They're the first awards where the finalists are nominated only by bookshops, and the only major awards where the winners are chosen by readers. Which puts a lot of responsibility on bookshops.
Firstly, they had to do the tough job of selecting a very small number of titles from the wealth of excellent books to pass through their hands on a daily basis. Secondly, they have to encourage the right readers to read them.
It's not a case of simply encouraging every customer through their door to buy the books shortlisted – as good as those books are, not all books are for all people – it's about introducing the right book from the shortlist to the right reader. This ability is one of the things I especially love about booksellers – it's a talent that cannot be learned and the reason I know I'm destined to forever stay on the bookshopping side of things.
Not that it's going to stop me from telling you a bit about the shortlisted books. The fiction shortlist is the place that catches my attention because it's the area of bookshops that I love the most and so that's where we're going to focus today.
The fiction shortlist is:
- This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell
- The Muse by Jessie Burton
- The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon
- Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
- The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
- The Green Road by Anne Enright
I'm going to be honest, I've so far read only one of these books so please don't think you're going to get helpful reviews. Instead here's a glimpse into my rambling mind as I wander around a bookshop, trying to decide what to buy...
Vague plot information: I'm told this is a story about who we leave behind and who we become as we search for our place in the world.
Thoughts: I've not read many of her works but what I do know is that Maggie O'Farrell writes about relationships. I'm fascinated by the way books help us learn about other people, in particular everyday people leading ordinary lives that are different to my own. When I buy this I'll be looking for something to fascinate me without taking over my life.
Facts: This is her seventh novel and it was published by Tinder Press.
Vague plot information: Written around the story of a painting, this book is about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception.
Thoughts: When The Miniaturist came out I initially resisted buying it because I was only attracted to it because of the dolls' house subject. Eventually a chat with a bookseller made me realise this was a book I wanted to read. It was part mystery, part historical glimpse into life in Amsterdam. The book grabbed me and moved me and, frustratingly, I still can't decide if I loved or hated it. I want to read The Muse because I like the use of a thing – such as a dolls' house or painting – weaving its way through a story. I also want this book to help me decide how I feel about her first.
Facts: This is her second novel and was published by Picador.
Vague plot information: This is a part coming of age story, part mystery, told through the eyes of a child.
Thoughts: I want to read this book. I really, really want to read this book. I don't know why. There's no specific, rational reason for it. I hardly know anything about the story but every tiny detail I do hear makes me want to read it more: the girls investigating a disappearance, their interaction with the world and – I'm guessing – some life-lessons along the way. As soon as I find this book in paperback it will be mine.Facts: This was published by Borough Press. This is her first novel.
• Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
Vague plot information: A story of a widower and his young children, this book is full of unexpected humour, emotional truth and incredibly moving language.
Thoughts: This is the one book I've read on the shortlist. I only read it because a book club selected it and all such books should at the very least be attempted but, as good as I could see the book was, it's not for me. I devoured it in a matter of days, possibly hours, enjoying the words for themselves, but the moment I let myself remember what the book was about my own crow appeared, pecking away on my shoulder. Some books aren't for some people.
Facts: I'm the only person I know who didn't enjoy this book. It was published by Faber & Faber and is his first novel.
Vague plot information: Two brothers, one is mute. An atmospheric thriller that deals with myth and superstition.
Thoughts: This book sounds scary. I don't willingly read scary books but once a year my book club like to torture me by choosing something to terrify me in time for our Halloween gathering. This is the one book I thought I could probably cope with reading, so they didn't choose it. Which makes me all the more interested to read it. The idea of a story of gothic horror and Catholicism both appeals and makes me nervous, but the longer I have to wait to find out what this book is about, the more I want to read it.
Facts: Another debut novel, this one is published by John Murray.
Vague plot information: A story of family and all the turmoil that can involve.
Thoughts: At first I wasn't sure, I can't tell you why, just because of a whim I guess. Then I started to hear more about this book and the decade-spanning story it tells. I like decade-spanning stories. Then – once the title had insinuated itself into my brain as a possibility to read – the book was recommended during a bookshop visit. Which means I already own it but haven't yet had the chance to read it. This shortlisting has reminded me it needs to move up my TBR pile.
Facts: This book is published by Vintage. Anne Enright has written many novels and short story collections.
You can read more sensible information about these awards, the rest of the shortlists and vote for your winners on the National Book Tokens website, here.
Also, enter my BAMB Readers Awards competition here.