So it's Orange Prize 2009 short list day and did you know that reading a book is like making marmalade?
Well actually I was looking for an orangey picture instead of filching the Orange logo and it all came to me in a flash, so time to reflect on this year's longlist of twenty titles.
The Booker Dozen will seem like buying a tin of Mamade after this and many would assert that it is insanity to read a literary prize list in this way and I'd agree, theirin lies the route to ennui and madness if you look on it as race to the finish, ticking the books off a list, dashing onto the next one, making a reading yoke out of a bookish pleasure. There's the ever-present danger of feeling that obligation to quickly suck every last ounce of juice out of every book,
shred every morsel of cleverness under close scrutiny,
mine the quotes and churn out the thoughts in an instant without any emotional engagement with the writing at all, I'm sure I've done plenty of that in my reading lifetime.
But once I'd decided to plunge in I set myself the task of approaching the reading of this list in a measured way, after all these writers have taken a long time to write these books, they are deserving of my best attention.
So looking on it as my lucky day, there can be nothing more exciting for a bookaholic than to be given a broad reading canvas but one with set boundaries, a prize-list then becomes a gift, one over which the eye and the mind can rove at will but know there's also a sense of containment. I can pick up a book and see where it takes me, how it makes me feel and then give the it time to simmer,
reflect back on the whole list and find the connections, the merits, feel the buzz, yes alright, that rolling boil. A few of these books still haven't reached setting point for me either, I'm thinking about them long after the final page, others have already been spread on the toast and savoured...OK we'll pause the marmalade imagery for now.
If one book feels wrong for the moment there are nineteen others to choose from, I still haven't read them all and I know that with several a single read has barely touched the surface, so I'll carry on sharing my thoughts regardless of shortlist decisions.
Time to speculate, go out on the limb and tumble right off the branch because really what do I know, I've looked back over past longlists and seen some great books miss the cut, but if I had to pick a shortlist I think there are definites of which I feel so sure of their inclusion that I haven't read them yet, Marilynne Robinson's Home and A Mercy by Toni Morrison.
Well actually I've started both and stopped both but not surrendered just yet.
Of the remaining eighteen I've read eleven, given up on four and have another in progress.
Unopened as yet, Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan and I still don't have a copy of Intuition by Allegra Goodman.
I don't think I'd be disappointed to find any of these on the shortlist alongside those seeming certainties, there's one long shot in there which I'm still reading but it has the makings of something very unusual (The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight by Gina Ochsner) but may yet go satsuma-shaped, but if this is a prize to find the best in literary fiction written by a woman, then here's my call.
This year though I think the Orange Prize feels unpredictable, the strength and depth of this list has struck me time and again as I've read, but my heart still goes with Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows.
However I do feel I've touched on the essence, the true flavour of the pleasure of list-reading, distilling it down into a really brilliant reading experience and my thanks to every writer on this list who has contributed to that. Of course we moan that some things just can't be bottled and preserved, but the memory of this year's Orange reading most certainly can...
...and you must have known this picture was coming.