Friday, February 16, 2007

As books pile up in vaster and vaster numbers--and especially now, in my sabbatical year, as I work at home and have no office to serve as a secondary storage-and-staging site--I seem to read less and less. Maybe as I age I read more slowly. Maybe I'm simply less patient. Maybe my powers of concentration wane. But it seems that a novel I would once--youth!--have devoured in two days now requires a month of slow mastication. --Hence, longtime readers, all three or four of you, I'd pretty much decided to abandon my four-year tradition, the annual and not entirely unserious Nicholas Laughlin Book Awards for Caribbean books (i.e. books written by Caribbean authors, set in the Caribbean, or otherwise of particular Caribbean interest) published in the previous twelve months. (Refresh your memory of previous winners and note my growing ambivalence about the exercise: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.) But it's Carnival Friday, I'm in my foxhole, and in need, it seems, of some distraction. So, for the little it's worth....

The fine print, as it were: the sole justification for these awards is self-indulgence. My sole qualification as chief judge: for professional reasons I try what might be called my best to keep up-to-date with new Caribbean books; I read--or at least flip through--most of the review titles that cross my desk, choke my shelves, and assemble themselves into obstacles on my carpet. My personal opinion is the only criterion for the awards, which are restricted to books published in English. Omissions due to poor memory are inevitable. In early years I named winners in certain categories, but my reading is no longer methodical enough for that.

The 2006 Nicholas Laughlin Book Awards:

Big "prize": University of Hunger: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, by Martin Carter, ed. Gemma Robinson, hands down the most exciting new West Indian book of the year, the definitive edition of the work of a major writer who was inaccessible for far too long. I wish this volume were only the first step in our taking our literary heritage more seriously. (Read a short review here.)

Runners-up, or hon. mentions, or whatever you'd like to call them: Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems, by Lorna Goodison. I Been There, Sort Of: New and Selected Poems, by Mervyn Morris. I include Wilson Harris's new novel, The Ghost of Memory, because if it seems utterly impenetrable to me, that merely speaks to my own inadequacies. I'm glad and grateful to have Jeffrey Chock's Carnival photos collected in Trinidad Carnival, even if the quality of the printing often disappoints; the photos survive mal-reproduction. I was impressed by the title story of the young Kei Miller's Fear of Stones and Other Stories, and I intend to keep a close eye on his career.

Addendum: the most breathtakingly original book I read last year was Naipaul's A Way in the World, published in 1994, and which I hadn't re-read since then. We all have a lot of catching up to do. --At the end of 2005 I resolved to read more funny books. Well, early in 2006 I said to myself, sod it all, and re-read Evelyn Waugh almost entire. I laughed myself into near-rupture of the spleen; then I was astonished and stricken into minor awe by the Sword of Honour trilogy, and wondered why I'd never read that one before.

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