Over time the language may undergo changes, technology may advance by leaps and bounds, trends may come and go, but the stories being told remain the same at their cores- the deepest human emotions are unchanged by the tide of time. Humans are inseparable from books as they provide a literary expression to the turmoil brewing both within and around us, making us realise that we aren’t alone, be it in the hardships that we encounter or the joys that we are blessed with. Every year certain stories and events define the world’s mood and in keeping with the throwback trend online, nostalgia was the flavour of the literary world in 2015.
Some of the most talked about books of the year sought to bring back the magic woven by classic works of literature, but fans are still divided as to whether the authors disappointed or delivered on the expectations.
2015 – Best Books And The Literature World:
1. Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, the addition to Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise
Commissioned by the Fleming estate, Trigger Mortis is a sequel to the 1959 Goldfinger. Horowitz’s Bond however is a far cry from Fleming’s chauvinistic and racist protagonist, given the chivalrous turn of his nature and the ease with which he befriends homosexuals. The strong-headed and independent ladies in the book are a welcome change from the stereotypical Bond girls who have been ruling the silver screen for years. Despite the in depth research-work evident from the plot, slight technical lapses arise in the book owing to the challenge of setting the spy famous for his state-of-the-art toys in the 60s. The action flits between Britain, Germany and America, with a millionaire villain and mogul with a mysterious past adding the drama typical to Bond novels. Though the novel did stir up some nostalgia for fans, some readers questioned the need for this attempt at recreating Fleming’s classic spy masterpieces.
2. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz, Book 4 in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium, er, TRIlogy
The Larsson estate commissioned the Swedish author to pen the sequel to fellow Swede Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium Trilogy which sold more than 80 million copies worldwide. The project had been abuzz with controversy due to the spat between Larsson’s family and his girlfriend, who is believed to be in possession of a laptop with Larsson’s notes and drafts as to the continuation of the series. Despite having to rely solely on the previous 3 novels, Lagercrantz modelled his book on the existing scheme of things, with the protagonist Salander retaining her survival instincts and scars from the terrifying ordeal she had undergone. Drink, sloth and online competition have led to a downward spiral in Blomkvist’s career, but his other characteristics are consistent with the trilogy. The addition to the central characters, Frans Balder is an Artificial Intelligence specialist, exploring Artificial Super Intelligence as he designs machine brains which are vastly superior to humans. Balder’s eight year old autistic son August, who has human super intelligence in art and Salander’s relationship is an important element feature of the plot. Lagercrantz kept true to Larsson’s original works while at the same time he brought his own finesse to the manner of the storytelling.
3. Under Tiberius by Nick Tosches, inarguably the year’s most controversial publication
Devout Christians have time and again slammed authors and filmmakers who have attempted to tell the story of Christ, but Under Tiberius took the bar to an unprecedented level of boldness. Tosches tells the story of Falconius and Jesus as they set out to amass fabulous wealth along their journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth, hoodwinking the ignorant commoners with the Messiah’s miracles which are nothing but cleverly orchestrated cons. The dead who had been resurrected had only been poisoned and the lame man healed by Christ turns out to be a beggar paid off by the duo. Despite inciting public outrage, the book received literary acclaim, with the Library Journal describing it as ‘well-written and quite engrossing’ and the Washington Post saying, ‘Tosches can’t write a dull book. He sets his foot firmly on your throat from the start, he won’t let up and you won’t want him to.’
4. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The February announcement of a new Harper Lee novel saw the media and the reading community across the world relapse into a tizzy of excitement- justified, coming from an author whose To Kill A Mockingbird sold over 40 million copies over 55 years, becoming the staple read for middle school students and one of the most loved classics of our time. But amidst the fan frenzy, speculation arose as to what motivated the publicity-shy author- overwhelmed by the massive success of her debut, who had sworn never to publish her work again- to give her consent to the publication of Go Set A Watchman, essentially the first, failed draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. The controversy was further fuelled by the February 3 Times article quoting Marja Mills, friend and neighbor of the Lee sisters, as saying, “I have some concerns about statements that have been attributed to her.”, which isn’t surprising given that Lee is now in her 89th year and is now confined to an assisted-living establishment. The announcement of Go Set A Watchman was made three months after the demise of Alice Lee, the unrelenting counsel and caretaker who protected her sister’s interests, and who had written to Marja Mills in 2011 saying that, since her sister’s stroke in 2007, she “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” Though many critics have described the new book as clichéd, in Lee’s defense it must be taken into account that some of them are clichés only because, in the half century since Lee’s generation introduced them, they’ve become clichés. Disregarding the dated nature of the novel, the depiction of the Southern countryside remains touching and evokes the same nostalgia as To Kill A Mockingbird.
5. The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
Hawkins best-selling thriller sold over 3 million copies and not without reason. Resonant of the styles of Gillian Flynn’s widely acclaimed Gone Girl and Emma Healey’s Costa –winning debut Elizabeth Is Missing, the book is centred on an ingenious protagonist Rachel, setting it apart from other humdrum works from the genre. 30 something Rachel is an incorrigible alcoholic, over-weight and unappealing and bitter from her divorce with Tom, who dumped her for his new trophy-wife Anna. On her daily train commute back home from London, Rachel peers through the windows at the backs of the houses of the street where she used to live when she was married to Tom. Obsessed about the stories she’s made up in her mind about the lives of a young couple living there, whom she’s christened Jess and James, Rachel witnesses something in the garden which leaves her unsettled. Upon learning that Jess- or rather Megan, as she is really called- has disappeared, Rachel takes it upon herself to prove the innocence of Jason- Scott- for she is convinced that he wouldn’t so much lift as lift a finger at his precious wife. The suspense unfolds with unforeseeable twists as Hawkins peels away layer after layer of the complex characters.
6. GREY: Fifty Shades of Grey as told by Christian by E.L. James
Riding high on the success of her best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey series, E. L. James followed it up by flipping the narrative to retell the erotica from the point of view of the male protagonist, Christian Grey. While her previous books were an account of woman’s sexual fantasies, James’ new offering opens the mind of Grey for the readers, painting a glib portrait of a complete psychopath. The minute he meets her, he conducts a background check on Anastasia and uses the information to keep tabs on her when she tries to conceal her whereabouts from him. When she tells him that his lavish gifts make her feel like a whore, he dismisses her self-esteem issues with a trip to the therapist. Grey which presented the much more accurate and distasteful flipside to the trilogy, became the UK’s fastest-selling adult title ever, selling more than 1 million copies within days of its release.
Awards and accolades play an indispensable role in honouring the literary masters who light up a million imaginations with their works.
1. The Pulitzer Prize
Anthony Doerr received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his book All the Light We Cannot See. The 530-page masterpiece, which took Doerr 10 years to write, secured a place for itself on the best-seller list for 52 weeks running.
2. The Nobel Prize
Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl clinched the Nobel Prize for Literature ‘for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.’ Through her interviews, Alexievich documented the lives impacted by the 1986 technical experiment at the nuclear reactor which caused a graphite fire that blew off the roof, releasing 50 tons of radioactive fuel into the night sky.
3. The Man Booker Prize
Jamaican writer Marlon James was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings at a gala ceremony in London. The Man Booker International Prize was redesigned as an annual honour for the best work of translated fiction, to be awarded from 2016 with a cash prize of about $76,000, to be split equally between author and translator.
Books and awards don’t paint the entire picture of the literary world by themselves. It is the readers’ response which brings closure to the story and determines the course of events for the years to come. Only time will tell whether the trends spotted in 2015 are here to stay.
1. The Harry Potter series kept buzzing, as always- sigh, Always
J.K. Rowling delighted Potterheads around the world with the stage production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, carrying forward the story of the Boy Who Lived. The two part play, which premieres in the summer of 2016 at the West End Palace Theatre in London, will feature the lives of Harry, now an Auror (Dark Wizard Catcher) at the Ministry of Magic and his son Albus Severus who struggles to bear the burden of the family legacy. Fans are in for another treat- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is all set to be unveiled at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, 2016, providing the ultimate opportunity to experience the Rowling’s magical creation.
2. The new bestselling phenomena: Adult Colouring Books!
Once considered the domain of pre-schoolers mastering their hand-eye coordination and a means of keeping toddlers from wreaking havoc around the house, colouring books have become the latest stress buster for weary adults. More and more people are arming themselves with colouring books and a box of crayons to combat the mundaneness of day-to-day tasks. Bookshelves are being swept clean of these books which allow a creative respite from demanding schedules.
3. Amazon Books: the online retail giant’s first physical store in Seattle
The world’s largest online retailer channelled its 20 year long experience of selling publications as it opened its first physical store Amazon Books at University Village in Seattle. The store boasts of more than 6000 titles, priced the same as on the website, including best-selling books on Amazon.com. All the books face out, with cards placed underneath, bearing customer ratings and reviews, allowing customers to reap the benefits of both online and offline shopping.
4. A Year of Books: Mark Zuckerberg’s Online Book Club
The Facebook founder takes his New Year resolutions seriously. In January 2015, he announced on his new Facebook page, ‘A Year of Books’- which crossed 200,000 likes within the very first week- that he would read one book every two weeks and encouraged fans to rekindle the habit of reading and participate in the discussion in this virtual book club. The first book was The End of Power, by Venezuela’s former Minister of Trade and Industry, Moises Naim, consistent with Zuckerberg’s aim of exploring books that place ‘an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.’
5. Borderland Bookstore: A Unique Model for the Survival of Independent bookstores
San Francisco based Borderland Bookstore, a specialist in Science Fiction works, was on the verge of closure being faced by sharp hikes in rent and wages, stiff competition from supermarkets and e-commerce platform and the Kindle-culture. But the store sought out a novel way to stay in business- inviting sponsorships. Several well-known personalities such as Cory Doctorow, Felicity Rubenstein and Margaret Atwood came out in support of the store and within two days, 300 people had offered sponsorships of $100 each, deferring the imminent closure for a year after which fresh sponsorships would be raised. The sponsors in turn receive some handsome perks such as special reserved seats at author events, preview sales of rare and collectible works and exclusive meetings and writing workshops with authors.
Let us know your thoughts and favorite happenings of the Literary World in 2015 in comments.