The Alternative Booker Awards

It seems somewhat ironic that I’m writing this blog chain (I had to be careful with typos there!) the day after the Oscars; An internal back slapping extravaganza. This voting year, (2012), the winning film is Argo, a story about a CIA operative, who led the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. As yet I haven’t seen it, so I’m not in a position to comment. But as the Oscars are awarded by the ‘in crowd’, and not based upon public opinion, I guess it doesn’t matter what I, or you, think of the film.

And so it is with the Man Booker Prize. An ‘in crowd’ advisory committee selects the judging panel, who after a short-listing, nominate the winner. There has been much controversy over the years with the types of books which have won the award, with the word ‘pretentious’ often getting aired. I’m not here to stand in judgement, although I can tell you my highly educated wife did toss one nominated ‘short-list’ book into the waste-bin, stating that was where it should live, and not on our bookcase.

Now you may be puzzled by the picture of Land Rover Owners Manual. No. I’m not going to be nominating it for an Alternative Booker Award, even though it is a humorous take on a traditional ‘Haynes’ manual, and is thus fictional . . . at a level. (Rather like that other work of fiction - Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, but that’s another story.) I’m using the book cover to emphasise the ‘alternative’ angle of this blog. My good friend and fellow author Jay Squires tagged me in on this very interesting blog piece. So here is the idea behind it. I select five of my own favourite books. Not the controversial and sometimes completely unfathomable choices of the earlier cited ‘in crowd’, but books which have given me hours of pleasure, and which I’d be happy to recommend to a friend. I’ve then been asked to invite five other authors to share their experience of good, solid, engrossing and entertaining reads. My choices, in no particular order, are as follows (Just click on a cover to read Amazon reviews):

Title - K-PAX

Author - Gene Brewer

K-PAX is the first in a trilogy (Book Two being K-PAX II - On a Beam of Light, and Book Three, K-PAX III - The Worlds of Prot) and features a character calling himself Prot. He is an inmate in a mental institution, who claims to be from another planet, namely K-PAX. What the doctors can’t establish is if he is an extra-terrestrial, or just a man living in his own strange world. The one key element which stops the doctors confirming the latter, and totally eliminating the former, is Prot’s incredible knowledge of the sciences such as astronomy and physics, and also philosophy. Question and answer sessions between the clinician and patient delve deep into the issues of many psychological concepts, as well as creating some interesting social commentary. K-PAX is apparently a planet which exists in a utopian bubble. Prot announces his wish to return, and take another inmate with him. You’ll need to read the book to see what happens next.

Title - Brave New World

Author - Aldous Huxley

In our current world of instant gratification and unbridled materialism, is there a better time to answer the questions generated by the utopian (or dystopian - depending upon your point of view) scenarios created by Huxley? Is there a danger we could be heading towards a controlled environment of extreme birth control, as outlined in his ‘tour’ of the Fertilizing Room of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, or become totally reliant on a mood altering drug, similar to his ‘Soma’? This sci-fi novel is pure genius, and is a serious wake-up call to what the future could hold. If we extrapolate how the current world is developing and changing, Brave New World may not be a fictional future, but a well considered projection of reality. I for one would hate to live in a social and economic strata comprising of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons; but having said that . . . some politicians and bankers who created the 2008 financial crisis could, arguably, already belong to the Epsilon group. (Just read John Lanchester’s Whoops! to understand why I believe this to be the case.)

Title - The Colour of Death

Author - Michael Cordy

Where five senses meet, a sixth is born...

I would describe Michael Cordy as the ‘Intelligent Reader’s’ Dan Brown. The story lines are more thought provoking than Mr Brown’s, and The Colour of Death is a great example. In this book, Cordy tackles the intriguing subject of synesthesia in a gripping way. It made me consider what else the human mind could be capable of when ‘wired’ in a slightly different manner. (Synesthetes do exist, and see sound as colour, numbers as colour etc. Only 4% of the population have synesthesia, but this increases to about 20% to 25% with artists.)

This is a story of a synesthete, who has lost her memory. She can’t even remember her own name . . . but uncovers a shocking crime scene by inexplicably sensing the evil within its walls.

Title - Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Author - Richard Bach

Bach takes the reader on an extraordinary journey via the actions and thoughts of a seagull. Through his words he is in effect asking the reader to consider the materialism, conformity and limitation of an average life. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is convinced there is more to life than the daily squabbling over food. He therefore seeks greater achievement via flight, and is eventually outcast by his flock for non-conformity. Unperturbed by this he sets himself even more challenging goals, resulting in the fact he learns more about himself with each stretching challenge. After befriending the wisest gull, in a higher plane of existence, he learns to move anywhere in the Universe in an instance. Eventually returning to Earth he shares his new knowledge with student Fletcher Lynd Seagull, who then becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.

Title - The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Author - Mohsin Hamid

Hands up! Yes, I’ve slightly ‘cheated’ with nominating this book, primarily because it was short-listed for the 2007 Booker Prize, but in my defence it didn’t win, but I think it deserved to.

The book opens with the following lines. ‘Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened of my beard. I am a lover of America . . .’

So speaks the mysterious stranger at a Lahore cafe as dusk settles. Invited to join him for tea, you learn his name and what led to this speaker of immaculate English to seek you out. For he is more worldly than you might expect; better travelled and better educated. He knows the West better than you do. And as he tells you his story, of how he embraced the American dream - and a Western woman - and how both betrayed him, so the night darkens. Then the true reason for your meeting becomes abundantly clear . . . For me this ‘frame story’ is 5 stars all day long, but it does, without doubt, divide opinion.

Here is my list of authors I’d like to invite to share the books that have shaped their thoughts, views, opinions, choice of coffee - or whatever else books have done for them.

Kathy L Logan

Billie Thomas

Tim Vicary

Melissa McPhail

Francis Laveaux

When you have completed your ‘Alternative Booker Prize’ blog entry, please let me know and I’ll provide a link to it from this page.


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