Fri Dec 02 19:56:24 SAST 2016

A-Z of 2010 in literature

Tymon Smith | 2010-12-22 22:05:52.00 Comments

A rocker and raunchy cricketer made it to the shelves, writes Tymon Smith

A: is for Martin Amis, the bad boy of English letters, who started the year with a new book, The Pregnant Widow, which turned out to be one of his best, although it was overlooked for the Booker Prize short list. In publicity interviews, Amis stirred controversy when he advocated suicide booths for old people and dismissed JM Coetzee as having no talent, a comment for which he later apologised.

B: is for Barack Obama, Tony Blair and George W Bush. Obama was the subject of David Remnick's mammoth narrative biography The Bridge, which surprised not only for its quality, but also in light of the fact that its author wrote it while holding down a 12-hour day job as the editor of The New Yorker.

A Journey, Blair's much-publicised memoir, resulted in protests by anti-war demonstrators at launches, and while the former British prime minister stood by his belief in the existence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and had plenty of hard things to say about Gordon Brown, the book flew off shelves and was briefly considered a nominee for the bad sex in fiction award.

Bush, likewise, refused to admit any error in his decision to invade Iraq and his memoir, Decision Points, was generally panned by critics and political commentators alike.

C: is for Imraan Coovadia, whose third novel, High Low In-Between, won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize.

D: is for David Beresford, whose Truth is a Strange Fruit: A Personal Journey Through the Apartheid War, is a powerfully personal account of the journalist's experiences and investigations into some of the less spoken-about aspects of South Africa's past.

E: is for Evita Bezuidenhout. The former ambassador to Bapetikosweti published a cookbook, Evita's Kossie Sikelele, which swept to the top of local bestseller lists with its mix of sharply funny anecdotes and culinary expertise. Evita generously donated all her royalties to The Darling Trust.

F: is for Jonathan Franzen and his family saga, Freedom, the long-awaited follow-up to The Corrections, which was praised to the rafters. It led to him gracing the cover of Time magazine as the saviour of American fiction and ended his spat with Oprah, who picked it for her book club. The hype over Freedom made it the most written-about book of the year, dividing critics and causing trouble when an over-enthusiastic fan stole the author's spectacles at a book launch in London.

G: is for Herschelle Gibbs. His autobiography, To the Point, provoked an uproar when the sportsman revealed details of the sexcapades of his fellow cricketers on tour and spoke about his involvement in match fixing, his troublesome marriage and his battles with alcohol.

The tell-all memoir shot straight to the top of the bestseller lists and sold out its first print run in two days.

H: is for Christopher Hitchens, Amis's partner in literary infamy and a prolific commentator, whose shift from the left to the right has perplexed many of his supporters over the years. His memoir Hitch 22 may not have satisfied those looking for answers to his change in attitude, but his writing has always made the man hard to ignore.

A chain smoker and heavy drinker, Hitchens had to cut short his book tour when he announced that he was undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer. Though the diagnosis did not look positive, Hitchens, a steadfast atheist, refused to make his peace with God and asked that Christian fundamentalists stop praying for him to do so.

I: is for Inge Lotz, whose murder and the subsequent court case were extensively explored by Antony Altbeker in Fruit of a Poisoned Tree, a carefully researched, sharply written examination of a murder and its implications not just for the criminal justice system, but the fabric of South African society as a whole.

J: is for Howard Jacobson, who, after labouring for years under the unfair label of the British Philip Roth, won the Booker Prize for his razor-sharp Jewish satire, The Finkler Question.

K: is for "Keef", as in Keith Richards, the guitar hero of the Rolling Stones, whose memoir, Life, proved to be a rock 'n roll recollection like few others: full of humour, sarcasm, jibes at Mick Jagger and written in a voice like no other.

L: is for Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist and one-time presidential candidate who won this year's Nobel prize for literature and joined his former friend and now rival, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on the South American laureate list.

M: is for Madiba. The former president was the subject of almost as many books as last year during his 90th birthday celebrations.

Richard Stengel's Mandela's Way provided life lessons from Mandela's story and David James Smith's Young Mandela looked at his formative years. The Mandela Foundation then produced the much-hyped Conversations with Myself, a selection of letters, diaries and notebooks that give the most personal look yet at the man. Former Labour MP and anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain produced a pictorial, digestible book full of tributes and facts in time for Christmas stockings.

N: is for Lewis Nkosi, the last of the Drum generation and one of its finest writers, who, sadly, passed away in September.

One of South Africa's pioneering writers and sharpest critics, Nkosi will be missed, but his undeniable contribution to the world of letters lives on in his novels, The Mating Birds, Underground People and Mandela's Ego, as well as several volumes of essays and short stories.

O: is for Oprah, who was the subject of a gossipy biography by Kitty Kelley and who offered an olive branch to Jonathan Franzen when she picked Freedom for her influential book club after a previous spat over Franzen's The Corrections in 2001.

P: is for The Power, the sequel to The Secret, which shot to the top of bestseller lists as author Rhonda Byrne produced another book that tells you that you can get what you want just by wishing for it.

Q: is for The Queen, the 2006 film written by Peter Morgan which deals with the monarch's reaction to the death of Princess Diana and includes made-up dialogue of the meeting between Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair. This appeared almost verbatim in Blair's account of the incident in his memoir.

R: is for Sir Salman Rushdie. After the mixed response to his 2008 novel, The Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie's fable Luka and the Fire of Life, a sort of sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, was well received, and the literary world's hearts started beating even faster once it was announced that the author is set to write his memoirs next year.

S: is for Albie Sachs, whose memoir of his time on the bench at the Constitutional Court, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, won him a second Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction.

T: is for TJ/Double Negative, a unique collaboration between novelist Ivan Vladislavic and photographer David Goldblatt, which combines a 50-year retrospective of Goldblatt's Johannesburg photographs with a novel by Vladislavic in a beautifully presented package that creates a world of new meanings and associations in a metaphorical conversation between two of the city's foremost chroniclers.

U: is for understanding the unknown, the life pursuit of quantum physicist Stephen Hawking who, together with his American colleague Leonard Mlodinow published The Grand Design, which as far as they were concerned proved once and for all that God doesn't exist. The church said they were talking out their quarks and wasn't convinced by the book's hypothesis.

V: is for Sir VS Naipaul and The Masque of Africa, his travelogue of his search for meaning and belief in Africa, which included a chapter on his travels in South Africa in 2009 and his controversial interview with Winnie Mandela.

His first book in three years was coolly received by critics, but he managed to remain in the headlines when his invitation to attend a literary festival in Turkey drew protests from writers who hadn't forgotten some less-than-complimentary comments he made about Islam in 2001.

Naipaul withdrew from the event.

W: is for Wole Soyinka, Africa's first Nobel literary laureate, who visited the Cape Town Book Fair to promote his new volume of memoirs, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, before heading back to his native Nigeria and announcing the launch of a political party, the Democratic Front for a People's Federation, in September.

X: is for the mark that millions of South Africans made in the first democratic elections in 1994, the behind- the-scenes story which is the subject of Alan Paton Award winner Peter Harris's second book Birth, a tense and gripping tale of how close we came to not getting there.

Y: is for youngsters whose enthusiasm for tales of magic and vampires continues to make bundles of cash for JK Rowling and Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who both kept their places in the Forbes Magazine list of the world's highest-paid authors.

Z: is for Jay Z, aka Shawn Carter, who published Decoded, a mix of a breakdown of the rapper tycoon's lyrics and memoirs of his rise from street hustler to rap kingpin that, while a little all over the place at times, generally shows him to be a man with a talent for wordplay of all sorts.

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A-Z of 2010 in literature

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Fri Dec 02 19:56:24 SAST 2016 ::