The year ahead: 6 literary trends to look out for in 2016

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So the New Year hangovers are gradually receding and New Year’s resolutions have been both started and abandoned in earnest. Literary stocking fillers have been read and enjoyed, and those presents we were less than impressed by have been exchanged for books. Writers are cogitating quietly, holed up from winter storms, preparing for upcoming writing competitions. As we look to the year ahead, though, the question on every bookworm’s tongue, of course, is what literary delights we can expect to come our way over the next twelve months.

We here at Nothing in the Rulebook have incanted the runes and stared into the tea leaves, and have come up with some of the key trends to watch out for in 2016.

  1. Books are back – did they ever go away?

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Tales of the printed book’s demise have been much exaggerated, it seems. Despite the long-standing brouhaha around e-books and how they were set to take up at least 50 – 60% of the literary market, Waterstones and Foyles have been announcing strong sales figures or printed, physical books (made of paper, would you believe?) and even predictions about the death of the Kindle.

Consider the words of Robert Topping – owner of bookshops in the beautiful towns of Ely, Bath and St Andrews: “I’m utterly confident that there is life in books. E-books were hyped up nonsense. It could be the zeitgeist, I don’t know, but people are talking more about supporting community businesses rather than sucking money out of the community and giving it to American tax dodgers.”

He adds: “I don’t know about you, but I spend all day staring at a computer screen, I don’t want to go home in the evening and stare at another one.”

After Waterstones reported an increase in sales of book figures of 5%, the company even took the Kindle off its shelves. Perhaps this in part because people are starting to recognise how good printed books actually are: after all, for starters, they have pretty good longevity, they’ll work just as well today as they do ten years from now, they don’t need to be recharged, and if you spill water on them, they’ll still work! Incredible!

  1. Adult colouring books continue to boom

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In 2011, the British publishing house, Laurence King, asked Johanna Basford, a Scottish artist and commercial illustrator specialising in hand-drawn black-and-white patterns for wine labels and perfume vials, to draw a children’s colouring book. Basford suggested instead that she draw one for adults. And so began what has been one of most intriguing publishing trends in recent years – and one that seems set to continue.

Fuelled by the rise of digital technology and social media, adults seem caught on the idea of colouring in these books and sharing their work on forums like Facebook and Pinterest.

“We’ve never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. We are on our fifteenth reprint of some of our titles. Just can’t keep them in print fast enough,” Lesley O’Mara, the managing director of British publishers Michael O’Mara Books, said.

When you have delights like Dream Cities, or Colour me good Eddie Redmayne, as well as the sublime Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book (pictured above), is it any wonder these have taken hold? Expect to see more of them in recent months – though perhaps not a David Cameron colouring book any time soon, after all, we’re talking about a man described by illustrator James Nunn as having “a big dough face with no markings, no sign of life on his face.”

  1. The explosion in sales of left-wing literature shows no sign of abating

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Bookstores across the UK have reported huge spikes in the sales of socialist and left-wing literature. In fact, some booksellers have noted being inundated with requests for Karl Marx’s Capital, and The Communist Manifesto.

With figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders coming to prominence in the UK and the US, alongside booming left-wing movements in Europe – from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the newly elected left-wing coalition in Portugal – it seems likely such publishing trends are set to continue, as consumers become more interested in the literature of left-wing philosophers and economists.

  1. Publishers feel the power of the force

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With ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ set to break box-office records, publishers expect a corresponding rise in consumer demand for science fiction and books about regaling space adventures.

Orbit, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Hatchette, is set to double its annual number of sci-fi titles to 90 books. Meanwhile, in late 2015, Simon & Schuster launched its own science fiction imprint – Saga – in anticipation of the ‘Star Wars effect’.

And of course, we’ve already seen some Star Wars-specific books released – such as the new take on the classic ‘Where’s Wally’ book series in the recently released Find the Wookie search and find book.

  1. More female protagonists and heroines

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Just as Rey in the Force Awakens has proven to be a feminist hero mainstream cinema has been so sorely lacking, so too have characters like Katniss Everdeen from bestselling book trilogy The Hunger Games finally started to shift attitudes towards female protagonists and heroines in mainstream book publishing.

At last, it seems as though girls are at the centre of the action is ways that go beyond spending 300 pages worrying about which boy to go out with (sorry, Twilight fans). Instead, the heroine is growing increasingly central to the books we read – and their quest is no longer to simply find love or win the heart of a man.

Here, YA fiction is leading the charge – with a string of new heroine-led books set to be published in the coming year. They include The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine, Nemesis, by Anna Banks, and Of Fire and Stars, by Audrey Coulthurst.

They’re already on our to-read list!

  1. The future of literature may be electric

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Increasingly, books are being designed with the digital age in mind. So-called ‘interactive’ literature combines the traditional printed book with apps and software. This creates, according to Faber & Faber, “a rabbit hole that encourages all sorts of reading”.

Another intriguing trend has been the development of computer software that generates original pieces of poetry and creative writing. Already, this software has had pieces of writing accepted into various journals and magazines. It begs the question as to whether androids actually dream of electric literature.

 

 

 

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The best literary stocking fillers

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The average British family is set to spend over £800 this Christmas. It’s possible that quite a lot of that will be splurged on some of the wide range of Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise currently piled high in every shop window – from your Lightsaber BBQ tongs to your BB-8 oranges.

Star Wars images

While we’ve been puzzling over just what it is exactly about oranges that makes them suitable Star Wars-themed, we’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best purchases you can make this Christmas may be on items that have a far longer shelf-life and far greater usability than Star Wars fruit and utensils. Although of course that Star Wars Darth Vader toaster is a must-buy for all your estranged aunts, uncles, first and second cousins.

We’re of course talking about books. Not only can they be read again and again, and invite us to explore new worlds and entire new universes, they also help us think differently about the world – and they teach us about wonderful new ideas. They’re also good for us, too. Perhaps even better than the vitamin C you’ll get from those Star Wars oranges. As this paper in the journal Science points out, reading literary works cultivates a skill known as “theory of mind”, which is described as the “ability to ‘read’ the thoughts and feelings of others.” So books make us nicer, basically. If there is anything more appropriate at Christmas, then, we certainly haven’t come across it.

So which books should you buy for those special people in your life who aren’t getting that Vader toaster? Well, surely size comes into it – because they have to fit into stockings of all shapes and sizes.

To help you narrow your options down, take a look at some of our suggestions, below:

  1. Penguin Little Black Classics

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80 little books to choose from – one for each year in the life of Penguin Books and each around 60 pages long – give you a wealth of options to choose from. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

  1. The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves

 

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Technically described as a novel, this delightful little book will fit any stocking – but would also be a great find under the Christmas tree. A collection of mini-narratives, each with a precise tone and occasional touches of poetry, feature stories of artificial intelligence and musings on philosophy, of travel and adventure, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

  1. On Inequality, by Harry Frankfurt

On inequality

Certainly one for the more miserly Christmas gift receiver, who will undoubtedly point out that the credit-fuelled Christmas expenditure is forced upon the poorest in society by those marketing and corporate execs who bombard us with advertisements designed only to make us consume endlessly on a finite planet. But this fascinating book by New York Times bestselling author Harry Frankfurt addresses one of the most divisive and important issues of our time – inequality.

  1. A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Few people realise that this same truth applies to Guinea Pigs. This brand new abridgement to the classis Jane Austen novel helps set the record straight in this regard.

  1. A satirical spoof of the classic ‘Peter and Jane’ series

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Penguin’s new series of spoof Ladybird book titles, modelled on the Peter and Jane learning reading books from the 1960s and 70s have been selling out in their hundreds of thousands as potential stocking fillers. They feature “The Ladybird Book of Sheds” and “The Ladybird Book of the Hipster”. Yet they have been inspired by books they initially threatened legal action over – the wonderfully satirical ‘We Go to the Gallery’ by Miriam Elia. Instead of going for the spoof of the spoof, why not get your loved ones the real thing?

  1. The Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book, by James Nunn

Jeremy Corbyn colouring book

A fantastic twist that has accompanied the explosion in popularity of adult colouring books, as well as in left-wing literature, James Nunn’s Corbyn-themed colouring book is a wonderfully interactive gift for people on all wings of the political spectrum. Not only topical – Corbyn is, after all, a massive part of our cultural consciousness at the moment – the book also shines a light on a man whose message of kindness, respect, love and honesty surely fits perfectly with the true meaning of Christmas.

  1. Where’s the Wookie?

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If you really can’t avoid getting in on all the Star Wars hype, we can’t think of many better stocking filler options than this suitably fitting take on the classic ‘Where’s Wally’ book series. You might think that an eight-foot tall walking carpet is not going to be difficult to spot, but you’d be surprised. This book will have you scanning some 40 pages depicting elaborately detailed scenes from the Star Wars universe in search for Chewbacca. Sure to distract people of all ages from trying to work out where that Vader toaster is.

10 of the best-designed book covers of 2015

Of course, we’re all told not to judge books by their covers. But sometimes it can be fun to break the rules. Here are our picks for the 10 best book cover designs of 2015.

1. Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Satin Island

McCarthy’s novel has been described as “intriguing and infuriating” – a little bit like the book’s dizzying, manic cover design.

2. Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen

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Some reviewers have noted that Cohen’s novel “doesn’t really get going until around page 238”. This is a shame, because the cover design certainly grabs the attention from the get-go.

3. Not on Fire, But Burning by Greg Hrbek

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If there is a more apt cover design for a book about a slow motion apocalypse as America implodes, we haven’t seen it.

4. Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser

Paulina & Fran

Hair plays a bigger role in this book than you might think.

5. Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto

Confession of the Lioness

More novel covers should feature lionesses and other big cats. Just a gut feeling we have.

6. The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

The Seven Good Years

Just where is that dove of peace being catapulted off to?

7. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Dark Sparkler

Dark? Check. Sparkly? Sort of check. What about that woman with no eyes though – what’s up with that?

8. Hall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce 

Hall of Small Mammals

This fascinating short story collection opens with a story about a man bringing a waist-high, supposedly extinct Bread Island Dwarf Mammoth home to his mother. Need we say more?

9. Speak by Louisa Hall

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More than anything, this book is about consciousness. It’s spellbinding. A little like this fascinating cover.

10. Witches of America by Alex Mar

Witches of America

Are you a witch? Or are you just doing the research? Either way, you’ll probably be using a dead crow in some way or other.

And a bonus 11th book cover…

The Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book by James Nunn

Jeremy Corbyn colouring book

Come on. What with the rise in sales of left wing literature that have accompanied Corbyn’s meteoric rise to become leader of the UK Labour Party, and what with the huge trend toward adult colouring books, we couldn’t NOT include this fabulous little book.

What are we missing?

Of course, there are countless other excellent book covers we’ve sadly not been able to include in this short list. So, what are we missing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Not the Booker Prize: An alternative literary reading list

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Photograph: George Monbiot/Guardian

Mired in controversy since it began, the Man Booker Prize has long held the attention of the literary world. In its time, the Prize has witnessed what is as close to an authorial punch up as can be – when William Golding squared off against Anthony Burgess. It was once described by Richard Gott as “a significant and dangerous iceberg in the sea of British culture that serves as a symbol of its current malaise.” And has faced accusations of its listed books being both “too high brow” and “too readable.”

Yet irrespective of the claims against it, the prize has endured. And, as the shortlist has now been announced, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook thought it would not be out of place to suggest an alternative literary list for our fine readers to contemplate.

Supposedly, the Booker Prize aims to recognise the best British or Commonwealth authors. Yet here there undeniably seems to have been some bias toward the English. Despite a population of just 2.5% of the commonwealth, over half the winners of the prize have hailed from England’s shores. And, while there have been notable winners from former colonies, including the South African novelist J M Coetzee, it should not escape our attention that an overwhelming number of Booker judges are middle class English people, who are perhaps likely to prefer their own nation’s literature.

With this in mind, we will therefore endeavour to correct this imbalance in our own shortlist. While we have no funds to actually offer the authors on this list any prize money, we can offer a potent cocktail of hopes, dreams and admiration – and that’s probably just as good.

The list in full:

Reading in the Dark – Seamus Deane

Reading in the darkIn strikingly lucid language and scenes fired by a spare, aching passion, Reading in the Dark combines the intimacy of a memoir with the suspense of a detective story. Seamus Deane’s poetic inclinations shine through in his debut novel, perfectly illuminating a coming-of-age story of an unnamed narrator in Northern Ireland. Deane captures the underlying, subconscious fears present throughout the course of the ‘troubles’ – where people live as “if they might explode any minute” and can be “disappeared”. Yet this is a pervading background to an essentially familial story, which contemplates love, religion, innocence, love and truth. And while answers to the novels questions come in bits and pieces, by the turn of the last page readers lives have been illuminated, washed in an elegant, graceful and forgiving prose.

Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

trainspottingConsidering two Man Booker Prize judges successfully pulled Welsh’s Trainspotting from the 1993 prize shortlist by threatening to walk out, it seemed especially apt that we list the novel here. For readers who do not come from lowland Scotland, one of the particular pleasures of this book is becoming totally immersed in the language and dialect of the novel’s characters. Ostensibly the plot follows a group of Edinburgh heroin addicts, and through its rawness, Welsh draws the reader into a world of urban depravity, Aids, drugs, and individualism – the latter an ironic homage to Thatcher’s neoliberalism, where we see in action what it’s like to live in a world where “there’s no such thing as society”.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_taleCanadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic tells the chilling tale of a concubine in an oppressive future America. Almost 30 years since it was first published, the book is perhaps more vital than ever. Atwood’s lyrical prose is the vehicle used to transport readers to a world where facts appear to merge into one another, and history appears immaterial. This is a fiercely political novel and, while bleak, remains both witty and wise. Arguments continue as to whether this can be classified as a work of science fiction, yet to get caught up in such debates ignores the unarguable fact that this is a truly brilliant novel by an excellent author.

Blindsight – Maurice Gee

BlindsightWidely acclaimed when first published, New Zealand author Maurice Gee’s Blindsight offers readers a complex but knowing portrait of siblings who were once close but are now completely estranged as adults. As the novel evolves, Gee brilliantly draws readers into the past histories of his main protagonists slowly revealing the hidden reasons Allice Ferry and her brother Gordon now live such divergent lives. Deserves to be regarded as one of the best novels published in New Zealand in the past couple of decades.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

thingfallapartPublished first in 1958 – the time Britain, France and Belgium finally began to recognise the failure of colonialism and begin their unseemly withdrawal – Chinua Achebe’s debut novel concerns itself with the events surrounding the start of this disastrous chapter in African history. Setting the book in the late 19th Century – at the height of the “Scramble” for African territories by European powers – Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected member of the Igbo clan. Through his eyes, we witness a village that has not changed substantially in generations become utterly transformed upon the arrival of the English. Yet it is the Bible – not the gun – that becomes the most violent weapon of choice by these “clever” white men. Set to remain on of the great novels of the colonial era, and the book that announced Achebe to the world as a most brilliant writer, it would be a disservice not to include this masterpiece on our humble list.

Sheepshagger – Niall Griffiths

SheepshaggerDespite being born in Liverpool, Niall Griffiths’ strong familial ties to Wales earned the dubious honorific “the Welsh Irvine Welsh” for the stunning vernacular monologues in his books ‘Grits’ and ‘Sheepshagger’. Though there are linguistic and political similarities, it’s a disservice to think of Griffiths’ book as an imitation of ‘Trainspotting’. Here we follow anti-hero Ianto – a near mute “inbred” savant with a mystical connection to nature, who divides his time between roaming the mountains of his childhood and accepting whatever drug or drink is offered by his circle of friends. As the novel progresses, we witness near Bacchanalian horrors, a distorted but nonetheless sublime depiction of the natural world, and Ianto’s ultimate downfall. It’s vivid and compelling, a modern sensibility informed by Greek tragedy and the Blakean sublime.

Not just an ordinary reading list

So, there we have it. A finer shortlist of novels than you’re otherwise likely to find today. We may not have the excitement of guessing which of these great books will emerge the ultimate, victorious winner, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. After all, in a way, we’re all winners here. Because we’re the ones who get to go out and read these books and enjoy doing so, without ever having to carry out the agonising process of actually writing the damn things. Some might say such thinking is a bit of a luvvie-duvvie cop out; but nobody wants to treat writing like a competition, right?