After finishing my first book of 2024, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the other day I started reading Anita Brookner’s 1984 Booker Prize-winning novel, Hotel du Lac. Reading has been a business of pleasure for me but when I was reading this particular book last night, I felt a different kind of feeling. A feeling that I do not usually ascribe to reading or books.
A feeling of serendipity, perhaps, because I never thought I would be able to own Hotel du Lac through good fortune or so soon. My obsession with the Booker Prize (not the International Booker Prize) has been going on for over a decade and I have been attempting to collect all Booker Prize winners and shortlistees since then. But Hotel du Lac, among others, always seemed elusive until now. Sure, I could have ordered it online, but where’s the joy in that? Especially after I paid a fortune – between 2013 and 2015 – to own Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Eleanor Caton’s The Luminaries only to find them later at flea markets for a fraction of their retail price. Since then, I have bought most of my Booker-winning books from such flea markets across Mumbai.
Yet, I could never find Hotel du Lac. I would find copies of A S Byatt’s Possession, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and one of Hilary Mantel’s two Booker-winning books. But never Hotel du Lac, forcing me to assume that there weren’t many copies of the book in circulation. At least in Mumbai. Until now when I found it on a new website selling used books. Without thinking, I ordered Hotel du Lac and James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late for 10% of their original price. And both the books are in almost-new condition. You see what I mean by the joy of finding Booker Prize books in flea markets for cheap?
Reading Hotel du Lac now is giving me a redeeming feeling. That something has finally found its way to me and I’m ready to consume it. I have so many unread Booker books on my shelves and yet I immediately started on Brookner’s 1984 tale of an outcast because I was also anticipating this feeling. Reading a book that’s been on your to-be-read list for a long time and yet you want to own it before you read it.
As for the Kelman book, I’m not too hopeful as I had abandoned his Greyhound for Breakfast (1987) in 2017. It’ll be interesting to see if Kelman really deserved the 1994 Booker Prize over Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star.
That was a rather long introduction to the main point of this article, which is to update you on my Booker collection progress. Here it goes.
Booker Prize-Winning Books I Own
The first Booker Prize was given out in 1969. At the time of writing, the last award given out was in 2023 for Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song. In total, 59 books have won the prize, with dual winners each in 1974, 1992, and 2019.
Out of those 59, I own 51 books. I think that’s no small feat because I had to hunt down most of these in flea markets, stooping down across slender yards of used books and often straining my neck and lower back during the effort. Out of the 51 Booker books I own, my most prized possession is Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils. The copy is a possibly rare first edition published in 1986. Even just writing about it is giving me goosebumps.
I found Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea in a used book store in Goa. I still remember the voracious way in which I scanned the book shelves to the amusement of my friends. I think I got Rose Tremain’s Restoration also in the same store.
Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger were also hard to find. But still both were picked up from stalls selling used books in Churchgate, Mumbai. Keri Hulme’s The Bone People is the only Booker book in tatters.
Booker Prize-Shortlisted Books I Own
Apart from the winners, I also collect Booker Prize-shortlisted books. In an ideal world with unlimited money, I will own the entire Booker dozens.
Out of the 268 books that make up all Booker Prize shortlistees since 1969, not counting the winners, I have 55. A fairly smaller number, but I only started collecting shortlisted books recently. Moreover, books published before 1990 are much harder to find.
Pending Booker Prize Winners
That brings me to the list of Booker Prize-winning books that I’m yet to own:
- P H Newby’s Something to Answer For (1969)
- Bernice Rubens’s The Elected Member (1970)
- John Berger’s G (1972)
- Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust (1975)
- Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (2019)
- Damon Galgut’s The Promise (2021)
- Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (2022)
- Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song (2023)
Looking at these this way, I see that I’m missing the most recent and the oldest books. Finding the recent ones will be just a matter of time but the oldest four is going to take a long time. I think I need to scour flea markets on my international trips too. Who knows I might find a copy of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust in London? It’s possible, right?
Here’s to such possibilities.