Reading Adventures: How to Survive Reading a Book Prize Longlist

Books with a Baily's prize bookend
Category: Reading

Earlier this year I wrote about why I hate the idea of setting yourself reading challenges and why I would never do one. And then, a few months later, I found myself hearing about the Bailey’s longlist on the radio and setting a goal of reading all of the books. I clearly cannot be trusted and someone should protect me from myself at all times.

My dislike of challenges is completely incompatible with Things I Know About Myself. I am deeply motivated by numbers – long before Kindles thought of calculating what percentage of a book you had read, I used to figure it out manually just for fun. I am also excellent with rules – if I set myself black-and-white rules, there are no grey areas for me.

And there were other good elements of the challenge – I read books that I would never have picked up if I hadn’t been reading the longlist, and some of them were really good. When The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers arrived from the library and I saw the “sci-fi” category sticker on its spine I could have cried. I hate sci-fi. But this was one of my favourite books on the longlist – a perfect light and fun read.

However, as expected, there were also massive downsides. When I wasn’t enjoying a particular title I’d find myself trying to find anything else I could do rather than reading. My dishes have never been so clean as when I read The Secret Chord. Ignoring my normal “life’s too short to read books you’re not enjoying” rule left me demotivated, and losing the element of chance and whim about what I was reading sucked some of the joy out of it for me. I love finding the right book for me at the right time. Who knows – would I have preferred some of the longlist titles more if I’d just read them at a different time or if I’d felt less obligated to read them?

If you like reading, love a goal and have no interest in having any form of social life for a set number of weeks, consider taking on a longlist challenge.

Fancy reading a longlist? These totally impractical tips will make almost no difference to your life:

  • If you decide to read 20 books in a limited time period, don’t take on any other personal challenges at the same time. Particularly not ones that are completely incompatible with reading, like Moonwalk training. Personal challenges take up a significant amount of time and you will have moments where you want to do things that are not working, walking or reading.
  • It’s perfectly fine to stockpile books to read after the challenge. Try not to become bitter that you’ve got the new book by a favourite author sitting there waiting for you while you trudge through something you wouldn’t normally read even if it was the only book stranded on a desert island with you.
  • Accept that you will not love all of the longlist. Indeed, you might actively hate some of it. Much of it might leave you so unmoved that you start to question how it managed to make it to a longlist in the first place. 
  • Similarly, you should learn to emotionally detach yourself from the prize. If you care enough to read a longlist, you almost definitely won’t agree with the shortlist. 


And finally: the results

The book that will probably win, which I won’t be happy about but I’m working hard on my “I’m a naturally generous person who is totally happy for you” awards ceremony face as we speak...

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. I’ve read rave reviews about this one, so I fully accept that the problem is probably me and not the book.


The book that should win

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Stop reading this blog right now and go pick up a copy of A Little Life instead, I cannot rave enough about this book, it’s relatively slow to get started, but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down and read it in a day.

More than anything, as a person with a chronic illness, I’ve never read a book that better encapsulates the vulnerability of living with a long-term illness or disability in such a relatable way.

Warning: I had no idea how harrowing a read this was before I picked it up. Be prepared to ugly cry. 


The winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction will be announced on Wednesday 8 June. Find out more about the shortlist here.

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