Some predict that the age of the book is dead ‘ largely thanks to the availability of digital books and e-readers. Certainly this means that a lot of poor quality material is going to be available and the keen reader has a task and half of finding those nuggets. It also means though that traditional book producers need to up their game to find that next gem against the availability of cheap self-published work. Here are some of the best books from the year.
1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane ‘ Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is a British author loved on both sides of the Atlantic. He always had a cult following but shot to American popularity in 2002 with the publication of urban fantasy American Gods. His 2013 release hit bookshelves to a storm of anticipation and was met with rave reviews. Forty years after a family lodger committed suicide, the protagonist returns home to attend a family funeral. During the course of the story he discovers that the suicide had unleashed dark powers and he re-encounters the mysterious girl at the farm at the end of the lane.
2. Inferno ‘ Dan Brown
The next book in the Robert Langdon series (which began with Angels and Demons) sees our hero investigate another religious mystery. It was the number one seller of the year on the New York Times list and one of the biggest sellers worldwide. Langdon wakes up in Florence, Italy having no memory of the last few days. After fleeing the hospital, he finds a medieval cylinder with a projector inside. It projects an image of Botticelli’s Map of Hell and the words ‘The Truth Can Only Be Viewed Through the Eyes of Death’. So begins the mystery’¦
3. And the Mountains Echoed ‘ Khaled Hosseini
This third novel by Afghan-born writer of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns is written in a sequence almost of short stories. Rather than having one primary character that was a feature of the other two books, this is about the relationships between siblings; it centres on a 10 year old boy who discovers that his 3 year old sister is to be sold to a rich childless family in Kabul. The most fascinating aspect, critics say, is that each character in the plot is morally ambiguous ‘ there is no clear good or bad action or person
4. Doctor Sleep ‘ Stephen King
Fans of The Shining had been calling for a sequel for years ‘ what happened next at the Overlook Hotel? In Doctor Sleep, we first follow on directly from the first book. The ghosts chase Danny but he is taught how to trap them by Chef Halloran (who is killed in the movie version). Later, Danny is now a middle aged man working in a hospice where he uses his ‘Shining’ abilities to aid the dying. He is also an alcoholic and quick to anger due to his experiences but the past won’t stay locked away forever.
5. How to be a Woman ‘ Caitlin Moran
The amusing side of feminism and the modern life of simply being a woman are all explored in this ‘ the most recent book from British comedy writer Caitlin Moran. Part memoir, part rant about the modern expectations of women from men and women, Moran’s work is an amusing social commentary on modern life. Why must she get a Brazilian and why do people keep asking her when she is going to have a baby? This is a book for the next wave of feminism ‘ she says things that some women only dare to think
6. The Return of a King ‘ William Dalrymple
A book subtitled ‘The Battle for Afghanistan’ and discussing foreign occupation and regime change and the eventual withdrawal in frustration you might think would be a narrative on the Bush-Cheney invasion of 2002, but you would be wrong. This discusses the first Afghan War ‘ the invasion of the British Empire between 1839 -1842. Though the occupation went smoothly in order to prevent Russian imperialist expansion, the years that followed saw hostility and eventual withdrawal ‘ something perhaps echoed over a century later with the Soviet invasion and then again in 2002 with the American invasion
7. The Shock of the Fall ‘ Nathan Filer
The first award in the UK book calendar is the Costa Book Award. Given out in early January, it will naturally feature books mostly published the previous year. This debut novel from Nathan Filer won the 2014 Costa Book Award. It handles a subject that so many people seem reticent to talk about ‘ mental illness and it has been praised by comedian Jo Brand (a former mental health nurse) for its accurate portrayal of anguish. The boy who is the main character is ‘managed’ by mental health services after becoming depressed at the death of his brother
8. My Autobiography ‘ Alex Ferguson
The biggest selling non-fiction book of the year in the UK was this biography by the former Manchester United manager who retired in the summer of 2013. Desperate to find out the facts behind his clashes with some of the biggest names in the sport, and to get his side of the story on the incident where he allegedly threw a football boot at David Beckham, people bought it in droves. Sports biographies are usually momentary bestsellers and this one was no exception.
9. Jared Diamond ‘ The World Until Yesterday
When Jared Diamond writes ‘ the world listens. His previous books Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive which was about societies of the past seemingly ensuring their own destruction through stupidity or lack of foresight, and Guns, Germs and Steel about European hegemony were accepted by different elements of the academic community. In this latest book he explores what the western world might learn about life from traditional societies. He examines conflict resolution and care for the elderly, the young and infirm
10. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls ‘ David Sedaris
Another big selling non-fiction book, its popularity is curious ‘ perhaps because of the unusual title. It is a collection of essays exploring many elements of modern life across the world. French dentistry, the eating habits of the Kookaburra bird and his thoughts on Obama are all on offer here. Other amusing essay titles include: Think Differenter, I Break For Traditional Marriage and If I Ruled the World.
The list above proves that quality books are still out there, they are not losing out to ebooks and cheaper media. What it shows is that there is now available a diverse range of interesting books from across a wide range of genres and subgenres. The future needn’t be bleak; on the contrary it is arguably a very exciting time for the reader.