A pair of
BECAUSE our Books of the Year wrap-up took up all available space last week I didn’t get a chance to say merry Christmas. I hope all readers had a rich yulefest, and I wish everyone the best for the remainder of the holiday season. SPEAKING of the books of the year, the main thing I look for in such summaries is the multiple mention, especially of a title I don’t know much about. In our article last week, the most mentioned ‘‘book of 2012’’ was Elizabeth Harrower’s 1966 novel The Watch Tower, republished 46 years later as part of the Text Classics initiative. With the likes of Helen Garner and Delia Falconer naming it the best book they read this year, The Watch Tower has rocketed up my holiday reading list.
In the British best of 2012 lists, the book that keeps popping up is the seven-volume, 5000-plus page The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. Now at $1800 or so, this is not a title you are likely to stroll down to the bookstore to buy tomorrow, if ever, but its prominence in the best books lists made me think we should draw attention to it, hence Peter Craven’s lead review this week. The Cambridge Jonson has a strong local connection via co-editor Ian Donaldson, the distinguished Australian scholar and author of several works on the great poet and dramatist. The other, and far more affordable, work of nonfiction that seems to be on everyone’s don’t miss list is Katherine Boo’s account of life in a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. In terms of fiction, Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winner, Bring up the Bodies, is an expected regular on the best books lists emanating from Britain, but the novel that has caught my eye, in terms of multiple mentions, is John Banville’s Ancient Light.
In the US, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is on most of the best books lists I’ve seen and Bring up the Bodies is prominent too. Of local novelists, in this year when the Pulitzer people decided not to award a prize for fiction, Richard Ford’s Canada is perhaps the most mentioned. But the title that jumps out from the American lists is a comic book, albeit one on a grand scale: Chris Ware’s Building Stories, which was reviewed here on December 15.
So, can we make a call on the book of 2012? Certainly Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies is a contender: she became the first woman to win the Booker twice and the fastest dual Booker winner, with only three years between Wolf Hall and its sequel. But when it comes to sales, readership and impact on publishing, there can be only one winner: British author EL James and her Fifty Shades trilogy, published between June last year and April this year. The three erotic novels have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide, spawned a host of imitations and parodies and kept Bret Easton Ellis up late at night on Twitter arguing about who should be cast in the film version.
‘‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it again. Maybe this is all a fluke, you know?’’ Erika Leonard James, in an interview published in September. MY book of the year? A difficult choice but if I take a moment to think about the one that has lingered most in my mind it is Janette Turner Hospital’s unsettling short fiction-memoir collection Forecast: Turbulence. NEXT week we will feature a preview of books to look out for in 2013. I’ll be taking some leave after that and this column will return in February. Until then, happy reading.