eric forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books
unleash your imagination and awaken to the joys of literature and the reading life
a media sponsor of the 2010 citibank-ubud writers & readers festival 6-10 october 2010
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
THE READING LIFE ... Marco Robinson
ERIC FORBES talks to accomplished and acclaimed speaker, coach and breakthrough entrepreneur MARCO ROBINSON, the author of the bestselling Know When to Close the Deal and Suddenly Grow Rich!
MARCO ROBINSON, the bestselling author of Know When to Close the Deal and Suddenly Grow Rich! (Discern Publishing House, 2011), comes across as a very inspired and inspiring human being who lives to give people opportunities when they ask for help, or offer them lessons in a learning experience, which consequently empowers them to overcome their greatest challenges and attain their true purpose in life. “When someone tells me, ‘Marco, I read your book, and you changed my life,’ that’s an incredible justification that I am following my true purpose in life!” His response to any person who tells him the above is: “You changed your life because you made the choice to read my book and take action by following the principles outlined in the book! Kudos to you for having the courage to do that!”
Robinson is always humbled when he gets such feedback because “to be quite frank, I came from a place of nothing; I was a nobody, a nothing, a loser, and I know what it feels like to be trapped in that loser’s mindset.” He continues, “I had the great fortune of learning how to take control of my own mind and essentially my own thoughts, which has been my saviour and my greatest gift to others who are in or have been in despair.”
He savours and enjoys every moment of his life to the fullest, and is thankful that he is alive and able to help others optimise their potential and achieve their desires. “I thank God I have learned to receive all the love that comes along with that, which only compounds my strength to always give and serve my fellow human beings.”
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF MARCO ROBINSON
How do you find the time to read with your hectic schedule?
I place the emphasis on reading as my highest “must do” every day. I don’t have to find time to read. I read before I go to bed at night, I read when I get up in the morning, and I read in-between. I read in my spare moments, and when I am writing I read more to clarify my research on the topic I am writing about.
Do you think reading matters?
I believe reading is the most effective way of programming our minds with information we can decode into usable applications for our life’s purpose, so yes, I think it matters more than any other pastimes.
What kind of books did you read when you were growing up?
When I was a kid growing up, I wanted to escape, and enjoyed so much the works of C.S. Lewis, such as the The Chronicles of Narnia, which still resonate with me today. Everything I read was fantasy, but the greatest book I ever read as a kid was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age?
I would say all of the stuff above, all the stories that came with an adventure. Those adventure stories inspired me to travel and see the world and eventually settle in Asia.
What are some of your favourite contemporary books? Why do you enjoy reading them?
I love Malcolm Gladwell, especially Outliers and The Tipping Point, because he makes you think, he stimulates you in places that allow your intellect to question [things] and grow, and shows you fascinating insights into why things happen the way they do, which leads to the truth, and revealing the truth is a passionate quest of mine. Other books of bravery and heroism still inspire me, such as those by John Grisham, Andy McNabb and so on.
Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why do you enjoy reading it? Do you reread books you enjoyed the first time round?
My all-time favourite books are Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Al Koran’s Bring Out the Magic in Your Mind and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I read Hill everyday because it reinforces my true defining purpose. I read Koran every few months because it inspires me to believe in myself. I read Tolkien to remind me that everything is against us and it is with the help of our friends that we can see the light.
What do you think are the essentials of good fiction? What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good? (However, if you prefer reading nonfiction, tell me the kinds of nonfiction you like and why. Or perhaps you enjoy reading both fiction and nonfiction?)
The elements of a great novel are primarily the story and the adventure (or adventures) within the story. The enrichment of the characters is also essential in terms of me never wanting to put the book down. A great work of fiction has you in the story with the characters, feeling what they feel, taking you to another world, another adventure, another emotional, soul-tingling experience. As for nonfiction, I love authors who reveal the ‘real’ truths behind ‘why’ and ‘how-to’ books, with a real practical sense, that can help readers grow and learn in ways that are easy for them to adapt into their lives.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading three books at the moment: Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, and Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.
What are your thoughts on the future of books, particularly on ebooks and ebook readers? Do you think they will replace physical books one day? Do you see yourself reading an ebook?
My thoughts are mixed on this because my ecological conscience wants me to save the planet; there’s too much wastage of paper, too many trees sacrificed. I love a physical book, I really do love the tangible texture of turning and smelling the pages as I read it, and I think if they can make reusable paper they will still exist far into the future. However, with the advent of Apple’s iPad and iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle reader, I believe most readers will adopt the electronic format, and I believe these technologies will allow people to use ebooks with more ease, making them friendly to the human eye and hand.
NOTE An updated edition of Robinson’s bestseller is out, with a new title, Close the Deal and Suddenly Grow Rich! (ISBN 9789834438951)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
We can’t escape our past
Novelist SAMANTHA BRUCE-BENJAMIN talks to ERIC FORBES about the inspiration behind her first novel, The Art of Devotion, a story set on a sun-drenched island in the Mediterranean from the turn of the twentieth century to the late 1930s
Author photograph by JIRAIR TCHOLAKIAN
GROWING UP IN SCOTLAND, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin was lucky to spend her summers in the Mediterranean, the landscape of which provided the backdrop for her first novel, The Art of Devotion. Born and raised in Edinburgh, where she lived until she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at The University of Edinburgh, she moved to New York after being accepted to study drama at the prestigious and renowned American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA). “I had studied with the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama since I was a child, and thought it might be interesting to explore further learning opportunities in New York, rather than London, as I had lived in America for several months when I was seventeen and loved it.” However, after only a term, the harsh realities of the acting world deterred her from continuing, as she found that she was far more interested in how plays were constructed from an authorial perspective than in the actual performance of them. She then decided to put her degree in English Literature to use and applied to Random House for a job in publishing.
Thus began her career as a book editor at Random House. She was lucky that her first job as an editorial assistant was at a prestigious literary imprint, Doubleday Broadway, where she got to work with such writers as Gore Vidal and Muriel Spark. “When you’re in the presence, however removed, from writers who have, justifiably, been lauded as geniuses, you learn a lot about how things should be done. I am grateful for the experience: it subsequently informed everything I ever attempted as a writer.” As she moved up the editorial ladder, she edited literary, historical and commercial fiction. A little bit of this and that crossed her desk, which was unusual as editors tend to specialise, but she was fortunate to be able to dabble in various genres.
Art of Ruthlessness
Samantha drew on her editorial experience when writing her début novel. “I think that what any former editor who becomes an author brings to the editorial desk is an understanding of how difficult the process of being published actually is and, as a consequence of that, a determination to be as easy as possible for an editor to deal with!” In fact, she was so happy that, despite a challenging publishing climate, she had managed to get her foot on the authorial ladder, that she simply wanted to enjoy the path to publication.
“The greatest lesson I learned as an editor that may have benefited my writing was the art of ruthlessness in terms of characterisation. A fundamental awareness of how to realise a novel to its maximum potential that begins, and arguably ends, in a negation of the ego on the part of the author and cold-blooded, dispassionate ruthlessness in terms of characterisation.” As an editor, she often witnessed books with great potential fail and, in returning to the reasons why, as all editors must, a familiar cause would present itself: the hero or heroine was often a thinly disguised, invariably exalted, depiction of the author. Many authors ruin their work by succumbing to authorial preciousness, interpreting editorial suggestions made to balance the character as a personal attack. “The objectivity necessary to remedy the flaws in characterisation proved lacking because they could not separate their own personality from the equation. In short, they believed the character and, by extension, themselves, to be flawless, despite idiosyncrasies that would prove off-putting to readers. As a consequence, coming up against this dangerous perception time and again ultimately proved the cautionary lesson I have never forgotten, which is why none of the characters in The Art of Devotion bear any resemblance to me. I am entirely dispassionate about all of them, and approach them as a reader might, judging them accordingly.”
As an editor, Samantha found herself working so closely on some novels that it was almost as if she had written them herself, which gave her the confidence to attempt a novel of her own. She took a year off from work to pursue her literary ambition, and wrote two pages a day for five months, and at the end of that period she had a first draft of her novel. “That was the beginning of it all. I’m lucky to be able to write full-time now, which is a dream come true.”
It took her three years, however, to get her manuscript published, but she wrote another novel during that time. Initially, she was represented by an agent in London, who sent out a first draft that was well received, but did not succeed in securing a publishing deal. She then started on her second novel, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had not served The Art of Devotion well by putting it aside. She therefore returned to it two years later, and completely revised the story over the summer of 2008. At that point, the manuscript went out on submission, and was sold to Simon & Schuster shortly.
Samantha, surprisingly, had no designs whatsoever on becoming a writer. During her university days, she wrestled with her prose style and was constantly consumed with self-loathing. She remembers ripping up half-written essays and starting all over again. However, in her final year at secondary school, “we were called upon to submit four short stories for our English exam, and they attracted some attention from the teachers.” That was the first time anyone had ever complimented her writing, but it didn’t register with her then. “I adored reading, but I had such admiration for my favourite authors that I had no confidence to try it myself; in fact, I wrote nothing creative until I arrived at Random House four years later.” It is surprising to her that she ended up pursuing this career path because now she cannot imagine ever finding such fulfilment in any other profession.
A typical day in Samantha’s writing life begins early in the morning. She starts writing at around 7:30am and that’s where she remains until around one in the afternoon, or longer. “For me, it’s all about discipline, although I do dither about a lot.” As she has written more, she has learned to be more forgiving of herself, and she recognises that some days are more creative or productive than others. “Even if I cannot find a thing to write, I usually generate an idea or feel so frustrated that I am impelled to try even harder the next day. What I have found, however, is that I am always, to some extent, writing, because I never stop thinking about the story I am working on.” Even when the computer is switched off and she is officially ‘finished’ for the day, the work continues, mentally.
Reviewers have compared The Art of Devotion to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. “I find it funny—but extremely flattering—that reviewers have drawn this comparison. The truth is that I did not consider the classic during the entire process of writing the novel.” It was only later when she had to come up with an epigraph for the front matter of the book that she thought to include the final line of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, which seemed to encapsulate perfectly one of the central themes she had attempted to explore in her novel, that is, “each character’s inability to escape their respective past.”
On publication, however, she was given a review which favourably compared her to Fitzgerald, and, as a result of that, many have suggested that she was influenced by him. “Obviously, as Fitzgerald is my favourite author, and The Great Gatsby is my favourite book, he is an inspiration to me, but I did not make a conscious decision to attempt to replicate his narrative style: I would never have thought myself capable, for a start! It is fascinating how an author’s influence on a writer can filter into the work, unwittingly, almost by a process of osmosis.” All authors are the sum of the parts of their predecessors to which they add their own unique voices: “It’s a wonderful debt to owe to our literary forebears.”
Writing in Exile
Perception and exile are some of the dominant themes she explores in the novel. As a European living in New York, she often feels as if she is writing in exile, in that she is so far removed from the much-loved landscape of her youth. “As much as I enjoy living in New York, I have never considered it home, although I have lived here for over a decade.” So, in writing The Art of Devotion, she indulged in a game of mental travelling. “I wanted to revisit that Mediterranean locale, and re-examine its culture through a prism of detachment, which is why the four female protagonists in the novel narrate their experiences in the present, looking back to the past: all are exiled from the lives they once led.” Furthermore, she has a long-standing love of the sea and islands, such as those she has known in the Mediterranean, and they have always struck her as being governed, to some degree, by the whims of the Gods: “There’s something precarious about their unparalleled beauty, almost as if they could be consumed by the sea at any moment. Onto that stage, I wanted to place characters who, by their very nature and existence, inhabit a world in the late 1930s, from our contemporary perspective, that we know is inherently fragile; a world so rarefied and refined—of grace and favour and privilege—that no longer exists.”
Yet, within that brightly lit framework, she wanted to examine the shadows founded on two further themes: the nature of gossip and idolatry, which, she believes, are inexorably linked. “By creating a novel around four distinct voices and examining the same set of events from each different perspective, I was able to play with the idea of unreliable narrators and readers’ allegiances: the characters present themselves without authorial interference because there’s no third-person narration. All the reader knows is what they are told by the characters themselves, in their own voices, and it is entirely up to the reader to decide whom they choose to align their sympathies.”
She also wanted to examine universal emotions with which readers would readily identify: grief, love, devotion and each character’s divergent approach to them. Most crucially, there’s no authorial judgment throughout the story: “I want readers to believe what they choose, to align their affections accordingly, to agree or disagree with the characters, based only on their own perceptions. Yet, in subverting every single thing the reader believes to be the truth at the end of the novel, I also wanted to cast doubt over the blithe assumptions we ritually make: do we believe what we hear or trust what we know and, if so, why?”
As a reader and writer of fiction, Samantha believes that good fiction lies in the writing. “I can forgive any flaw of plot if the author’s voice or narrative style proves compelling.” She once had somebody influential counsel her, ‘Don’t bother about the writing. It’s not important. Just concentrate on getting the story right.’ She has never disagreed with anything more viscerally in her life. “For me, everything is about language. When I look back to my most beloved books, it’s not the artistry of the novel’s architecture or facts of the story that spring to mind when I consider why I love them, but those sentences, that, when recalled, seem to encapsulate the entire book and what it conveyed on first reading.”
On whether creativity or imagination is inborn or can be taught, she says, “As a former editor, I think that you can teach the tenets of plotting and pacing—the architecture of a novel—but the language, the ability to find and express ideas in unique and memorable ways, is something that I don’t believe can ever be taught.” For her, the interplay between the life of the mind and the way in which it translates itself into language on a page is an innate gift, unique to each writer. “I think there comes a point where language and plotting can be overworked, especially in workshop settings, hitting formulaic marks that detract from a piece of writing’s originality.” Flaws, she believes, are sometimes necessary to convey the author’s intent; sometimes they are what make a novel interesting. “I don’t think any author can score a perfect ten every time they set out to write a book.”
Samantha has completed writing her second novel, The Last Party, which focuses on the ‘last party’ of the summer season, held by a fabled society hostess in the Hamptons, as it unfolds in the moments leading up to the Great Hurricane of 1938, and is deep in the throes of editing it. And when she is not busy writing, reading or editing, she loves to watch the sea for hours, and all of her favourite films, over and over again. Beyond that, she likes to eat. “Especially meringue!”
Reproduced from the October-December 2011 issue of Quill magazine
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Every Road Has a Destination
Canadian novelist JUNE HUTTON talks about her first novel, Underground, and her long, seldom-smooth struggle to get her foot on the authorial ladder
THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION for a début novelist is seldom smooth. Mine was typically long and uneven. Perhaps that is thematically fitting, given the subject matter of Underground, a story about struggle, perseverance and personal victory. Al Fraser’s search for identity and purpose takes him from the mud of the Somme, through the parched Canadian landscape of the Great Depression and on to the burnt fields of Spain deep in the throes of civil war. In other words, a journey along one of recent history’s rougher roads.
Two distinct yet similar images were the story’s genesis. My father told me that his father had been buried alive in a trench at the Somme, and had to punch a fist through the dirt to signal rescue crews. To me, that fist was a powerful symbol of defiance. It said: I will not die. Later, a co-worker told me that her father had fought with Canada’s MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion in Spain. I was curious and began reading up on those soldiers, and found that their salute was a raised fist, a symbol of defiance against fascism. A lightning bolt of ideas began zapping between the two images of the raised fists. How could I connect them? What sort of man would fight in both wars, and why? The story grew from there.
Underground was many years in the making. Long before I began work on my novel, I was learning the craft of writing—as a journalist for five years and then a short-story writer for seven years. The novel itself, from early scratchings on paper to eventual publication, took another seven years.
During Underground’s infancy, I was teaching high school English part-time, struggling to squeeze in writing when I could—on a bus, while going for a walk, doing the laundry, preparing lessons. A thought would strike and I’d write it down before it was lost in the bustle of life. I carried a notebook with me wherever I went and it didn’t take long to fill one. From there, I moved to my laptop and began piecing scenes together. I would print copies and edit, then go back to the screen, then back and forth, repeatedly, until I was satisfied. When that happened I’d workshop it with authors Jen Sookfong Lee (The End of East, The Better Mother) and Mary Novik (Conceit), who are my friends and fellow members of the writing group SpiN (www.spinwrites.com).
For me, the most intensely creative stage of novel production is that beginning, after perhaps a draft or two, when I have a vague notion of where the story is heading, but am free to add whatever I want and just see what happens. At that point anything is possible. A new character can appear. Or an old one, disappear. The chronology can shift. The story can still move in unexpected directions.
My protagonist is purely fictional, though he represents many of the men of his generation whose lives had been shaped by war and deprivation. For that reason, I felt that Al Fraser had to be an ordinary guy, a worker, not a famous person from history. I wanted him in that mud, a common foot soldier fighting in deplorable conditions, and returning to a hard life back home, damaged by what he had experienced. His eventual acknowledgement of an unsavoury act he committed on the battlefield leads to his decision to go to Spain. War then becomes a means towards Al’s personal redemption. I used rising shrapnel as a physical symbol of that memory—the bits of war that he has brought back home with him—and this motif runs throughout the novel.
Other sub-themes emerged that connect to the overall theme of identity. Love, for one, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, the camaraderie among workers. Only after the novel was nearing completion did I realise that the camaraderie extends to men in war and on protest marches, too. But each of these is a world without women and, increasingly, as the story grew, so did Al’s longing for a female presence in his life, for love, as a means of becoming whole.
But the struggle to finish Al’s story was soon eclipsed by the struggle to convince the book industry it wanted the story. My husband and I had moved to Toronto, Ontario, for a few months for his work. Toronto is the publishing centre in Canada, so while I was there I decided to look for a literary agent. I phoned John Pearce of Westwood Creative Artists and described my novel to him. He asked me to send sample chapters, which I did. He then agreed to meet me, and asked me to bring the remaining chapters.
We met several times, in fact. During our last meeting the manuscript, bound with elastic bands, sat in the middle of the table. John had read it, liked it, but felt it needed more work. He was going to decline taking me on as a client. As he discussed the manuscript’s weaknesses, he nudged it across the centre to my side of the table. As I replied with its strengths, I nudged it back. Watching the bundle’s unsteady progress back and forth across the table was nerve-wracking. I often wonder if he noticed. I told him I was willing to keep working at it, and we discussed ways to improve it. A couple of times he picked the bundle up and my heart was in my mouth until he dropped it back down onto his side of the table. At last we reached an agreement, and John said he would have a contract drawn up and sent to me. It was summer and I was wearing flip-flops, not the usual attire for a business meeting, but I was ready to hop into the waiting car and begin our nine-day drive back across Canada and the United States to our home in Vancouver. It was a victorious return. I had persevered. I was represented. I knew publication was only a matter of time.
My journey was not over, though. Author Jack Hodgins, winner of many awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Canadian-Caribbean region), agreed to go over the manuscript with me and offer suggestions. John then asked me which publishers I was most interested in, and I named two, one of which was the small but award-winning Cormorant Books. Publisher and editor Marc Côté read the manuscript in one weekend, and by the Monday was on the phone to John saying he wanted to buy Underground.
We then embarked on the process of turning the manuscript into a novel. The time from the signing of the contract to publication was the standard two years. My manuscript was put through the usual process of extending, cutting, deepening, and in general, revising, revising, revising. There’s nothing like a book deal to sharpen the focus and fire up the creative juices. Again.
JUNE HUTTON is a former journalist and teacher whose short fiction has appeared in many literary journals in Canada. Her first novel, Underground, documents the events that led a Canadian soldier to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Hutton read from Underground at the Suzhou Bookworm in early 2011. She was in China to conduct research for a novel about the wild west of North America, Chinese immigrants and opera. She lives in Vancouver, Canada. Check out her website at http://www.junehutton.com/.
Coordinated by ERIC FORBES
Reproduced from the October-December 2011 issue of Quill magazine
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
JUST WHEN I THOUGHT it was safe to go back in the water … I thought I had edited the worst book of my career when along comes another nightmare of a manuscript to break all previous records and haunt my every waking moment! (I was told that I must be paying for all the horrible sins I committed in my previous lives!) It’s amazing how far down we are willing to go when it comes to standards (or lack thereof)! With this pasar malam (night market) style of Malaysian publishing, I would rather scrub toilets than edit the crap that pass for manuscripts any day. Seriously.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
November 2011 Highlights
1. What the Family Needed (Sleepers, 2011) / Steven Amsterdam
2. The Night Strangers (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Chris Bohjalian
3. The Prague Cemetery (trans. from the Italian by Richard Dixon) (Harvill Secker/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / Umberto Eco
4. Lost December (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Richard Paul Evans
5. The Boy in the Suitcase (trans. from the Danish by Lene Kaaberbol) (Soho Press, 2011) / Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis
6. The Printmaker’s Daughter (HarperPerennial, 2011) / Katherine Govier
7. Death Comes to Pemberley (Faber & Faber, 2011) / P.D. James
8. White Truffles in Winter (W.W. Norton, 2011) / N.M. Kelby
9. 11.22.63 (Scribner/Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) / Stephen King
10. How It All Began (Fig Tree, 2011) / Penelope Lively
11. Foal’s Bread (Allen & Unwin, 2011) / Gillian Mears
12. Cold Light (Vintage Australia, 2011) / Frank Moorhouse
13. Love and Shame and Love (Little, Brown, 2011) / Peter Orner
14. It’s Fine By Me (trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2011) / Per Petterson
15. You & I (published as You & Me in the US) (Serpent’s Tail, 2011) / Padgett Powell
16. Lunch Bucket Paradise: A True-Life Novel (Heyday Books, 2011) / Fred Setterberg
17. Forecast: Turbulence (HarperCollins Australia, 2011) / Janette Turner Hospital
18. Where Tigers Are At Home (trans. from the French by Mike Mitchell) (Dedalus, 2011) / Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
19. Queen of America (Little, Brown, 2011) / Luis Alberto Urrea
1. The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury, 2011) / Vanessa Gebbie
2. The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Orion, 2011) / Anthony Horowitz
3. The Sisters (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Nancy Jensen
4. The Devil All the Time (Harvill Secker, 2011) / Donald Ray Pollock
1. Somewhere Else, Or Even Here (Salt Publishing, 2011) / A.J. Ashworth
2. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Scribner, 2011) / Don DeLillo
3. Before the End, After the Beginning (Grove Press, 2011) / Dagoberto Gilb
4. The Beautiful Indifference (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Sarah Hall
5. It Chooses You (McSweeney’s, 2011) / Miranda July
6. The Doll: The Lost Short Stories (William Morrow, 2011) / Daphne du Maurier
7. Tales of the New World (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2011) / Sabina Murray
8. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares (Mysterious Press, 2011) / Joyce Carol Oates
1. The Angel of Salonika (Salt Publishing, 2011) / Vesna Goldsworthy
2. Naked Clay: Drawing from Lucian Freud (Shearsman Books, 2011) / Barry Hill
3. Armour (Picador, 2011) / John Kinsella
4. Selected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Christopher Reid
5. Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 (trans. from the German by Iain Gabraith) (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / W.G. Sebald
6. The Rivered Earth (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / Vikram Seth
7. Things to Say to a Dead Man: Poems at the End of a Marriage and After (Holy Cow! Press, 2011) / Jane Yolen
1. London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets (Nan A. Talese, 2011) / Peter Ackroyd
2. Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life (Scribner, 2011) / Ann Beattie
3. Stalking Nabokov (Columbia University Press, 2011) / Brian Boyd
4. Martin Amis: The Biography (Constable, 2011) / Richard Bradford
5. Blue Nights (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Joan Didion
6. The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War (trans. from the Swedish by Peter Graves) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Peter Englund
7. Civilization: The West and the Rest (Penguin, 2011) / Niall Ferguson
8. George F. Kennan: An American Life (Allen Lane, 2011) / John Lewis Gaddis
90. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
10. Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Robert Hughes
11. A Point of View (Picador, 2011) / Clive James
12. Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure (Yale University Press, 2011) / Tim Jeals
13. A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism (Facing History and Ourselves, 2011) / Phyllis Goldstein
14. The New Granta Book of Travel (Granta Books, 2011) / Liz Jobey (ed.)
15. “Something Urgent I Have to Say to You”: The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Herbert Leibowitz
16. The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (Doubleday, 2011) / Jonathan Lethem
17. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 2011) / Robert K. Massie
18. Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind (Frederic C. Beil, 2011) / Michael Murray
19. On Rereading (Belnap Press/Harvard University Press, 2011) / Patricia Meyer Spacks
20. The Genius of Dickens (Gerald Duckworth, 2011) / Michael Slater
21. Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism (ed. Christopher Carduff) (Knopf, 2011) / John Updike
22. The Least Cricket of Evening (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) / Robert Vivian
23. Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Marina Warner
24. J.G. Ballard: Visions and Revisions (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) / Jeanette Baxter and Rowland Wymer (eds.)