The August chapter of Susan Hill's Jacob's Room is Full of Books seemed to zoom by. I actually counted each chapter's pages because it seemed shorter. August was not the shortest but it was second shortest. June was 13 pages, while August was 15. Most were in the teens, with April and May in the twenties, and May a whopping 30. Why this interests me, and why I thought it might interest you, I have no idea. I suppose it is just like writing a letter or a blog post. Sometimes we have lots to say and other times we don't.
Anyhow, though so short, it was one of my personal favorite months. Not the least of the reasons is that Susan Hill led me to a book, Corduroy, which I had bought on the recommendation of a blogging, Instagram, and Facebook friend who is also an author. I wrote about her book here. She and I share a love of the Olde Country, and when she recommends a book I know I will enjoy it.
Hill quotes a passage from a book, and then says, "I wish I had written that." Those words may just be the highest praise a writer can give to another writer. That book is Corduroy, "the first book in a trilogy about Suffolk country life before the last war by Adrian Bell."
I won't quote the whole of it because it was quite long, but this will give you an idea of the beauty of the writing.
'The men move homeward from the field; the last load creaking up the hill behind them, the hoofs of the horses thudding, their breath sounding short. Peace comes, a vision of the fairy armour of moonlight, the peace of 'man goeth forth unto his work until the evening'Having just finished a book last evening, I was ready for a new one, and went right to the shelf and pulled down my Corduroy. How could I resist after reading such words?! You may read more about the author here. Hill says that Bell's books are a "record of farming life written by an outdoors person who had a poet's eye and pen." As I have noted here before, the time period and place I would most like to live in is England between the Wars. So, this will be a perfect book for me. Who knows when I would have gotten to it if not for Susan Hill mentioning it?
I don't pay attention to book awards so I had no idea of the controversy surrounding the 2011 Man Booker prize, for which Susan Hill was a judge. She says,
It has gone into folklore as the year the judges were of inferior and 'populist' quality who had not a clue about literature. I read that I was 'supremely unqualified' for the task. I do wonder how else I might have improved my chances of being qualified. I have a first class honours degree in English from King's College, London; I have published over fifty books, including several prize-winning novels; I have been a regular reviewer of fiction in a wide variety of newspapers and journals since 1963; I introduced a TV book programme, presented BBC Radio 4's Bookshelf and A Good Read; and I have been not only a previous Booker Prize judge but a judge for every other major fiction prize. In what way was I 'unqualified'?Before I go on, I just think it is horrible how people - all people, not just politicians - are criticized by the media. One must have to have an awfully tough skin to not feel terrible afterwards. What right does anyone have to say such things about a person? I just hate it.
She said that 2011 "was not a vintage year for literary fiction." Still, the judges had to read over 120 novels. 120!! Can you imagine? It was very difficult for them to come up with a longlist of books they
felt were worthy, and if the criterion was, as it must be, that every book included was a potential winner of the prize, then we failed because, hands on heart, we did not feel that one or two of our longlist choices were worthy of winning.As for the shortlist they had no doubts, and yet when it was announced they were strongly criticized to put a novel on that list by a certain person because he was gay. It was an absolutely ridiculous accusation. One of the judges wouldn't answer on principle, another said he hadn't even known, and others felt it was completely irrelevant - that the winner is chosen by the book not on the author's sexuality.
I wouldn't be a judge for love nor money! Susan Hill talks, as a reader, not a judge, about her own reading of winners.
I always wait until at least a year after any of the prizes before reading those on the lists which appeal. It is amazing how everything settles down and finds its natural level. Hype never did any reader much good.She writes of the book that actually won the Man Booker in 2011.
I recently re-read The Sense of an Ending, the Julian Barnes novel which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize, for which I was a judge. The Barnes was my choice. It was the almost-unanimous choice of the panel. It is a slim book - Barnes is not one to turn out 700 pages. But within its short space it contains truth, beauty, sadness, shrewdness, observation, intelligence, poignancy, self-pity, a man's coming to terms with his past... everything one can think of about the human condition and more.And now I have only four months to go in this wonderful book. Each month I learn so very much about many subjects, and am so enjoying myself.