allowed in a classroom with children in the first place. Others will simply miss their leisurely mornings, sitting with coffee until lunch.  But, I am not one of them.

“I get inspiration from my everyday life.” ~Hayao Miyazake

I am embracing the time I have left. I am going to cherish each child who walks sleepily into the classroom tomorrow having had just a little too much Christmas. We will be eager to see each other, tell stories of the last twelve days, and open our books.

I am ready to resume the routine, anticipating what each new day will bring.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts for 2018

I’m a girl who grew up in a nondigital world. When we needed to know something we went to the library; we researched information using books. Facts were readily at our disposal without any need for power or hand-held devices.

The children in my class have Chromebooks. They can access Google and YouTube and PebbleGo anytime they want. It is helpful in many ways. But, nothing can compare with holding a book of facts in your hands.

Normally, I am all about reading fiction. When we put together our “Best of 2017” lists, as book bloggers like to do, I had read 3 nonfiction books. Three.

Yet, when The World Almanac and Book of Facts arrived at our door, I could not put it down. I flipped through it even as I walked to my husband asking, “Did you know…?” You cannot believe the amount of interesting and pertinent facts within its cover!

There is a Chronology of Events which covers November 1, 2016 through October 31, 2017 covering national and international add events. (There are even pages with the results of the 2017 presidential election and how each states voted.) The plethora of fascinating facts continues on every page, with topics such as these:

  • Obituaries for famous people who died in 2017
  • Notable Quotes of 2017
  • Economics including the world’s wealthiest individuals, leading businesses and largest companies
  • Employment
  • Crime
  • Military Affairs
  • Health with every subtopic you can imagine from eating disorders to common infectious diseases and basic first aid

Well, I could go on and on and on, but I tell you this is a fabulous resource to have to check on facts, to remember the year(s) gone by, and to consider the future. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

There’s even a section with the year in pictures.