2016: A Literary Calendar

New releases from four Booker-prize winners; posthumous works from Christopher Hitchens and Terry Pratchet; a tribute from William Shatner; and several commemorative reimaginings for Shakespeare’s 400th death-day. It’s shaping up to be a veritable feast of a year.


January

And Yet: Essays
Christopher Hitchens
Essays
A posthumous collection of observations that proves Hitchens is nothing if not entertaining. Whether or not you agreed with his worldview he possessed an articulate charm that still shines through in his writing.

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Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
Lisa Randall
Science
Ranked by Brainpickings’s Maria Popova as the best non-fiction work, and if that’s not high enough praise I don’t what is. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of dark matter? Read her full review for the New York Times here.

The Noise of Time
Julian Barnes
Fiction
Whether you like Barnes or not he’s won a Booker prize so it’s worth keeping an eye on his stuff. This one appeals to me particularly because it’s about Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest string composers of the 20th century, and is set amongst the chaos of Stalinist Russia.


February

Leonard: A Life
William Shatner
Biography
Of course we want to read a book by the endearing Shatner. Especially a tribute to his late friend and co-star Leonard Nimoy, immortalized as Spock in Star Trek, in the 50th anniversary year of the original series premiere.

Shylock Is My Name
Howard Jacobson
Fiction
The first in a legion of Shakespeare nods in this the 400th anniversary year of the great bard’s death. True to form Jacobsen focuses on the Jewish character from The Merchant of Venice in an exploration of fatherhood and morality. And as another Booker winner, his stuff is usually worth a sniff.

The High Mountains of Portugal
Yann Martel
Fiction
Yet another new release from a Booker winner (this seems to be the year), this is the novel I would choose above the others so far due to the sheer originality of Martel’s voice. In the vein of Life of Pi, Martel again tackles the quest narrative in a story about treasure, murder and of course, animal companionship.

This Census-Taker
China Miéville
Novella
Miéville has been around for a while but his appeal is now taking off beyond the ranks of genre fanatics. A startlingly inventive speculative writer, here he deals with the relationship between a young boy and a stranger who might save him from himself.


March

Anatomy of a Soldier
Harry Parker
Fiction
Debut novel from a former solider about a British captain recovering from a horrific bomb injury. What sets this novel apart is that it’s narrated from the point-of-view of 45 inanimate objects. 

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails
Sarah Bakewell
Philosophy/Biography
An exploration of existentialism from 1930s France through to the liberal movements of the mid-century, by examining the lives and relationships of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Aron, among others.

Hot Milk
Deborah Levy
Fiction
A Booker-shortlisted author, Levy’s new novel is about a mother and daughter finding refuge in a Spanish village, and explores all the trauma and triumph of female relationships and identity.


April

Fragments
Elena Ferrante
Writings
One of the hottest authors around and still her true identity remains a mystery. Having recently concluded the highly acclaimed Neapolitan quartet, this year she releases a collection of observations through short pieces, interviews and letters.

The Bricks That Built the Houses
Kate Tempest
Fiction
Winner of the Ted Hughes prize for poetry and nominated as a rapper for the Mercury music prize, Tempest’s new work is a novel about three youths escaping south-east London together, running from various forms of oppression in the hopes of liberating themselves from self-loathing, loneliness and unconsummated desire.

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The Blade Artist
Irvine Welsh
Fiction
Another grungy British novel, and who wouldn’t want to read the latest Welsh? Particularly when he returns to one of Trainspotting’s most divisive characters, Francis Begbie.


May

A Life Discarded
Alexander Masters
Biography
A ‘found’ biography, compiled from 148 volumes of diary discovered amongst discarded building materials in Cambridge.

Selection Day
Aravind Adiga
Fiction
May is a busy month for releases but do not miss Adiga’s latest novel. Yet another prior Booker-winner, his new work focuses on a young boy in present-day Mumbai.

The Gustav Sonata
Rose Tremain
Fiction
I would recommend Rose Tremain’s gorgeously rendered novels anyway, but when ‘Gustav’ and ‘Sonata’ are mentioned in the title it’s a no-brainer. Two boys hold onto friendship over thirty years of life spanning World War II.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
Kate Summerscale
True Crime
In the vein of her previous bestseller The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Summerscale turns again to murder in Victorian England, this time writing about the trial of a 13-year-old boy.

Zero K
Don DeLillo
Fiction
Another big name release for 2016, DeLillo addresses mortality and the privilege of extreme wealth when a man tries to save his wife from terminal illness.


June

Hands: What We Do With Them – and Why
Darian Leader
Psychology
The latest in the line-up of fascinating psychoanalytical works, Leader examines what’s really going on when we fiddle with our fingers.

The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
David Goldblatt
Historical
Just in time for the 31st Olympiad in Rio, Goldblatt delivers on the success of his football history to give us the highlights of the world Olympics.

the long earth

The Long Cosmos
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Fiction
Of course this is a must-read no matter who you are. The grand finale of The Long Earth series concludes a life’s work from Pratchett, who died shortly after its completion last year.

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
Fiction
Another Shakespearean tribute from the Booker crowd (A Spool of Blue Thread was shortlisted last year), Tyler delivers a quirky interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.


July

The Girls
Emma Cline
Fiction
Already sold to Scott Rudin for film adaptation, this is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. A young girl in the 1969 summer becomes involved with a commune similar to the Manson Family.

The Muse
Jessie Burton
Fiction
Set in Spain and London in the 30s and 60s, the author of The Miniaturist spins a tail about a painting, a Caribbean immigrant and a bohemian artist.

You Hide That You Hate Me and I Hide That I Know
Philip Gourevitch
Historical/War
Gourevitch returns to the subject of Rwanda after his startling and brutal coverage of the 1994 genocide.


August

A Horse Walks into a Bar
David Grossman
Fiction
A perplexing and enthralling novel about a comedian whose life disintegrates on stage during an act in a small Israeli town.

Beast
Paul Kingsnorth
Fiction
A Booker long-lister this time, Kingsnorth returns with a quest novel set in the Midlands moor. His debut The Wake established him as an author of remarkable linguistic inventiveness with his use of a shadow version of Old English.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Ed Yong
Science
Yong discusses the incredible influence of microbes on the lives of all earthly animals, released off the back of a successful Atlantic column, science blog and viral TED talk.

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu
Charlie English
Historical
The story of librarians smuggling manuscripts out of Timbuktu when it was on the brink of Islamic occupation, combined with an exploration of the city itself as it was first discovered by the western world in the Victorian era.


September

bolshoi

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet
Simon Morrison
Arts/Historical
What’s not to love about this exploration of art under pressure? Russia, ballet, tsars, Putin, Bolshoi, beautiful people, famous composers, and life in the spotlight.

Here I Am
Jonathan Safran Foer
Fiction
We’ve waited eleven years for the next Safran Foer novel, and if you haven’t read his previous two make sure you start from the beginning with Everything Is Illuminated. His new work also examines Jewish identity, this time set against the war in Israel.

The Lesser Bohemians
Eimear McBride
Fiction
A new novel from the author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing which won the Baileys Prize in 2014. Set in the 90s in north London, a young woman moves from Ireland to study acting and begins an affair with an older actor.

Who Rules the World?
Noam Chomsky
Sociology
The controversial intellectual claims the greatest threat to future peace is the USA.


October

Blood Riders
Gary Oldman & Douglas Urbanski
Fiction
Any work of fiction by esteemed Brit actor Gary Oldman sounds enticing enough, let alone this, the first in a proposed series of Wild West vampire novels. Watch him in 1992’s Dracula to get yourself in the mood.

Bookworm
Lucy Mangan
Literature/Historical
Mangan collates her vast experience to provide an insight into the beauty of childhood reading and the classic books that have profoundly influenced generations of young people.

Total Intoxication
Norman Ohler
Historical
An examination of the use of drugs in the Nazi party as a tool of war and experimentation.


November

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Fiction
A satirical reimagining of a society in which girls are the stronger sex, from the author of The Liar’s Gospel.

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The Worlds of Joseph Conrad
Maya Jasanoff
Literature/Historical
Jasanoff uses Conrad’s life and works to examine perspectives on world culture and geography at the beginning of the 1900s.

Venice: An Interior
Javier Marías
Design
Marías, esteemed Spanish author of A Heart So White and The Infatuations, turns his eye to the beauty of Venetian design.

 

Elise Janes

My World Through Stories

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An imagined world

Montreal, Canada

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Peter Pan, J.M. Barry

I studied part of my literature major in a fall semester at McGill University. We arrived in the summer, after a month travelling west coast USA, and the musical city was intoxicating, ringing with Quebecois French, wild celebrations, strange experiences and layers of history. I had four lit subjects, each requiring a text a week. My book/play/poetry collection was too heavy to ship home so I sold most of it to a Canadian friend one snowy night before Christmas. He gave me his personal copy of Meditations in return, to this day one of my most treasured literary items. Of all the wonderful texts I read throughout the shockingly beautiful fall several stand out to me, but for some reason none more so than the original Peter Pan, which I studied along with Romeo & Juliet and My Own Private Idaho for a comparative essay on boy gang culture.

 

Calgary, Canada

Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, Will Ferguson

Obtained from a hostel bookshelf in Calgary on a solitary trip to the Canadian Rockies, one of many expeditions out from Montreal. I read this at the start of my Canadian residency and the quirky anecdotes and bizarre historic detail established in me a new respect for the cultural diversity of the great maple-leaf nation.

 

Paris Eurail Trip

The English Assassin, Daniel Silva

Purchased in a second-hand bookshop in Montmartre for three euro it was one of few English-language books on offer and elicited a patronising smirk from the bearded shop-guy. Not my usual fare, it turned out to be a fantastic scenic parallel to our trans-European journey. And the heroine was a violinist convalescing in Portugal.

 

Sola Voce European Tour

An Equal Music, Vikram Seth

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

One of my all-time favourite books, as much for the time of life in which I discovered it as for the story itself. I bought a second copy from a bookshop in Montreal and reread this during a tour of Europe with a chamber choir from the University of Queensland. Violin was my major degree study so I felt an intimate connection with the protagonist and the way music, both craft and passion, was an inseparable part of his identity. His string quartet performed in Vienna and Venice and our choir toured to these places and more, the pieces we sang becoming a soundtrack to our incredible experiences just as the music Michael plays parallels his doomed love affair. The writing is astonishingly beautiful and full of melancholic depth and I’ve never read another author who has such a nuanced understanding of the intricacies of Art music practise and the lesser-performed masterpieces of the Western canon.

 

Oahu, USA

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On my second trip to Hawaii I had just finished Kerouac’s famously meandering roman á clef. Though it had little connection to Oahu it nevertheless leant a deeper magnificence to the Pacific sunsets.

 

Penang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

I have a thing for pirates and so does Malaysia, whose history is drenched in nautical mishaps and adventure. A perfect book for resort poolsides, a Singapore sling in one hand and a view of the Straits of Malacca before you.

 

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Siena, Italy

Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes

As part of an extensive overseas trip we spent a week in a villa in the Sienese countryside. It was as exquisite as it sounds, made all the more so by Mayes’s portraits of Tuscan life and epicurean recommendations. Thanks to her we discovered an antiques fair at the top of Arezzo hill and the pure delight of fava beans with pecorino fresco and local sangiovese.

 

Paris, France

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Having read The Sun Also Rises for my lit studies, invoking an endless love of Hemingway, it comes as no surprise that one of the greatest moments of my life was purchasing A Moveable Feast from Shakespeare & Company before walking in the rain along Rue Mouffetard.

 

Vernazza, Italy

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

I found this book while revisiting a little apartment in Vernazza, Italy, on the last leg of a world trip. This was before it became a hyper-marketed movie so I had no idea what to expect. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but the novel reads a bit like a travel narrative touching on various parts of the globe and traversing huge spans of time. For me it evoked a similar feeling to travelling around the world, that anchorless, ageless sensation. The musical tale of Robert Frobisher was a special gem for me, as was the seafarer’s bookending narrative.

 

New York City, USA

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jnr, & E.B. White

On my third trip to NYC my husband and I spent one week in the East Village and another in Green Point, Brooklyn. Every minute was perfect, and littered with literary memories. The shelves of our East Village apartment were full of contemporary sociology books, and I spent a glorious morning in the JP Morgan Library & Museum, and an equally glorious afternoon wandering the hallowed halls of the Public Library. Not to mention McNally Jackson in Soho, the Met rare book collection and the gorgeous bookshop attached to the MoMA. I bought Auster’s trilogy in the gift shop of the Whitney Museum and reading it later was amazed at the true New York-ness of his hyper-realistic style. Another grand life-moment was purchasing the latest edition of Strunk & White’s style bible from The Strand.

 

Pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Georgetown, Malaysia

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

It’s fair to say Penang has stolen my heart, in a manner on par with New York City and Rome, due in no small part to its 20th century literary heritage. It’s one of few places in South East Asia that bring together many extreme historic influences because of its unique geographic location: sitting at the heart of the shipping lanes that bore the lifeblood of world culture for more than 3000 years. Penang counts in its history an ancient Austronesian settlement, a Persian dynasty, the oldest Sultanate in the world, a port for the Dutch East India Company, a British colonial fortress, Chinese opium wars, and Japanese occupation in WW2. Greene’s book is set in Vietnam but finds its place alongside many authors of that era who were fascinated by the South China Seas, such as Anthony Burgess, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Noel Coward. I read this book with my mother on the pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental where Maugham himself penned several novels.

Elise Janes