Submitted by Leah on Fri, 2014-06-06 15:28
The fuss over Michael Gove suggesting that Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird shouldn't be centre stage in the new GCSE curriculum rumbles on. Several commentators have backed his stance, other criticised it. But what the brouhaha has done is make people ask what books they would replace the Steinbeck and the Lee with that might also impart lessons about tolerance, race and poverty. One newspaper asked a selection of writers and celebs for their suggestions: Aminatta Forna (Man Booker International judge in 2013) picked, among others, the Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; Philip Hensher (2008 shortlistee) chose another shortlistee, Rohinton Mistry, and his A Fine Balance; the politician Alan Johnson went for a trio of Man Booker winners – A.S. Byatt's Possession, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (he won in 1980 with Rites of Passage); while the former Man Booker chairman of judges Andrew Motion plumped for the double Booker winner J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Hilary Mantel herself, meanwhile, refused to play the game: "Why should students be condemned to thrash to death a novel or a corpus of poetry, week after week, month after month? No novel was ever penned to puzzle and punish the young." What is important, she pointed out, is encouraging the habit and love of reading.
Congratulations, or rather “felicitaciones”, to John Banville. The 2005 Man Booker laureate (for The Sea) has just scooped Spain's €50,000 Prince of Asturias literature award. The gongs are given to figures who make a grand contribution to the arts, sports, science and public affairs. At the ceremony in October, as well as his cheque, Banville will receive a trophy designed by Joan Miró. It is a good job there are a few months to wait. This week the novelist's thunder has rather been stolen by King Juan Carlos and his decision to abdicate. He could have let Banville have his moment in the sun first.
Still no luck though for Jhumpa Lahiri. The Lowland was nominated for last year's Man Booker and America's National Book Award and came away with neither. She must have been hoping that the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction (the Orange and Women's prize as were) would be the one to break her duck. No such luck though, it went to Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. Jhumpa will spring back.
Margaret Atwood (Man Booker winner in 2000 with The Blind Assassin) is about to have three of her novels (2003's Oryx and Crake, 2009's The Year of the Flood, and 2013's MaddAddam) turned into a drama series by Darren Aronofsky, the director of Black Swan and this year's Bible epic Noah. This last is good practice for the director: Atwood's trilogy describes a near future in which a “Waterless Flood” – a pandemic spread through a bioengineered virus wipes out much of humankind. It is all rather like the British weather – there's either too much water or too little.
Summer holidays, the Huffington Post has decided, are a good time to tackle big books. Who'd have thought it? To help its readers along it gives a selection of recent 500-pagers – or “tomes” as it likes to call them – that might fit the bill. Naturally the current Man Booker laureate Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is there, as is the 2010 longlistee Christos Tsiolkas with Barracuda – a novel about an Olympic swimmer. So that's stars and swimming-pools covered. A shame though that other holiday-themed Man Booker winning books such as Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust are just too short.