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Capital stuff

Capital stuff

Londoners in lockdown love Booker Prize books, it seems. Not an exercise in alliteration but recognition that two or the three most bought books in the capital come with the prize’s stamp of approval. The figures, gleaned from what sold most on Amazon between 23 March and 11 May, show that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Sally Rooney’s 2018 longlisted Normal People came out on top (she also took 10th place with Conversations With Friends) with Bernardine Evaristo’s prize-sharing Girl, Woman, Other at number three. The fact that the rest of the list featured mostly fitness and cookery books shows that while Londoners are determined to look after their bodies, the Booker Prize inclusions show they want to buff up their minds too.

Fernanda Melchor, one of the International Booker Prize shortlistees who remains on tenterhooks until the delayed prize can be awarded post coronavirus, has been discussing her book, Hurricane Season – and Mexican literature more widely – on a podcast for the International Literature Festival Dublin. Among the numerous subjects she discusses, the impressive Melchor gave a pithy rationale for literature itself, especially in societies such as Mexico where freedoms can be fragile. The role of authors and books, she says, is “To name things and break the silence because in silence atrocities can happen.”

When Britain was told to stay at home in late March, the BBC’s Front Row Late changed into Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard. In this new incarnation, the programme has done its best to make sure that evolving art remained available to chomping-at-the-bit aficionados. Among those making special work for the show have been the movie bigwig Martin Scorsese and the sensory artist Olafur Eliasson. Naturally, various Booker-Prizers have also contributed – both current winners among them: Bernardine Evaristo wrote a monologue in which the Covid-19 virus itself did the talking while Margaret Atwood and her sister designed a, it has to be said, strange puppet show. Lemn Sissay, one of this year’s Booker Prize judges, discussed the power of poetry in a pandemic with, among others, the Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clark, while the 2018 chair of judges Kwame Kwei-Armah discussed the importance of theatre with Antonio Pappano and Juliet Stevenson. If you fancy immersion in the Bookerite minds, all these contributions can be found here.

Booker Prize novels have a long and multi-Oscar-winning heritage as the source material for the screen. From Schindler’s List and The English Patient to the current True History of the Kelly Gang and The White Tiger directors have realised they don’t need to go to the trouble of dreaming up plots of their own when the world’s best authors have already done it for them. Rather rarer though is Booker Prize music. Of course Marlon James’s prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings had Bob Marley at its heart but that was music on the page. Now the American singer-songwriter Eric Anders and the guitarist-composer Mark O’Bitz have come up with an album called American Bardo. Due for release on 31 July, each of the 12 songs is what the duo call a “reading” related to the characters in George Saunders’s 2017 Booker Prize winning Lincoln in the Bardo. The novel is voiced by a selection of dead souls so it will be fascinating to see what the musicians have made of Saunders’s chorus of the deceased. A prize too, for the first critic to describe the songs as “haunting”.