Tea or Books? #45: Do Literary Prizes Affect Our Reading and The Heir vs All Passion Spent

A heated conversation about literary prizes AND Vita Sackville-West. Roll up, roll up for episode 45!


Tea or Books logoIn the first half of this fortnight’s episode, we try to determine whether or not literary prizes affect our reading – which wanders off into a broader discussion of what we’re looking for from book prizes. It might get a bit controversial. And in the second half, we’re comparing two novels we love by Vita Sackville-West – The Heir and All Passion Spent.

Do let us know how you’d vote in each half, and rate/review if you would like to. Our iTunes page is over here, and we’ll back in about a fortnight with a couple of novels by Elizabeth Strout.

Here are the books and authors we mention in this episode:

Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
The Semi-Attached Couple by Emily Eden
The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie
That Thing Around Your Neck by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie
Autumn by Ali Smith
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Elizabeth Taylor
The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark
The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Hilary Mantel
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Lady Into Fox by David Garnett
Arnold Bennett
D.H. Lawrence
Radclyffe Hall
J.B. Priestley
Siegfried Sassoon
Miss Mole by E.H. Young
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
Aldous Huxley
L.P. Hartley
The Far Cry by Emma Smith
Margaret Kennedy
Ivy Compton-Burnett
Rose Macaulay
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen
The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Greengates by R.C. Sherriff
Samson Agonistes by John Milton
Knole and the Sackvilles by Vita Sackville-West
The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West
Grand Canyon by Vita Sackville-West
Dragon in Shallow Waters by Vita Sackville-West
Heritage by Vita Sackville-West
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

17 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #45: Do Literary Prizes Affect Our Reading and The Heir vs All Passion Spent

  • October 3, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Wow: look at all the VS-W you’ve referenced in the process of this debate. Sounds terrific!

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      Often only very briefly, but we will read more!

  • October 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Muriel Spark was shortlisted 3 times, for The Public Image, The Driver’s Seat and Loitering With Intent. Penelope Fitzgerald was shortlisted several times but won for the wrong book (Offshore), and so did Julian Barnes.
    On the whole I tend to pay more attention to the shortlist than to the actual winner. But without the Booker, perhaps I would never have discoverd Carey and Coetzee, who knows ?

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks for fact checking Izzy! I’m delighted that Loitering With Intent was shortlisted, because I love it so much, but I’m surprised The Public Image made the grade.

  • October 3, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    I used to be a lot more interested in the literary prizes but nowadays I feel quite out of touch with them and most of the new books I read don’t get awards. To be honest I’m often a bit of a reading snob and I like to be reading obscurities that no one else likes…

    As for Vita -The Heir is magnificent!!

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:15 pm

      Oh, reading the little-known books always feels much nicer, I agree! More special.

  • October 4, 2017 at 12:52 am

    I think this is a very interesting topic. I agree with you, Simon, that there is a place for experimentation in the prizes. I have started two projects where I have been reading the short list for two prizes. Although there have been disappointments, I think that the level of fiction I’ve been reading since I started the projects, in general, has improved as compared to when I was just randomly picking books. I have read some really good fiction (including The Luminaries, Rachel) that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. On the other hand, as Rachel mentioned, I have not heard of most of the books on the Booker shortlist this year, and I read voluminously. I haven’t read Finkler yet, by the way, but I disliked the other book by Jacobson on another list, J.

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      I’ve always avoided those projects – just the idea of having to read so many modern novels in such a short space of time fills me with foreboding! I can’t imagine how much the judges have to get through…

  • October 4, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I liked “All Passion Soent” very much but haven’t read “The Heir”. It’s now on order! Sissinghurst is my favourite Sackville- West house- visited it often when I lived in Kent. As to Booker prize winning books, I am rarely tempted. I prefer to browse, preferably in book shops,read reviews and blogs, and generally choose what I think I will enjoy.Not always a successful choice, must mostly!

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      I do hope you enjoy The Heir, Delyn! Let us know :) And Sissinghurst is stunning, isn’t it? I loved her writing room.

  • October 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Loved this episode even more than usual. I was almost cheering as Rachel went into her speech about prizes being dominated by big publishers.

    I think there is a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes about book publishing. Some of the books that get talked up in the media, online and on certain book podcasts are worthy doorstops on the current politically correct buzzwords, or experimental tomes that are frankly unreadable unless one is prepared to slog on in order to score points in an imaginary game of one upmanship. Who can be bothered?

    I wanted to clap and cheer but refrained as it was 4 in the morning. I’m increasingly drawn to mid century or older, or books that have stood the test of time after the hype has died down. And yes, the short lists make interesting reading and introduce us to authors we may not have heard of, and the general buzz around The Booker does get people into bookshops. So there is that.

    Keep up the excellent work you two!

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Oh, thank you so much Cindy! I do enjoy it too when Rachel gets impassioned :)

  • October 10, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    I read very little current fiction as I have so many older books unread, so I’ve heard of hardly any of the prize nominees. I think the last award winning book I read was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I liked very much up until the end.

    Of VSW, I’ve only read The Edwardians, which I liked but did find rather slow. I am intrigued by The Heir.

    And for an upcoming podcast, I suggest the works of Daphne du Maurier — I’m currently reading The House on the Strand and I’m really enjoying it. I’d love to hear you two debate any of her books.

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      The Edwardians is fab – and a big bestseller in its time, apparently!

      We have done some Daphne in an earlier episode – My Cousin Rachel vs Rebecca – but could definitely seek out some more! (Can’t remember which ep it was, but I’m sure Google would :))

  • October 11, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Like Cindy, I was listening in the middle of the night and agreeing with Rachel’s critique of the major book prizes. If even a self-confessed “book snob” thinks some of the prizes may be too elitist, they may be heading in the wrong direction.

    I didn’t make much progress with The Finkler Question either although, to be fair, if a lot of literary taste is subjective, then this is especially so when it comes to comic writing.

    These days being on the Booker list (long or short) is more likely to put me off a book than to encourage me to read it. That said, Thomas has tempted to me read Paul Auster’s book shortlisted “4 3 2 1” with this excellent review: https://hogglestock.com/2017/10/07/this-review-deserves-four-titles/
    Even though I did not like the only other Auster novel I have so far attempted, Thomas’s review suggests this novel might represent a sort of inventiveness that appeals to me.

    The prize named after a coffee shop chain seems to do a fairly good job in highlighting fiction that is both well-written and unfraid to tell a good story. I would also point to the former Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, now sponsored by an investment management company, as an example of a prize that spotlights some good reads.

    Thanks for a good podcast.

    • October 13, 2017 at 5:04 am

      I find Thomas is usually spot on, though I have yet to try Eric Ambler. In fact, Thomas is on of my favourite podcasters and book-recommenders. I have listened to his chat with Jenny on Reading Envy several times. I don’t reread books, but I sure can relisten to podcasts.

      I think Harold Jacobson is funny in that Larry David/middle aged Jewish man with angst way, probably because I know so many that fit tbe bill.

    • October 15, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thanks David! I agree with you – more likely to put me off than anything…


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