The Booker Prize 2022 Book Group challenge

The world would be a better place if more people joined book groups… I have had the immense privilege of being part of one for 20 years now—the Weegie BeeGees* (no-one calls it anything but the Book Group; the moniker was picked for identification purposes) founded by Maryanne McIntyre.

In that time, we’ve had at least 18 members, read at least 167 books and eaten at least 110 cakes. Lucy makes a cake themed around each book, which, given the general love for baking in the UK, most people find intriguing.

Mostly, we have read general fiction (40.7 per cent) and historical fiction (21 per cent). (For more information on our stats, including which genres different members tend to choose, our authors’ geographical spread and when the books we have been reading were published, see Lucy Jane’s 20 years of books and cakes: a book group’s data story.)

This year, the organisers of the Booker Prize along with the Reading Agency decided to invite book groups to apply to be part of the experience. They invited book groups to apply to read the short-listed books and review them—a well-meaning attempt to make literary prizes more inclusive through inviting in we amateurs.

The Booker Prize 2022 shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

The shortlist consists of

  • Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  • Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
  • The Trees by Percival Everett
  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

The winner will be announced on 17 October.

My friends Lucy and Morag Pavich put in the hard work of applying, and we were chosen. The six books shortlisted were allocated to each of the book groups (so unlike a real book group situation, none of our members chose the book we read) and off we went to read, digest and discuss Glory…

Two members of our Book Group, if we win the reading challenge with our fascinating insights (!) will be invited to attend the 2022 Booker Prize ceremony and dinner at the Roundhouse in London on 17 October.

Lucy and I were interviewed by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth talking about the Booker Prize book we read and our book group in general. It was a nerve racking experience not least because it was live. I coped by pointing at Lucy every time Janice asked one of the more difficult questions (sorry, Lucy!) and waffling on a bit about if everyone joined a book group, the world would be a better place.

You can listen to the audio here: https://lucyjanes.blog/2022/10/06/the-booker-prize-book-club-challenge/

To cut to the chase though, what did we actually think of Glory?

Over the years, very few books have met universal approval or dislike, and so was the case with Glory. Here’s my review of it…

The joy of belonging to a book group is that you read outside your comfort zone, which can turn up gems. The reverse is true as well of course. Personally, I found Glory a struggle to read. I’m not keen on allegory, and sometimes the satire seemed rather laboured.
Having stared off disliking the repetitive nature of some of the book, after a while it became more ‘rhythmic’ to my ear—tuning into the author’s voice, I suppose—and the writing and descriptions were beautiful in parts. You can’t help but admire the author’s ambition in attempting to tell such a ‘big’ story about a nation and I came away from the book determined to read up more on a history and culture I have so little knowledge of.
I enjoyed Destiny’s story (particularly when she returned and had to ‘tune’ back into the place where she came from) and the social media stuff felt very relevant—not just in relation to the fictional country, but as related to all kinds of events these days. And of course it raised a smile when some thinly disguised bigwigs turned up.
This is the first time I have seen George Floyd turn up in fiction, and I found that part of the book incredibly moving. The multiple points of view added to the novel too. Most novels published in this century concentrate on only a few, whereas this technique felt as if it was the only way you could tell a story like Glory.

Wish us luck in the competition!

My own writing

Reading prize-nominated and prize-winning books is inspiring, though sometimes you end up thinking, “I might as well give up now! I’ll never manage to write as beautifully as that.” But I persevere.

My vampire novel, Beautiful Biters, is now in the Paid Stories programme on Wattpad, which is nice from a validation point of view. Somebody somewhere recognised it as ‘worthy’ of publishing.

I have self-published a lot of books, which gives you control over everything—from the blurb to the uploading and the commissioning of covers. When my story entered the Paid Stories programme, Wattpad changed the cover of Beautiful Biters to the one on the left:

I much prefer the cover I commissioned (on the right), which was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram). The Wattpad cover is very ‘American’ and with traditional publishing, you often see two different covers for the UK versus the US market, which is an interesting fact in and of itself.

To me, covers with photographs of people often look cheap, and are cheap because it takes less time and effort to create them than to come up with an original image, such as the one Jennifer did for me, which also does a better job of conveying the adventure element of the story.

I’d love to know what you think, and which cover you prefer…

*We live in and around Glasgow and the slang name for people from Glasgow is Weegies (from the word Glaswegian, pronounced glas-wee-gin for those outside of the UK) and BeeGees from the initials, geddit?

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