Once the New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned, January can be a relatively dull and static month for many of us. Fortunately, the literary world doesn’t stop turning, even as we lock ourselves away in a state of semi-hibernation. If you’re interested in what’s been happening this January, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve gathered the best of January’s articles, interviews, and book releases together for you in this post. So grab a cup of tea and take a look at what’s been happening this month.
‘Book sales are up this year over last year, and physical books are thriving‘ by Natasha Frost (Quartz)
The title of this one is pretty self explanatory but reveals some reassuring trends that fly in the face of traditional assumptions about the fate of our best loved bookshops. The article notes that both UK and US booksellers have registered a growth in profits and customers, with the UK’s Waterstones finally making an annual profit following the 2008 financial crash. Although this trend hasn’t been replicated by Barnes and Noble in the US (where sales fell by 5.4% in 2017), the US has seen a growth of 35% in the number of independent bookshops between 2009 and 2015. This corroborates the fact that sales of physical books have been on the rise, while e-book sales have been declining. As someone who is ever fearful for the destiny of my favourite bookshops, this news is incredibly reassuring!
‘The Hunt for the Nazi Loot Still Sitting on Library Shelves‘ by Milton Esterow (New York Times)
Definitely my favourite article of the month, this piece explains the history of Nazi looting and the impact that this has had on book collections in the parts of Europe previously occupied by the Nazis. The numbers are astonishing. Of the books in Berlin’s Central and Regional Library, for example, one-third are suspected to be Nazi loot. Researchers are working hard to locate looted works and get them returned to the individuals (typically heirs) or institutions to whom they belong. The article details that, in the past decade, 30,000 books have been returned to their owners or inheritors from libraries in Germany and Austria. The work can be monumentally difficult, particularly in the face of politics. Russia is in possessions of millions of books looted by the Nazis but refuses to return them. Yet, researchers continue on with this vital process of restitution.
‘Man Booker Prize Loses Sponsor‘ by Pierce Alquist (Book Riot)
It looks like a name change will be required of the Man Booker Prize, following the announcement that the Man Group is withdrawing its sponsorship of the literary award. It is the end of a literary era, closing out a 17 year partnership. However, it is not a turn of events that will be unwelcome to all. Sebastian Faulks called out the hypocrisy of involving a hedge fund in the sponsorship of a renowned literary prize as “…not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes: they’re the kind of people literary prizes ought to be criticising.” Quite where the prize will go from here is uncertain, although discussions are apparently already underway with potential sponsors.
‘Pat Barker: “You could argue that time’s up: we’re at the end of the patriarchy”‘ by Claire Armitstead (The Guardian)
My love for Pat Barker is no secret, particularly following last week’s review of The Silence of the Girls. Barker is a spectacular writer with an ability to dissect the fallout of war like no other author. In her retelling of Homer’s Iliad, Barker offers The Silence of the Girls as a departure from her traditional focus on WWI and WWII. Yet, the emotional resonance that she achieves through the character of Briseis rings true with the depth of her previous works. In this interview with The Guardian, Barker discusses The Silence of the Girls and its coincidence with the #metoo movement. The article is a fascinating reflection on classical myth and its intersection with contemporary politics.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (US – Little, Brown and Company; UK – Little, Brown)
I’m genuinely surprised that so many people have yet to discover Chigozie Obioma. His incredible novel The Fishermen was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and Obioma has been lauded by the New York Times as “the heir to Chinua Achebe.” An Orchestra of Minorities is set in Umuahia, Nigeria and narrated by a guardian spirit – or chi. The novel offers an alternative take on Homer’s Odyssey (as I said in my review of The Silence of the Girls, re-imaginings of classical myths are having a real moment right now), telling the story of Chinonso, a young poultry farmer. After falling in love, Chinonso is duped into travelling to Cyprus for an education that doesn’t exist. The novel follows Chinonso as he travels and attempts to set a course for his own future.
A Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (US – Riverhead Books; UK – Oneworld Publications)
Samanta Schweblin’s most recent collection of short stories is currently sitting in my ‘to read’ pile and I’m one book away from getting around to reading it. I went out and bought A Mouthful of Birds after putting it on my list of Books to Watch for in 2019. I don’t often read short story collections, unless by an author that I already know that I love. However, one of my goals for 2019 is to increase the diversity of my reading – so a creepy collection of short stories feels like a good start for a reader who avoids anything even touching horror and rarely reads short stories. A Mouthful of Birds is described as a collection that “haunts and mesmerizes…featuring women on the edge, men turned upside down, the natural world at odds with reality.” Reviews have been persuasively positive. So while I’m not sure what this book will hand me, I’m certainly excited to find out!
What I’ve Been Reading
January has been a successful month of reading for me. I read pretty widely and got quite a few books ticked off of my ‘to read’ list. My month in reading:
– The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima
– A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
– Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
– Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (currently reading)