Reading the Women’s Prize Winners

My READ ALL THE SK project is just about finished — the only book I still have to read that was published before 2015 is Full Dark, No Stars. Then as far as I’m concerned, I’m “caught up” and can (finally) start reading the stuff he’s written in the last five years.

So I need another project to work on.

I’ve been meaning to read all of the Women’s Prize winners for some time now, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve read a number of them already as part of my regular, non-project reading, though. Last night I was watching Simon Savidge’s YouTube channel, and he and his mum are doing just this — they are reading (or have read) all of the Women’s Prize winners and are going to talk about them on Simon’s channel over a number of weeks. The books they talked about last night sound SO GOOD. They made me want to start this project sooner rather than later.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Women’s Prize for Fiction…

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is the UK’s most prestigious annual book award celebrating & honouring women’s fiction.

Founded in 1996, the Prize was set up to celebrate originality, accessibility & excellence in writing by women and to connect world-class writers with readers everywhere.

Women’s Prize for Fiction website

This is the list of current prize winners:

  • 1996 — A Spell of Winter, Helen Dunmore
  • 1997 — Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels
  • 1998 — Larry’s Party, Carol Shields
  • 1999 — A Crime in the Neighborhood, Suzanne Berne
  • 2000 — When I Lived in Modern Times, Linda Grant
  • 2001 — The Idea of Perfection, Kate Grenville
  • 2002 — Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  • 2003 — Property, Valerie Martin
  • 2004 — Small Island, Andrea Levy
  • 2005 — We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver (READ)
  • 2006 — On Beauty, Zadie Smith
  • 2007 — Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie
  • 2008 — The Road Home, Rose Tremain
  • 2009 — Home, Marilynne Robinson
  • 2010 — The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver (READ)
  • 2011 — The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obreht (READ)
  • 2012 — The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller (READ)
  • 2013 — May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes (READ)
  • 2014 — A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride (READ)
  • 2015 — How to Be Both, Ali Smith
  • 2016 — The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney
  • 2017 — The Power, Naomi Alderman (READ)
  • 2018 — Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie
  • 2019 — An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • 2020 — ???

Looking at the list, I’ve already read seven of them (and LOVED three of those), and there are maybe four or five that I’ve had on my TBR list for what feels like forever. I’m looking forward to fitting the rest of them into my regular reading list (over the next couple of years, maybe, because we all know how that goes, heh).

Have you read any of the Women’s Prize winners? Are there any you suggest reading first?

“When it comes to the past we all stack the deck.”

I’m a big fan of Stephen King. In fact, I’ve been working on a project since 2013 to read all of his books in order of publication (I took a year or two off at one point for…reasons). And while I’m a fan of everything he writes, even *I* have my favorites and my not-so-favorites. Not everything he writes speaks to me or sits well with me. Uncle Steve can be verbose. Sometimes I love one of his books until the last 100 pages…and then I want to chuck it across the room. But Duma Key? That is going on my list of favorites.

The plot, from Goodreads:

A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle’s right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn’t survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a “geographic cure,” a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else.

“Edgar does anything make you happy?”

“I used to sketch.”

“Take it up again. You need hedges…hedges against the night.”

Edgar leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth’s past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating.

Something about Duma Key touched me very deeply. It moved me. No matter how you feel about his writing or his books, here’s the thing about Stephen King: he knows the human mind. He knows what terrifies us. He knows what makes us angry. He knows what makes us sad. And SK is not afraid to have his characters think the kind of thoughts we all have, but would never speak aloud. A lot of King’s books take place inside his characters’ heads, which is the main reason I think his books don’t usually translate well to screen.

I’ve been able to personally relate to more than a few of King’s characters/books, but this one in particular really struck a chord with me for various reasons. And oh, the characters…Wireman, Elizabeth, Jack…they’re all wonderful and I wish they were real so I could meet them. And it’s no wonder SK got Edgar exactly right–having been through a life-threatening accident himself, SK knows exactly what the mind and body of someone coming back from something like that feels like.

I could blabber on much more about Duma Key, but I don’t know how to put all of my feelings about it into words. I could relate to so many of Edgar’s thoughts (for different reasons), and the musings about our memories and how faulty they can be were very touching.

Bottom line? Just read it–I highly recommend it.

Everything’s Eventual – Stephen King

Short stories are hard to write. That might sound weird or wrong to people who don’t know better or have never thought too deeply about it before, but it’s true. Just because it’s short, doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Think about it: with a novel, you have at least 200 pages with which to begin the story, develop the characters (and the story), then end the story. With a short story, you have to do all that in far fewer pages. If you can do that in 20 pages or less…and the story is also really good…I commend you. This might be easier for some people than for others, but it’s still tough in general.

As much as I love Uncle Steve–and I love him quite a bit–I’m not afraid to say that his writing can be verbose. I love him despite that, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. Because of his sometimes-verboseness, I find myself in awe of his ability to write great short stories. I’ve read a number of short story collections by a number of authors, and while I wasn’t disappointed with any of them, SK comes in at the top of my list as the Master of Short Storytelling.

Everythings Eventual

Everything’s Eventual, published in 2002, is a collection of 14 short stories. Some of them are better than others, relatively speaking, but they are all very, very good. As a Dark Tower fan, and as a fan of Randall Flagg, this collection has been given a special place in my heart. There were two new-to-me DT-related stories in this collection, as well as two stories featuring Randall Flagg. Score! I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t read the DT-related stories before now, but I blame that on the SK reading project I have going and my brain’s need to stick to the plan and do things in order.

Some of the stories in EE are straight-up horror and would scare anyone. A few, I think, would be considered more personal horrors–they might not be universal. And some of the stories aren’t horror at all, but show the darker sides of human beings and the darker feelings we experience in everyday life. And as always with SK, there is that touch (or more) of dark humor in each story. You can’t help but laugh even though you might not find the same thing funny if it was happening to you. I love that SK’s stories–whether short stories or novels–can make me laugh in the middle of being scared shitless or being intensely sad. SK is very good at making me feel ALL THE THINGS. That’s the mark of an excellent writer, in my opinion.

If you’re an SK fan, you’ve most likely already read this one. If you haven’t, I recommend it. I would also recommend this to someone who wants to read SK but doesn’t know where to start, maybe for people who don’t necessarily want to jump into his most horrific/gory stuff. I always think recommending SK’s short stories to someone who isn’t sure about him is a good idea–it gives them a taste without making them commit to an entire novel they might not like. And I think this collection could be a good place to start.