A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.