2013 Booker Conversations: And Our Winner Is…

Booker_ConversationsThe 2013 Booker Conversations is a series of in-depth, spoiler-free discussions between BookerMarks bloggers about this year’s nominated titles.

Today, we all join forces one final time to weigh in on who we’re each pulling for to win the prize tomorrow and we reveal who our collective winner is, as calculated by our shortlist standings rating system.

Aaron Westerman is Opinionless. Except of course when it comes to books or movies. He’s the co-founder of Typographical Era where he blogs on a regular basis about the latest in translated literature, foreign cinema, and more.

Karli Cude, co-founder of Typographical Era, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and recently received a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences.

Michelle Williams is an avid “reader” of books and a “rider” of bicycles. When she is not cycling you can catch her reading and when she is not reading, well, she is probably pedaling about somewhere. Her blog, A Reader and A Rider journals her reviews of literary fiction.

Penny Kollar is 1/3 of the Literary Hoarders that works in research administration by day and dreams often of reading and working amongst books full time.

Jackie Hirst is a book freak and a Duran Duran enthusiast.  She’s also 1/3 of the Literary Hoarders.

Elizabeth Polachok is 1/3 of Literary Hoarders, and works in television.  She’ll still tell you to shut off the TV and pick up a book though.

Mike Cohen sometimes sails historic ships in New York Harbor, jockeys a computer other times, and blogs nearly never at

Jennifer Fliss is The Well Read Fish.  She’s an avid reader, writer, runner, and has been known to do the flying trapeze (completely true). In addition to literary treats and reviews, The Well Read Fish likes to pair like books with like books, be it by subject, style, setting . . . The Well Read Fish is a New York fish living in Seattle, loving it and occasionally struggling with it.


The Luminaries

Michelle:  As we are winding up our reviews of the 2013 Man Booker short list, it is becoming apparent that based on raw score, A Tale for a Time Being will be the BookerMarks choice to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.  Even though it has received the highest “popular vote”, I do not think it will actually win the Booker. Based on the reviews of many on our BookerMarks panel, I don’t think most of us believe it will win either.

With that said, I would like to share my views on who I want to win vs. who I think will win.

Of course, if you have read any of my reviews or listened to any of our podcasts, everyone knows I want Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries to win.  It was by far my favorite of the Booker’s this year.  I enjoyed every bit of the story – from the spooky ghost story beginning, to wondering why Catton thought it was important that a character admired his dirty fingernails, to the funny introductory blurbs at the beginning of every paragraph. This is the book I want to win.

So would it be obnoxious of me to believe that The Luminaries will win?  Well, I have stuck with this book from the very beginning with my early blog on Why It Will Win.  I am not going to turn my back on it now.  I believe that the story telling coupled with the master craftmanship of the novel based on astrology will propel The Luminaries to the top of the short list and that it will win the Booker.

Aaron, I feel like I may be banging my head against the wall with my choice, much like you did last year with Swimming Home.  So, who would you like to see win and who do you think will ultimately take home the prize?

The Luminaries: 1


The Lowland

Aaron: I think it’s clear that Jim Crace’s Harvest is the closest thing we’ve got to Will Self’s Umbrella this year.  Meaning of course that it’s literary gold, but not quite accessible enough to take the actual prize.  With that said, the larger question obviously becomes: which title is this year’s Bring Up the Bodies?  Unfortunately I don’t think that there’s a clear cut answer.

I’ve bounced around A LOT in my leanings this year with regards to who I think will win.  Recently I went back and looked at my shortlist ratings for each title from last year and found a lot of 3.5 ratings and then high marks for both Mantel and Levy.  While some will no doubt argue that the selections this year aren’t quite as good, I’d beg to differ.  With the exception of one book this year that I felt was pure kaka, my ratings for this year’s finalists have all been 4 or above.

I loved The Luminaries while I was reading it, but for whatever reason the further I get away from it, and the more I absorb people’s comments about why they dislike it, the more the shine wears off for me.  I loved The Testament of Mary and it was great fun to debate its literary merits, but again, I can also appreciate the argument from some that it feels too short and perhaps reads as a bit too incomplete.  I’d be fine with either of these titles winning as I feel that they’re both worthy, but ultimately I’m throwing my support behind The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri to take the prize.  The biggest reason?  Her writing resonated with me on a much deeper level than any of the other longlist or shortlist contenders this year.  I don’t want to go so far as to call the novel perfect, because it certainly has it’s flaws, but Lahiri’s touching exploration of three generations that are forever linked by tragic circumstances is one of the most immediate, powerful pieces I’ve read in a long time.  Lahiri breathes so much life into each of her characters that as a reader, no matter how I ever felt about any one of them them at any given point, and regardless of whether or not I agreed with their choices, I felt like I always understood the thoughts and motivations behind them.  And then I came to the end and I was astonished to realize that what I thought I understood wasn’t even close to the truth.  I think that’s an important, valuable lesson.  That we’re quick to judge people based on what we think we know, but what we’re really working from is an incomplete picture at best.

Penny, I think you had love for The Lowland, but I know that your heart is sharing time with another title as well.  I’m curious to hear your final assessment.

The Luminaries: 1 | The Lowland: 1


A Tale For The Time Being

Penny: Excellent segue into my assessment Aaron. Yes, it comes as no surprise as to where my heart truly lays for this year’s Booker Prize. It is firmly behind A Tale for the Time Being. I have never felt this strongly for a Man Booker nominated title before. But will it win? I clearly want it to be crowned the champion. I have not been so completely and emotionally invested in a story like that in a long time, most certainly for a Man Booker nominated book! There has been some debate among the BookerMarks about its chances for winning and I can see the side of some of those debates, but do not completely agree. I do see A Tale for the Time Being as a worthy winner as it encompasses so much with such incredible detail and skill. However, hot on its heels is most assuredly The Lowland. Just as Aaron has mentioned above, these characters, although originally reviewed by me as being not as strongly developed or as multi-dimensional as I’m normally accustomed to, did remain long, long, long on my mind well after closing the pages. For days afterwards I thought about them, tossed their perspectives around in my head and talked about it time and time again with others that were currently reading it. Therefore, I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed to see Jhumpa Lahiri take the prize either. The other titles just held no appeal to me at all. While The Luminaries was a stunning achievement I think it’s value becomes lost in its over verbosity and academic structure. A Tale for the Time Being is clearly the top-ranked title, and we here at the BookerMarks did pick Hilary Mantel as last year’s winner, as based upon our ranking system. We should feel secure in that system again this year.

Karli and Jen, I don’t have much of a gauge on what titles you have a wish to win. Which one do you feel is the clear winner or is it not that clear cut for either of you this year?

The Luminaries: 1 | The Lowland: 1 | A Tale for the Time Being: 1



Karli: If I’m going based on who I think the judges will pick, I would have to choose Harvest.  But if I’m picking my personal favorite from the shortlist, I think I would have to go with A Tale for the Time Being as well.  I know I haven’t published my review yet, but I’m wavering between a 4 and a 4.5.  For me, none of the other nominees have come close this year.  And while I haven’t finished The Luminaries yet, I probably won’t finish it by the time the winner is announced.  I don’t know if A Tale for the Time Being is Literary enough for the judges, but like Penny says, we did do a good job with predictions based on our own ratings last year, so maybe our system will hold up!  So I guess that’s another point for Ozeki.

The Luminaries: 1 | The Lowland: 1 | A Tale for the Time Being: 2

Jen: I’m going to repeat a few of my colleagues above. I think Harvest will win. It’s literary and, while boring, I still believe there is worth in the way Crace expressed the themes of his story. Now, only 25% in, I’d love to see A Tale for the Time Being win. It would be a departure for the Man Booker judges, but I also think it is more literary than it seems. The pop culture references and Nao’s teenage conversational narration would make you think otherwise- but that is what I think makes Ozeki such a gem of a writer. I’ll throw my desire behind Ozeki, but wouldn’t be surprised if Crace takes it home. As for The Lowland, I definitely enjoyed it, but since I don’t believe it much of a departure for Lahiri, I hope it doesn’t win. Maybe I’ll change my mind after I meet her/listen to her speak tonight?

The Luminaries: 1 / The Lowland: 1 / A Tale For The Time Being: 3

Elizabeth: While I keep wondering what the 2013 Man Booker panel was thinking when Harvest made the shortlist, I have a sinking feeling that it’s going to take the prize.  It’s the author’s last book, and it’s brimming with thick prose and wealth of opportunities for interpretation.  Literary judges seem to like these qualities.  But, I don’t think that Harvest should win.  I think that a novel’s accessibility to the reader should be considered.  If the novel skulks off to the corner, and assumes that the burden of entertainment is on the reader’s interpretation, then I have an issue with that.  I believe that being swallowed by a story is a good thing, and a prize winner should be one that leaves its readers feeling fulfilled. This is why I want A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki to take this year’s Man Booker title.  Ozeki’s novel is a sprawling tale that offers raw glimpses of people’s lives, while simultaneously providing sincere inspiration.  You might wonder how a novel that covers bullying, failure, longing, war, writer’s block and quantum physics can manage this, but it does, and it does so magnificently.  It’s a novel that will remain with you long after you finish, and the characters will feel like people who have been in your life for a very long time.  I would recommend this title to anyone, and would go so far as to insist that friends pick it up.  It’s that good.  Overall, I’ve decided that my faith in the Man Booker prize will be unscathed if A Tale For The Time Being wins this year, so I’m simply going to cast my official “win” vote for my favorite.

Jackie, how do you feel about A Tale For The Time Being, versus Harvest?  😉

The Luminaries: 1 / The Lowland: 1 / A Tale For The Time Being: 4


We Need New Names

Jackie: Let me tell you how much I loved Harvest…. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….. Oops! Dozed off for a minute there! Seriously, if Harvest takes the prize I will be so disappointed. I even liked kaka (We Need New Names) better than that book!

I just finished The Lowland yesterday and I completely loved it for all of the same reasons as you did Aaron but, I am going to make it a 3/3 Literary Hoarders vote for A Tale for the Time Being to take the prize this year. For me, this book had everything: 2 likeable main characters who were so different from each other yet surprisingly similar, a super fun and interesting mystery to solve, heartbreaking drama (extreme bullying, suicide, prostitution, Alzheimer’s), war (Kamakaze pilots!) and peace (Old Jiko and her Buddhist practices), quantum physics and the environment (infinite cat asses and Ruth’s husband, Oliver’s quirkiness), writer’s block and the reader/writer relationship, and communication in all of its forms old and new (old letters, secret diaries, the internet). I thought that this was an all around great read and I am also going to make sure that all of my book buddies get a hold of this one! (And, it must be mentioned for any audiobook lovers out there that Ruth Ozeki’s narration of her own novel pushes a great book right into the stratosphere of love, love, LOVE!)

Ok Mike! You are pulling for The Testament of Mary, right? 😉

The Luminaries: 1 / The Lowland: 1 / A Tale For The Time Being: 5


The Testament of Mary

Mike: Jackie, thank you so much for having my back, and asking me about a book I can actually talk about!

I’m publicly admitting here that I am this year’s official BookermarksFail and comic relief. Real life came before reading and I am so far behind. I am currently trying to finish The Lowland in time to review it by tomorrow, which will get me to, gulp, two out of six from the Short List.

But you asked about Mary. Mary, Mary, Mary. No, I will not be rooting for Mary to win the Booker. As my review ~might~ have hinted at, I found The Testament Of Mary to be a painful read. I disliked her as a character, I disliked what I felt was smugness in the tone of the story, I felt it was irreverence for the sake of irreverence, I’m not sure I even liked the font it was printed in. I will pay it this compliment though… better than Will Self’s Umbrella. So it’s got that going for it.

I don’t know if it is fair for me to have a vote, while I’ve read only 1.75 out of 6 books, but I am enjoying The Lowland very much, and it will get a 4+ rating at least. Because we seem to have a bit of a landslide vote going at the moment, but I suppose there’s little harm in saying…

The Luminaries: 1 / The Lowland: 2 / A Tale For The Time Being: 5

The numbers bear out and our final collective shortlist standing calculations predict Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being as the winner as well:


4.40: Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being
4.10: Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland
3.70: Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries
3.40: Harvest – Jim Crace
3.30: The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
2.60: We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Good luck to all of the nominees tomorrow!

Aaron, Karli, Michelle, Penny, Jackie, Elizabeth, Mike, and Jen are all members of the BookerMarks project which is a yearly collaboration between 8 bloggers who shadow the Man Booker Award and try to predict the winner.  So far, they’re 1-for-1.


  1. Ok, better stop reading your excellent reviews and go finish The Luminaries before tomorrow, but aarrh, I haven’t read A Tale for the Time Being yet. That will be a gift read I am sure.

    Brilliant series of posts, I hope you do it again next year.

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