Every year, I eagerly await the announcement of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist (right back down to when it was the Orange Prize). It’s a list I have faith in, that I believe will deliver me a number of great reads. This year’s announcement date was at a perfect time for me – 8am. Stupidly, I forgot until morning break when my Twitter timeline was flooded with tweets about the longlist. Couple that with the near non-existent phone reception and it was super frustrating! When I finally saw the list, I was really disappointed to see that I’d only read one book on the list (Ali Smith’s How to be Both, which I didn’t finish as it wasn’t my thing). But then looking over my reading for 2014, it really wasn’t that surprising given that I’d read predominantly Australian writers with a heavy skew towards romance. (Aussie women writers are eligible for the prize, but must have their book published in the UK during the time period specified).
I think my shock at reading the longlist and not even being familiar with some of the titles has jolted me to re-evaluate what I’m reading. It also probably helped that I’m suffering from Romance Overload & Overread Toxicity (aka ROOT) from reading a ton of romance books in the lead up to ARRC 2015 and some other ventures. That’s not to say that I’ve abandoned the genre completely, I just need something else in my reading currently. So I decided to go on a Baileys prize hunt.
Half the fun I think of the longlist is the hunt. For me, this involves making a list of all the books and reading the blurbs. Then the books are divided into yes (must read), no (not my thing) and maybe (could be good). One of the things I was pleasantly surprised by was how many of the longlist made it onto my ‘yes’ pile (16). I already had one book (The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, a Christmas present). Then came the book hunt. First stop, the bookshop. Armed with my list on my phone, I wandered the shelves. And wandered. And wondered if some books were shelved elsewhere. I could only find three books – Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert and A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie. I was quite disappointed, as I thought there would be a lot more!
So then it was back home to try other avenues. Fortunately, Audible had a section on Baileys Prize longlist audiobooks, so I took advantage of their ‘buy 2, save $10’ offer and bought two to listen to, Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey and A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I like to read my Baileys books in paper book format, so next stop was the library. Normally my library is not that good when it comes to ‘serious’ books but I was pleasantly surprised this year when I managed to get six longlist books to read! (Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans, I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill, After Before by Jemma Wayne and The Life of a Banana by PP Wong). Will I be able to read them all by the shortlist date (13th April)? I sincerely doubt it (especially because my library books are due for return the week before). But the fun is in exploring books that are new and different in addition to hopefully finding some new favourite authors.
And the four books I really want to read, but can’t find? I’ll keep searching and looking. The books I’ve read so far (The Life of a Banana and partway through Crooked Heart) haven’t let me down yet. They’re funny, astonishing and heartbreaking. I think this year’s longlist will remind me of the wonderful diversity out there in fiction written by women.