Last Monday, the judges for the 2006 Man Booker Prize announced the prize’s nineteen longlisted books, thereby kicking off the month-long countdown to the announcement of the six-book shortlist. Each year’s Booker Prize announcements mark three major moments in my literary calendar: come September 14, I’ll be calculating just how much money and time I can afford to spend buying and reading the shortlist before the prizewinner is announced October 10. Last year, I finished five of the six, which was as close as I’ve ever gotten to finishing the whole shortlist: I completed my reading of John Banville’s The Sea only moments before John Sutherland proclaimed it the winner.
For me, one of the joys of the Booker Prize is that it alerts me to some of what’s being published overseas, long before I would otherwise have known. Each year, I find myself placing substantial Amazon.co.uk orders, importing hardback copies of the shortlisted novels that aren’t due for U.S. release until January or February of the following year. Each year, I then watch one of those books win and get its U.S. publication date fast-tracked. This year, seven of the nineteen have not yet seen U.S. release (though one of those will be out at the end of August and another is due by mid-October). And there are some pretty Booker-familiar names here, including Peter Carey, David Mitchell, and Sarah Waters, as well as two former Thomas Chairs of Creative Writing at Kenyon, Claire Messud and Barry Unsworth.
My breath is bated.