Books

I judged the Man Booker Prize shortlist by their covers

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Gary Ogden
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I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 6

The great thing about books is, they have covers, so you know what’s going on inside them. They’re not just sitting there with their first page of text on display, because then it would be hard to tell them apart - also, they would be newspapers. 

Books take a long time to read - like, way too long in my opinion - so it’s very helpful to have a nice shiny cover to let me know if I’ll be wasting my time or not.

So, if there’s a woman with a silly bonnet on standing under a hanging basket or something crap, then I know to boot that one into the wall. But if, on the other hand, there is a robot with a big shooting gun and laser eyes, crushing a human skull underneath its foot, then you had damn well better believe I’ll be picking up that bad boy and doing an absolute Johnny 5 on the sucker.

Now, to the Man Booker prize, a recognition of supposedly the best the book world has to offer. There are six books in the running for the award, and I have absolutely zero clue what any of them are about, so how thankful am I, because it turns out: they all have covers. Which I can judge. And from that I will decide which one I will read, because like heck am I reading all of them - what a ludicrous and extremely personally offensive thing to say.

Anyway, off we go:

  1. 1.

    Elmet by Fiona Mozley

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers

    It would be funny if this was about a Cockney repairman who has a bathroom-based mishap and shouts something along the lines of “Ow! I’ve got me elmet caught in me zipper!” (10/10 would read), but it’s not. We know this because there is no zipper on the front, and the rule of books is that whatever is on the front is the storyline.

    Instead it’s about corn or something. And I, for one, do not want to read a book about corn. I read the back of a Jolly Green Giant can once and it was fucking boring, to say the least. Sure, trees and sunsets/sunrises (I can’t tell which one it is because it’s a still image, numbskull) are nice and all that, but you reckon you can stretch that out to 600 pages and still make it worth my while? 

    I highly doubt it, so you can take your dumb corn book and flip it, thank you very much.

    3/10 would not read

    Here’s a link to the official synopsis according to the Man Booker website - I presume it is the same as mine: here.

  2. 2.

    Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 1

    This is a bit better, because it has a creepy boy on the front, who is also clearly a ghost. I know this because all people in sepia photos are ghosts.

    In this case, it’s a precocious child-ghost called Lincoln, who is able to manipulate vines to do his evil bidding. I don’t know what a Bardo is, but it sounds a bit like “bar, though” and I can get behind this notion, as it’s the thing I most often say on nights out, particularly when we’re leaving.

    Also: just look at that goddamn lid. He got a side-parting AND a quiff - if that’s not an evil, dead-boy haircut, then I don’t know what is. 

    I think on the strength of the vines and the extremely confusing spectral haircut, this looks peng.

    7/10 would read providing there is a chapter that explains his hair

    Official synopsis here.

  3. 3.

    Exit West by Moshin Hamid

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 2

    Not much going on here, if I’m honest - nice font and all that, but really, all we’re looking at is a big rip on a piece of paper. Ooooh, how mysterious, what an ominous device! Peeling back the layers, hidden secrets underneath, what an enticing prospect! 

    No. This book is about a man who works in a Royal Mail sorting office. Then one day he finds a parcel that has a rip on it and has to go and get some sellotape to fix it. Someone’s written a WHOLE BOOK about this. 

    I know what’ll get the punters in!

    PARCELS.

    I certainly won’t be going anywhere near this slab of shite. Royal FAIL, more like.

    2/10 would not read

    Official synopsis here.

  4. 4.

    History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 3

    Now, this one has me mighty confused, as it happens. The title History Of Wolves grabbed me straight away - this book is about wolves, preferably of the ‘were’ variety - I am well and truly in. But why then, are there no wolves on the cover? 

    If your book is about wolves, then you should damn well put some wolves on the cover, otherwise you could easily be missing out on the all-important wolf contingent - all those wolf fans walking straight past your book because you didn’t have the nous to stick a cocking great dingo on the front. Text alone sometimes isn’t enough, especially if the potential book-buyer can’t read - how are they going to know you’ve got a sick wolf novel up your sleeve if you’ve stuck a dork on a twig on the cover instead of a kickass hound?

    I mean, cover-savvy doods like me know the game, and the intricacies of the publishing industry, so I’ll let you off. I know it wasn’t your fault - the publisher switched the image at the last minute and the snarling canine hit the cutting room floor. I can read, and I know this is about wolves, so I’ll make an exception just this once.

    7 secret wolves out of 10 would read

    Official synopsis here.

  5. 5.

    Autumn by Ali Smith

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 4

    The cover quote from The Observer says “Ali Smith’s novels soar higher every time”.

    Yeah, OUT THE WINDOW AFTER I’VE THROWN THEM. 

    What is a really boring thing to do? A ramble. I will not go on a ramble because contrary to unpopular belief, I am not yet 80-years-old and I do not own a pair of Merrells. I do not like walking through the woods because they are boring, and I certainly do not like walking through fields because they are even more boring. 

    Oh, and erm, what’s the worst season? It is autumn, which is the same name as this book. Let’s (mind your head, there’s a pun swinging overhead) ramble on about walking through fields in the most depressing quarter of the year - what a sure-fire way to sell some books.

    If I’m going to buy a book that’s named after a season, it is going to be called Summer and there had better be something a damn sight more interesting on the cover than a public footpath. Like - I’m just spitballin’ here - a wolf or something.

    A book about walking? If I saw this on the shelf at the bookstore, I would continue walking all the way out of there, to somewhere good, like - I’m just spitballin’ here - a wolf sanctuary or something.

    2/10 would not read

    Official synopsis here.

  6. 6.

    4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

    I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers 5

    I like the look of this one, dudes and dudettes, for two main reasons.

    1) There is a big crowd on the front cover, and they are clearly watching something cool, like a hot dog-eating competition or something, and:

    2) It is called 4 3 2 1 which is a countdown, and nothing boring ever comes after a countdown. Things that happen after countdowns are: rockets; space shuttles; glitter explosions; erm, soap-box races; the solution to the conundrum; a burp at a dinner party; a novel by Ali Smith thrown out the window - look, just fun things that make everyone cheer and shout and have a jolly good time, OK?

    So whatever is happening once that countdown gets to zero is going to be incredibly exciting, and that’s the kind of promise that’ll get me to buy a book. Also, the countdown only starts at 4, so you know this book is easily going to be the shortest on the list - maybe like one page for an intro, then four pages with a single big number on them, then like a couple at the end describing the hot dog-eating contest. 

    This will be both a very exhilarating book, but also one that I am able to finish in one or two sittings. I don’t have to waste any of my precious time, and even if it’s not that good, it’s not like I’ve spent three months reading it. I’ll just put it on the fire with the rest of the books I’ve gathered from my village to burn.

    I love this book and yes, because I love it so much, I will marry it.

    So, 4, 3, 2, 1…

    10/10 would read!

    Official synopsis here.

Ain’t reading any of the others though - I’ll wait for the movies of them. Love a good corn movie.

If you fancy reading what I thought about the International Booker Prize shortlist, you can absorb that here.

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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