Book Beat: An Even Older Odyssey and… The Handmaid’s Tale Wine Collection?

Hello, lovely readers! With every new Thursday comes a new Book Beat, and this week it shall be brought to you by your editor Paige. I don’t know about you, but the truly overwhelming heat in July thus far has tired me out, and I’ve spent the last few days racking up my electric bill in a futile attempt to stay cool. At least I had a few good books to keep me company, and the promise of San Diego’s cool breezes to keep me going.

But for now, let’s stick to the present. Because no matter how hot the weather gets, the publishing industry has a way of always being hotter.

Man Booker Celebrates Its Golden 50th Anniversary with The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje next to his novel, The English Patient

The Man Booker Prize has been one of the most prestigious literary prizes for English language fiction since its inception in 1969, annually rewarded to incredible novels like The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. On the eve of the award’s 50th anniversary, the book-loving public came together to determine the best English language book to be published within the last half-century. And this past Sunday, they awarded The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje with this high honor.

The competition for this 50th-anniversary award, known as the Golden Man Booker, was particularly intense given its wide breadth. Not only did it consider all English language literature published since the 1970s, but every previous Man Booker award winner was eligible for consideration as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the finalist shortlist chosen by five appointed judges was comprised entirely of five previous winners:

  1. In a Free State by V.s Naipaul, which won in 1971
  2. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, which won in 1987
  3. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, which won in 1992
  4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won in 2009, and
  5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which won in 2017

Following the Golden Man Booker award ceremony last weekend, several members of the Man Booker Prize foundation released statements in support of Ondaatje’s win. Foundation chair Baroness Helena Kennedy hailed The English Patient as “a compelling work of fiction — both poetic and philosophical.” Meanwhile, appointed judge and novelist Kamila Shamsie praised it as “that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight.” We couldn’t agree more!

A New Kids’ Hangout at Barnes & Noble

Out of all the local bookstores in my hometown, none ever compared to the multilevel entertainment oasis that is Barnes & Noble (… except Borders, RIP). A favorite spot for my early childhood literary adventures was B&N’s dedicated kid section, which often featured singalongs, group storytime, and new YA release parties. Now, B&N is expanding its communal children’s programming to include a dedicated book club the “Kids’ Book Hangout.”

As a national collaboration with Penguin Random House, B&N will offer this new book club to children ages 6-12. This book club will also include interactive games, activities, and giveaways to help young readers “discover books, have fun, and experience the joy of reading with other kids in their community… [to] help them to find the books, authors, and series that they will love for years to come,” according to B&N VP of merchandising, children’s books Stephanie Fryling.

This year’s first hangout, which will be held on July 28th, will discuss four books: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, More Scrawny Than Brawny by Aaron Reynolds, The Basque Dragon by Adam Gidwitz, and She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) by Ann Hood. Talk about an excellent addition to the bookstore’s already stellar event programming.

Ulysses Comes Home Earlier Than First Believed

The Western world’s literary tradition owes its very foundation to the epic poems of the ancient world. Ancient Greece provided its fair share of legacy literature that still captures the imagination, such as The Odyssey by Homer. It is considered the second oldest example of Western literature right after The Illiad, having been written and verbally shared starting in the 8th century BC. However, written manuscripts seemed to not have been developed until around 12 century AD — at least, that’s what we believed until recently.

Stylized title card for Homer's The Odyssey

This week, archaeologists from the Greek Archaeological Services and the German Institute of Archaeology discovered an ancient tablet bearing 13 verses from book 14 of The Odyssey. Based on the tablet’s condition they believe it was created in the 3rd century AD, which means it could be the oldest written record of Homer’s work to still exist in its native land. Further confirmation is needed, of course, but if true it is a truly exciting piece of history to preserve.

Some Fava Beans and a Nice Offred

I’ll admit that sometimes I need a hearty glass of wine to get through the dystopian nightmare that is today’s television drama scene. You can only take so much fictional darkness on a Sunday evening, you know? And over the years, some shows have embraced this trait from their viewership. Olivia Pope brandished a wine glass for seven seasons of Scandal, and the show even created its own wine glass collaboration with Crate & Barrel. And in the dumpster fire that is 2018, fans of The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation had the very brief opportunity to take a sip from the show’s exclusive wine collection.

Wine Collection by Lot18, Inspired by Handmaid's Tale

That’s right! Wine seller Lot18 and production studio MGM created a series of wines inspired by the show, specifically modeled after main characters Offred, Ofglen, and Serena Joy. The former two are a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively representing their complex and rebellious natures, while the latter is a Bordeaux Blanc to represent the character’s traditional sophistication… I guess. Nothing at all weird about that imagery within the context of the show or real life, that’s for sure!

If drinking the tears of the fictional oppressed is your thing, I’m sorry to report that you won’t be able to taste this distasteful vintage anytime soon. After some careful consideration — and a lot of online criticism — Lot18 and MGM have decided to cancel this collection. Personally, I think I’ll skip the wine for a little bit and invest in a nice IPA instead.

Happy Thursday!

Paige Allen

Paige Allen

Adult-in-training by day, queer geek of color by night.