Some reflections on my first experience with (shadow) jury duty

The official shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was announced within the last 24 hours or so. A few hours before that, the shadow jury that I am part of revealed its selection of its six book shortlist. How do they match up? Only on two points. With The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Susan Bernofsky) and Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgimage (translated by Philip Gabriel). Personally I am pleased with the first title but would not have chosen the latter for either list. But that is the way it goes. The experience of reading alongside 10 other bloggers has been challenging, exciting and a terrific insight into the joys and frustrations of shadow jury dury. That includes: finding terrific new books, dragging oneself through books that – without obligation – would have been abandoned at page 30, and watching some books you want to champion proceed while others fall by the wayside.

iffpAnd we are not done yet. A winner, the shadow version and the real one, will be announced on May 27. We will see if we agree. The longlists are as follows:

The Shadow IFFP Longlist (with links to my reviews):
Boodlines
Marcello Fois (tr. Silvester Mazarella)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami (tr. Philip Gabriel)

The Dead Lake
Hamid Ismailov (tr. Andrew Bromfield)

The End of Days
Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky)

The Ravens
Tomas Bannerhed (tr. Sarah Death)

Zone
Mathias Énard (tr. Charlotte Mandell)
Added by jury members who feel it was an oversight
(I have yet to complete and review)

The official list, in addition to the Murakami and the Erpenbeck titles, includes the following:

By Night the Mountain Burns
Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (tr. Jethro Soutar)

F: A Novel
Daniel Kehlmann (tr. Carol Brown Janeway)

In the Beginning was the Sea
Tomas Gonzalez (tr. Frank Wynne)

While the Gods Were Sleeping
Erwin Mortier (tr. Paul Vincent)

I believe that our shadow jury has presented a solid shortlist, but I must confess that my favourite overall title, While the Gods Were Sleeping, did not fare well on the shadow poll so I am secretly happy to see it receive the attention of the official shortlisting. Likewise I am delighted to see And Other Stories, one of my favourite independent publishers, make the cut with their first ever longlisted title.

So what have I learned so far?

– There is a great community of online book bloggers and I have “met” so many avid  readers of translated fiction (and other literature too)
– The jury process is one of compromise and strongly divergent opinions between readers based on taste and inclination
– I have never read so many books in such a short time – I can do it – but it is a relief to have the pressure off a bit (I do not envy the Booker judges their task!)
– Twitter can suck up hours of your life, but again, is a great way to engage with readers around the world (and with authors and publishers too which is very cool)
– My TBR pile continues to grow astronomically the more that I blog about books and encounter fellow readers and amazing indie publishers

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

16 thoughts on “Some reflections on my first experience with (shadow) jury duty”

  1. It’s very cool to see the list and process summed up that way; very lekker post, china! 😉 I’m totally on your side in the Erpenbeck vs Murakami showdown (I’m still grumpy that his feet of clay emerged).

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  2. I’ve been following several of the shadow jury blogs but this was a really interesting insight into the process. I’d not really thought of it in the terms you describe (I think I naively and foolishly thought you’d all somehow magically agree on the shortlist!). I’ve only read the Murakami and haven’t the time to read the longlist – I’d planned to read those on the official shortlist but after reading your post I’ve decided to change my mind and stay with that shadow jury list!

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    1. Had we been in the same room it might have come to blows and if our scoring process had not revealed 6 clear frontrunners we might have had a showdown, but given our range of timezones (Australia to MDT) by the time I got up at the far western end it was a done deal. 🙂

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  3. Great recap! I’m similarly happy to see a personal favorite (In the Beginning Was the Sea) on the official shortlist. I hear you on the whole abandoning-by-page-30 thing…and I’ve also acquired a newfound respect for the Booker judges!

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    1. It was intense for me, I find my reading brain a little unfocused now that the big reading crush is over. I have been eyeing some of the titles on the Best Translated Book Award list, but those might even be harder for you to obtain. Those of us in North America and Australia faced a few more challenges getting books for this award as it was.

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  4. I have so enjoyed blogging with you through this process, Joe. I think that the opinions you and I hold are very closely aligned, but perhaps you disagree with me. 😉

    There’s no way I could have read all 15 in the four weeks with my family and job, but I am happy I read 7. I am happy wih our short list, and I think the official list is well comprised, too, except for the inclusion of F. (What the F?)

    It is indeed a challenge to read past page 30 on some of the books, but so lovely to share the experience with fellow readers. Whom, as I said on Tony’s post, always seem to know better than the judges.

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    1. It has indeed been a wonderful opportunity to meet and read with other booklovers. I should expect (and hope) that opinions and tastes should diverge somewhat, among avid and passionate readers. I am not working at the moment and my family responsibilities are different now that my children are grown, but I am still recovering from a breakdown so the medication I take has created a challenge to focus at times. I managed almost 13 of 15 which is amazing for me (two I had read before starting).

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    1. You’re welcome! Apparently While the Gods Were Sleeping is part of a trilogy of sorts. The second book from the perspective of the brother is out in Dutch and the third will be from the perspective of Helena’s husband.

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