From Mantel to McCarthy: My (off-script) literary highs of 2015 and 2016

Plenty of annual reviews for the past year and forecasts on the year ahead have been and gone but – drum roll, please – here’s my off-script, non-diary, under-the-radar take on half a dozen or so literary highs of 2015 and hopeful nods at 2016…

AN OPENING…

I still like to occasionally nip into some book stores, handle some print, read some openings. I recently wrote a post about the Booker Prize shortlist, 2015, solely focused on their openings.

My favourite of the six short listed in 2015 is Tom McCarthy’s opening page… woven somehow among his opening paragraphs is a sub-textual common sense: a stinging commentary on ‘false positive’ perception, the confirmation bias of the crowd viewpoint, and the enduring power of prejudice. All that, and visions of poesy… (you can read the full, original post here).

A LINE…

…He looked around, as if he didn’t believe it: the crucial act of a dedicated life, ten minutes from now, with your back to a chipboard wardrobe glossed with white veneer; a pleated paper blind, an unmade bed, a strange woman, and your last tea with no sugar in it.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, by Hilary Mantel

To be frank, this story is brim full of quotable lines. Voila: you can read the Mantel story – as long as you don’t mind hurdling both external and in-house adverts.

It’s a story that I had had my eye on for a while and I finally got round to reading it this year. Dynamite. Aftershocks aplenty: the storytelling, the sense of place, the characterisation, the narrator’s voice, the language. Dynamite.

So what’s your line? If none come to mind, here’s a list of 50 lines that someone has compiled that may give you a nudge… 

AN ATTITUDE…

A loud noise. I went out to check – nothing…

A Loud Noise, by Han Dong

You can listen to the full poem twice (3’40 and 7’05 marks) during this good, brief discussion of Han Dong’s work with his English translator, Nicky Harman. I recommend it for the dispassionate tone that, despite (or due to) mundane subject matter and simple diction, both captivates my critical faculties and nudges my imagination.

AN OBSESSION…

Contemporary Chinese fiction. I am currently reading through this anthology CommaChina.Captureof shorts:

Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China (Comma Press, 2012… heads up, it’s currently “on sale”).

Why? Authenticity. In a world awash with Western commentary, criticism, and conjecture about China, this recent anthology offers (still) fresh perspectives from diverse Chinese voices none of which appear to be in any sense State-sponsored.

A GIFT…

The aforementioned Comma Press have an excellent selection of short story anthologies. I have no affiliation yet heartily recommend you to peruse their catalogue, especially if you’re going to be in the market for some quality reading in 2016… http://commapress.co.uk/books/

A READ…

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Between drafts, of course, I like to plunge into some reads. I enjoy diving into oceans of short stories, dipping into poetry, and delving in to a deeper read. This novel is nearly twenty years old but my off-script round-up was not intended to be strictly 2015. Besides, the book pictures the world in 2019. So it is arguably topical while remaining in the ‘near future’ category – the outer limits to which my taste for ‘sci-fi’ stretches. Spoiler: If you haven’t made the connection yet my debut, short novel/novella is a near future (sober) science fiction sojourn.

So the high (enough) concept of The Sparrow soared my intrigue and has, so far, kept me flying through its pages… in brief: ‘a near future Catholic Church embarks upon a private Space mission’. Hmm.

AN OLD(ER) IDEA…KingKurtanime.Capture

Putting words to some visuals, when done well, can work. Here’s a lengthy Vonnegut animation that, for me, enhances the wonderful words and delivery of ‘King Kurt’.

A NEW(ISH) IDEA…

Each year throws up new, and not so new, ways to devour words. Here is one that just recently crossed my radar and gets a nod for sheer chutzpah… there are plenty of sites offering straight laced ‘library quiet’ readings by authors, and there are creative sites with readings enhanced by ambient sounds. Of course there are professionally (enough) produced audio books that make use of music and other audio. Going further back, lest our memories get dimmed by digital tools, there was radio and, naturally, radio plays and readings – some of which had music and other audio accompaniment. But let’s whoosh back to the present…

BookTrack is a new startup looking to engage readers with a ‘next level’ of sensory stimulus: by providing a seamless ambient/atmospheric audio track to accompany your entire read. Yes: cover to cover (or screen to screen). The software apparently ‘learns’ your reading rate and matches it, and it is meant to enhance your experience ‘kind of like a conductor’.

For me this will just get in the way. I do not mind shards of ambient audio when used sparingly in audio versions of shorts or novels, but I do not want to hear a constant soundtrack. That said, by my early glance of the site users have options to build their own audio track so – for particular, special projects – this could prove a useful tool for proactive authors with creative zest.


Voila: my alternative 2015 round up and future gaze at sweet ’16… So how about you?

What fictional highlight gripped you in 2015? 

And, whether or not you fancy reading a novel soundtracked from opening line to final page, what literary delight are you most looking forward to in 2016?

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