Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Horror, heartache … and hope

SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH talks to American novelist ADAM JOHNSON about the extraordinary life of an orphan in modern-day North Korea

ADAM JOHNSON isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill writer. For one thing, he doesn’t reply email interviews in the conventional way. Instead of written answers and long anecdotes, he submits a ten-minute video of himself, sitting in his bright, red kitchen in San Francisco, California.

Johnson’s video reply is as candid as it is unusual. His answers are clear and precise, and he hardly hesitates and never second-guesses himself—a useful trait for an associate professor who teaches creative writing at Stanford University in California.

There’s a popular saying that goes, “those who do not do, teach” but if that is the rule, Johnson is clearly the exception. Other than showing bright young minds how best to shape words into worthy stories, Johnson also spends his time writing his own. He has won the Whiting Writers’ Award as well as the California Book Award for his first novel Parasites Like Us. He has also written a short-story collection called Emporium and his fiction has appeared in well-known publications such as Esquire, Harper’s, Paris Review, Tin House, Best American Short Stories and even Playboy.

People tend to imagine college professors as “serious” types and Johnson initially appears to fit this unsmiling, scholarly image. However, his quirky sense of humour and unusual train of thought emerge two minutes into his home-made video. In the midst of answering a question about his life, he suddenly smiles at the camera and says: “I live in California where people around me do dog acupuncture and do yoga with their dogs!”

Johnson’s personality is also refreshingly different. He is extremely modest and describes himself as a “pretty average guy”—completely sidestepping the fact that he’s an associate professor at a world-renowned university and that he’s a multiple award-winning author.

Despite his many accolades in the literary world, the South Dakota-born author doesn’t think writing ranks high on the list of pleasurable activities. “I don’t find it to be necessarily fun,” Johnson says with characteristic frankness. However, he is also the first to admit that writing is an extremely rewarding and satisfying pursuit and something he can’t live without. “If I don’t write for a while I get cranky,” he confides, with a wide grin.

Then, his expression turns serious as he reveals his personal philosophy about the art of putting pen to paper. “Writing allows you to be better than yourself. When someone takes the time to orchestrate a story all the way through, I think that, in some ways, it’s better than the person who created it.”

Johnson’s most recent novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, revolves around a North Korean boy who grows up and runs a brutal work camp for orphans during Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il’s horrific rule. The book is being hailed as a breakthrough novel that has provided the people of North Korea a much-needed voice.

Johnson says the idea for the book first took hold when he was moved to read about North Korea due to an ongoing fascination with propaganda. The notion that there would be one narrative for an entire country instead of a world in which every citizen would be the central character in his or her own life, shocked his sensibilities as much as it captivated his intellectual curiosity. “In North Korea, the state writes the national story, you’re told your role in it and if you don’t fulfil that role, it comes at your peril.”

Johnson says he conducted research for his book by reading stories of defectors who had barely escaped with their lives from North Korea’s soul-crushing regime. “Those stories were very moving and powerful. I read about people who had survived the gulags, had survived the famine, had survived the purges and brutality. Just the boring banality of factory or peasant labour, day in and day out ... without hope of anything different.”

Johnson believes that what’s happening in North Korea is the most cruel and absorbing psychological “experiment” on the planet and feels that literary fiction—a combination of imagination and research—would be the best way to frame a story that is set in a place about which very little is known.

Other less-dedicated writers might have been content to plug in their own version of events in places where they were unable to unveil the truth through pure research, but Johnson actually visited the country he was writing about. This undoubtedly required great courage as he intimately knows the dangers, horrors and the heartache of a land that has long been held in the grip of incredibly cruel, merciless leaders.

While there were many strange and haunting experiences about North Korea that remain embedded in his mind, Johnson says his “invisibility” was the strangest and possibly the saddest experience of all. “I’m a big American guy and I look different than the Korean people both in behaviour and appearance, but I noticed that they seemed not to notice me at all. I had the experience of feeling transparent, really,” he says with a shadow of sorrow clouding his expression.

The always-vigilant writer in him noticed that people were curious but no one had the courage to catch his eye. “They didn’t even dare look at me and look away. They ‘censored’ themselves before they even saw me.”

Johnson hopes Pak Jun Do, the fascinating and multi-faceted protagonist in The Orphan Master’s Son, will prove to be a beacon for the real people of North Korea. “Jun Do is a person who is longing for love, who wants to live his life his own way.” Jun Do starts out as a model citizen but eventually decides to carve out his own destiny. The author hopes his readers will come to understand that this innate desire to shape one’s own life—something the rest of the world takes for granted—is unimaginably difficult in North Korea.

Johnson says he took more than half a decade to write The Orphan Master’s Son. “I thought I was going crazy, being the only person writing a literary novel about North Korea. My friends thought I was embarking on a truly bananas project!” Writing the book was a long and often lonely journey but he persevered. “I felt a duty and a calling from the beginning. Hopefully, the book will cast a light on the true, cruel fates of all the people there,” he says.

Johnson’s book can at times be quite difficult to read. The broken limbs, forced lobotomies and torture scenes—as one reviewer put it—are enough to make a reader feel nauseous. Shockingly, Johnson says he actually downplayed the horrors of the gulag in his novel. “Some people think there’s a dark streak in there but I left the true dark streak out and had to approach it through metaphors instead.”

One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is that they should write about what they know. It is indeed a testament to Johnson’s talent and skill as a wordsmith that he is able to handle topics that couldn’t be further removed from his peaceful, sunny, happy life in San Francisco, California. “I have a happy marriage, I have three kids, I try to write and I try to read. I think it’s pretty uninteresting other than that but those are all of the things I love in life so I wouldn’t want anything more.”

SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH is a great Enid Blyton fan. She was inspired to become a writer after reading her mother’s early edition of The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island when she was nine. Life, however, had other plans for her, and she ended up an engineer, but the call of the written word proved too strong. Through circuitous and unexpected circumstances, she eventually became a journalist and then a freelance writer. She loves nothing more than to spend hours seeking out words that will perfectly convey what she wants to say. Shantini lives in Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weird Words

ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD delves passionately into the quirkiness of foreign words and the English language in The Meaning of Tingo, Toujours Tingo and The Wonder of Whiffling

MY INTEREST in the quirkiness of foreign words was triggered when one day, working as a researcher for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), I picked up a weighty Albanian dictionary to discover that they have no less than twenty-seven words for “eyebrow” and the same number for different types of moustache, ranging from a mustaqe madh, or bushy, to a mustaqe posht, one which droops down at both ends.

My curiosity soon became a passion. I was unable to go near a bookshop or library without sniffing out the often dusty shelf where the foreign language dictionaries were kept. I started to collect favourites: nakhur, for example, a Persian word meaning “a camel that gives no milk until her nostrils are tickled”; many described strange or unbelievable things. How, when and where, for example, would a man be described as a marilopotes, the ancient Greek for “a gulper of coal dust”? And could the Japanese samurai really have used the verb tsuji-giri, meaning “to try out a new sword on a passer-by”? And where would you expect to find a cigerci, the Turkish for “a seller of liver and lungs”?

Others expressed concepts that seemed all too familiar. We have all met a zechpreller, “someone who leaves without paying the bill”; worked with a neko-neko, Indonesian for “one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse”; or spent too much time with an ataoso, the Central American Spanish for “one who sees problems with everything”.

In the end my passion became an obsession. I combed over two million words in countless dictionaries. I trawled the Internet, phoned embassies, and tracked down foreign-language speakers who could confirm my findings. I discovered that in Afrikaans, frogs go kwaak-kwaak, in Korea owls go buung-buung, while in Denmark Rice Crispies go Knisper! Knasper! Knupser!

I found beautiful words to describe things for which we have no concise expression, like serein, the French for “the rain that falls from a cloudless sky”; or wamadat, the Persian for “the intense heat of a sultry night”. I found words for all stages of life, from paggiq, the Inuit for “the flesh torn when a woman delivers a baby”, through Torschlusspanik, the German for “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older”, to mingmu, the Chinese for “to die without regret.” I savoured the direct logic of Danish, the succinctness of Malay, the sheer oddness of Japanese.

All these, and more, can be found in The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World (Penguin, 2005) and its follow-up, Toujours Tingo: More Extraordinary Words to Change the Way We See the World (Penguin, 2007).

My book, The Wonder of Whiffling and Other Extraordinary Words in the English Language (Penguin, 2009), on the other hand, is a tour around the language of the British Isles (with plenty of fine coinages from across the pond, Down Under and elsewhere).

I’ve discovered many old words that make very useful additions to any vocabulary today. Most of us know a blatteroon (1645), a person who will not stop talking, not to mention a wallydrag (1508), a worthless, slovenly person, and even a shot-clog (1599), a drinking companion, only tolerated because he pays for the drinks. Along the way I’ve discovered the parnel, a priest’s mistress, through the applesquire, the male servant of a prostitute, to the screever, a writer of begging letters. If the first two of these are now largely historical, the third certainly isn’t, nor is the slapsauce, a person who enjoys eating fine food or the chafferer, the salesman who enjoys talking while making a sale.

I’ve scoured the dialects of Britain. In the Midlands, we find a jaisy, a polite and effeminate man, and in Yorkshire a stridewallops, a tall and awkward woman. In Cornwall, you might be described as ploffy (plump); in Shropshire, having joblocks (fleshy, hanging cheeks); while down in Wiltshire hands that have been left too long in the washtub are quobbled. The Geordies have the evocative word dottle for the tobacco left in the pipe after smoking, while in Lincolnshire charmings are paper and rag chewed into small pieces by mice. In Suffolk, to nuddle is to walk alone with the head held low, while in Hampshire to vuddle is to spoil a child by injudicious petting.

How fascinating they are the journeys many words have taken from their original definitions with grape: originally a hook for gathering fruit and later a cluster of fruit growing together; friend: a lover and later a relative or kinsman; sky: meaning a cloud; frantic: insane; corset: a little body; and mortgage: a death pledge. In Tudor times, drink actually meant to smoke tobacco; walk: to roll, toss, move about and later to press cloth; and steward: a keeper of the pigs and later, as wealth expanded, of herds of cattle and land.

ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD (pronounced “jacko de bwano”) is hopelessly addicted to strange words. He started reading Latin at seven, with a torch under his bedcovers, went on to study Classics at Cambridge, opened an art gallery, and some time later became a researcher on the BBC quiz show, QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. He compulsively hunts down unusual vocabulary and has now written three books collecting his very best and most unusual finds: The Meaning of Tingo, Toujours Tingo and The Wonder of Whiffing. All three are now gathered in one highly entertaining compendium, I Never Knew There Was a Word For It. All are published by Penguin Books. He is also the author of the Tingo App for iPhones—the Unusual Word Game App.

Reproduced from the July-September 2012 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tan Twan Eng’s Favourite Books

MALAYSIAN NOVELIST TAN TWAN ENG was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for his début novel, The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon, 2007/Weinstein Books, 2008). The Penang-born novelist, who now lives in Cape Town, South Africa, lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. He studied law through the University of London, and later worked as an advocate and solicitor in one of Kuala Lumpur’s leading law firms. Tan’s second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, was published in February 2012 and has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. This is unique in Booker history: he is the first novelist to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize for his first two novels.

Interview by ERIC FORBES
Photographs courtesy of TAN TWAN ENG

Could you write a description of yourself and an update on what you have done or are doing?
I love using words, playing with them, and I’m always trying to come up with new ways to say something. I’m trying to finish the first draft of my second novel and therefore I’m irritable, anxious, distracted, exhausted and tense. Normally I’m polite and friendly but I don’t suffer fools gladly. I am cynical and irreverent about many things. I’m diplomatic but political correctness pisses me off greatly, as does censorship in any form. We’re all adults and we don’t need anyone telling us what we should or should not read, see, watch, hear or do.

Where do you find the time to read with your busy schedule?
Like all worthwhile things, one has to make time to do it. If it means I watch no TV in order to get time to read, then I’ll happily do so. I usually read for an hour or two before going to sleep. I always carry a book with me everywhere I go. If I have to wait somewhere then I’ll use the time to read (instead of just fiddling with my cell phone). I’m also a ruthless reader; if I find the book too dull or too filled with pretentious and fashionable textual gimmicks, or if it’s badly written, I usually will drop it and go to another book.

Do you think reading matters today?
Of course it does. More so than ever. We’re so inundated with unreliable information everywhere we go that we have to train ourselves to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the only way to do this is to read widely.

What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up? Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age?
Everything I could lay my hands on—from children’s books to adult bestsellers. Malaysian bookstores in the 1980s stocked mostly commercial fiction, and that’s what I—and many of my contemporaries—read when I was growing up. I started reading from a young age. There were too many books that impacted upon me to mention here, but I remember reading Shirley Conran’s Lace when it was first published and I was not even ten or twelve years old then, I think. But how could anyone resist a book which had the tagline on its cover, “The Bestselling Novel That Teaches Men About Women, and Women About Themselves”? and also one of the greatest lines of all time, “Which one of you bitches is my mother”? The wonderful thing about the 1980s was that there were so many brick-sized ‘guilty pleasure’ novels being turned into television mini-series and Lace was one of them. I’m going to sound like an old fart now, but I can still recall how much I paid for that book—RM8.80!

I remember the mini-series; it had Phoebe Cates, Bess Armstrong, Brooke Adams and Arielle Dombasle in the leading roles … and, of course, that infamous line! Hard to believe that that was some 25 years ago—a quarter of a century ago! So who are some of your favourite contemporary writers? Why do you enjoy reading their books?
Julian Barnes (The Lemon Table is one of the most extraordinary collections of short stories I’ve ever read), Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro. An extremely underrated author would be Martin Booth—sadly he died a few years ago. His novels, Hiroshima Joe, The Industry of Souls (nominated for the Booker Prize in 1998) and Adrift in the Oceans of Mercy, are very good and difficult to obtain as they are out of print. And Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is a work of genius—in Humbert Humbert we have one of the saddest, drollest, funniest, most intelligent, most human characters ever to run rampant between the pages of a book. And the girl Lolita wasn’t as innocent as many people wish to think!

What are some of your favourite contemporary books?
Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World, Mary Yukari Waters’s The Laws of Evening and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why do you enjoy reading and rereading it?
I have too many books I wish I have the time to reread. If I have to really choose, then An Artist of the Floating World is something I keep going back to again. It’s much better than the better-known Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day, I feel. And it’s short enough that I can reread it quickly. The book is about an old Japanese man who was once a well-known artist before and during World War II in Japan, and how he copes with the changes the war has wrought on his life, his family and his society, and how he comes to terms with the role he played in it. All the themes which obsess me are there: regret, the unreliability of memory, the pains of ageing, solitude, loneliness. Ishiguro’s very spare style of writing appeals to me, and really, nothing much happens in the book at all, and yet something about it haunts me every time.

What are the elements in fiction that take your breath away? In other words, what do you think are the essentials of good fiction? What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good? What about nonfiction?
The art of telling a good, powerful story seems to have been lost. The poetic (but logical and precise) use of language also appeals to me as well. Great novels are those which don’t have to rely on the improper or non-use of punctuation and/or typefaces which look as though they’ve been set by a dyslexic typesetter. I do read nonfiction, too, but mostly history and biographies of writers and tempestuous opera singers. I can’t bear self-help or motivational books and misery memoirs.

What are you reading at the moment?
James Hamilton-Paterson’s Gerontius. It’s a fictionalised account of Sir Edward Elgar’s ship voyage from Southampton to the Amazon just after World War I. He is past his peak, and is a tired, disillusioned old man, bitter about his life despite all the glories which have been heaped upon him for his music. There’s no plot or anything by way of a story, but the writing is powerful. Hamilton-Paterson is a science writer with a poet’s soul, and it comes through in the way he makes use of scientific terms and phrases and descriptions and imbues them with a breathtaking beauty. Each word he uses is precise but evocative. The many, many pages of discussions on the issues of artistic creation are thought-provoking, as are the questions raised about memory, age, regret, lost loves and opportunities carelessly discarded.

Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat. A very difficult read, so I’m proceeding very slowly with it. It was originally written in Afrikaans and was translated into English. Both versions have won major prizes in South Africa. It’s published in the United Kingdom as The Way of the Women. The novel is about an old white woman, Milla, who is suffering from a motor neuron disease, and her relationship with her coloured servant of many years, Agaat, as well as a story of a farming community in South Africa, and how the country and its people have changed over the decades.

What are your thoughts on the future of books, particularly on e-books and e-book readers? Do you think they will replace physical books one of these days?
I think e-books will be the iPods of the near future. They’ll bring us convenience but we’ll miss the days of having a book in our hand (and its smells, weight and feel) and return to books again. It’s just like the iPods—I bought a CD recently (which I haven’t done for a while) and realised how nice the physical thing was. It wasn’t just some intangible collection of data streamed over the ether into my computer. I’m not interested at all in acquiring an e-book reader though.

Reproduced from The Malaysian Insider of May 22, 2010 and the July-September 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, October 01, 2012

October 2012 Highlights

1. Seven Terrors (trans. from the Bosnian by Coral Petkovich) (Istros Books, 2012) / Selvedin Avdić
2. Ancient Light (Knopf, 2012) / John Banville
3. Spilt Milk (trans. from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin) (Atlantic Books, 2012) / Chico Buarque
4. The Hot Country (Mysterious Press, 2012) / Robert Olen Butler
5. Léon & Louise (trans. from the German by John Brownjohn) (Haus Publishing, 2012) / Alex Capus
6. Street to Street (Giramondo, 2012) / Brian Castro
7. My Last Empress (Crown Publishing, 2012) / Da Chen
8. The Twelve (Orion/Ballantine, 2012) / Justin Cronin
9. The Malice of Fortune (Doubleday, 2012) / Michael Ennis
10. The Round House (Harper, 2012) / Louise Erdrich
10. The Lighthouse Road (Unbridled Books, 2012) / Peter Geye

11. The Racketeer (Doubleday, 2012) / John Grisham
12. Peaches for Father Francis (published as Peaches for Monsieur le Curé in the UK) (Viking, 2012) / Joanne Harris
13. In Sunlight and in Shadow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) / Mark Helprin
14. A Question of Identity (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Susan Hill
15. Dolly: A Ghost Story (Profile Books, 2012) / Susan Hill
16. The Elephant Keepers’ Children (trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken) (Other Press, 2012) / Peter Høeg
17. The Daughters of Mars (Sceptre, 2012) / Thomas Keneally
18. Questions of Travel (Allen & Unwin, 2012) / Michelle de Kretser
19. Live by Night (William Morrow/Little, Brown, 2012) / Dennis Lehane
20. Familiar (Graywolf Press, 2012) / J. Robert Lennon

21. Swimming Home (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) / Deborah Levy
22. The Marseille Caper (Quercus, 2012) / Peter Mayle
23. The Secret Keeper (Atria/Mantle, 2012) / Kate Morton
24. American Ghost (Scribner, 2012) / Janis Owens
25. Silent House (trans. from the Turkish by Robert Finn) (Alfred A. Knopf/Faber & Faber, 2012) / Orhan Pamuk
26. It’s Fine By Me (trans. from the Swedish by Don Bartlett) (Graywolf Press, 2012) / Per Petterson
27. The Streets (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / Anthony Quinn
28. Say You’re Sorry (Mulholland Books, 2012) / Michael Robotham
29. Dominion (Mantle, 2012) / C.J. Sansom
30. The Art Forger (Algonquin Books, 2012) / B.A. Shapiro

31. Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) / Mary Sharratt
32. The Beautiful Child (Peter Owen, 2012) / Emma Tennant
33. The Bathing Women (trans. from the Chinese by Hongling Zhang & Jason Sommer) (Blue Door, 2013) / Tie Ning
34. Back to Blood (Little, Brown, 2012) / Tom Wolfe
35. The Lawgiver (Simon & Schuster, 2012) / Herman Wouk
36. Lenin’s Kisses (trans. from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas) (Grove Press, 2012) / Yan Lianke

1. The Testament of Mary (Viking, 2012) / Colm Tóibín

First Novels
1. The Middlesteins (Grand Central Publishing, 2012) / Jami Attenberg
2. Ghosts of Manhattan (Touchstone, 2012) / Douglas Brunt
3. Mrs. Queen Takes the Train (Harper, 2012) / William Kuhn
4. The Dark Winter (Blue Rider Press, 2012) / David Mark
5. Wild Girls (Scribner, 2012) / Mary Stewart Atwell
6. Sussex Drive (Random House Canada, 2012) / Linda Svendsen

1. Blasphemy: New & Selected Stories (Grove Press, 2012) / Sherman Alexie
2. Astray (Little Brown/Picador, 2012) / Emma Donoghue
3. The Christmas Kid and Other Brooklyn Stories (Little, Brown, 2012) / Pete Hamill
4. The Beach at Galle Road: Stories from Sri Lanka (Algonquin Books, 2012) / Joanna Luloff
5. How to Get Along with Women (Invisible Publishing, 2012) / Elisabeth de Mariaffi
6. National Treasures (Outpost 19, 2012) / Charles McLeod
7. Where Have You Been? (Harvill Secker, 2012) / Joseph O’Connor
8. Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club (Cinco Puntos Press, 2012) / Benjamin Alire Sáenz
9. The News from Spain: 7 Variations on a Love Story (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Joan Wickersham

1. Sins of the Leopard (Salt Publishing, 2012) / James Brookes
2. Ice (Carcanet Press, 2012) / Gillian Clarke
3. The Lease (Coach House Books, 2012) / Mathew Henderson
4. The Overhaul (Picador, 2012) / Kathleen Jamie
5. A Lost Expression (Salt Publishing, 2012) / Luke Kennard
6. Out There (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Jamie McKendrick
7. A Discoverie of Witches (Smith/Doorstop Books, 2012) / Blake Morrison
8. The Customs House (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Andrew Motion
9. A Thousand Mornings (Penguin, 2012) / Mary Oliver
10. The China Shop Pictures (Shearsman Books, 2012) / Robert Saxton

11. The Seacunny (Picador, 2012) / Gerard Woodward
12. Bender: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) / Dean Young

1. There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Penguin, 2012) / Chinua Achebe
2. Too Good to Be True: A Memoir (New Harvest, 2012) / Benjamin Anastas
3. Iron Curtain: The Crashing of Eastern Europe, 1946-56 (Doubleday/Allen Lane, 2012) / Anne Applebaum
4. The Best American Essays 2012 (Mariner Books, 2012) / Robert Atwan & David Brooks(eds.)
5. Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2012) / John Connolly & Declan Burke(eds.)
6. Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (John Murray, 2012) / Artemis Cooper
7. Cézanne: A Life (Profile Books, 2012) / Alex Danchev
8. Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012) / Sandra Djwa
9. Essays in Biography (Axios Press, 2012) / Joseph Epstein
10. The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London (Atlantic Books, 2012) / Judith Flanders

11. Winter: Five Windows on the Season (Quercus, 2012) / Adam Gopnik
12. The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why It Still Matters (Macmillan, 2012) / Philip Hensher
13. Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite: The Science of Monsters (Scribner, 2012) / Matt Kaplan
14. Leonardo and The Last Supper (Walker, 2013) / Ross King
15. The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot (Viking Adult, 2012) / Robert Macfarlane
16. Venice: A New History (Viking, 2012) / Thomas F. Madden
17. The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down (The Free Press, 2012) / Andrew McCarthy
18. The Book of Kells (Thames & Hudson, 2012) / Bernard Meehan
19. Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review Books, 2012 / Daniel Mendelsohn
20. This Living Hand and Other Essays (Random House, 2012) / Edmund Morris

21. Thornton Wilder: A Life (Harper, 2012) / Penelope Niven
22. Country Girl (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Edna O’Brien
23. Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (University of Chicago Press, 2012) / Andrew Piper
24. One for the Books (Viking, 2012) / Joe Queenan
25. Elsewhere: A Memoir (published in the UK as On Helwig Street: A Memoir) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Richard Russo
26. Paper: An Elegy (Fourth Estate, 2012) / Ian Sansom
27. The End of Your Life Book Club (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Will Schwalbe
28. A Free Man: A True Life Story of Life and Death in Delhi (Jonathan Cape/W.W. Norton, 2012) / Aman Sethi
29. Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T.S. Poetry Press, 2012) / Karen Swallow Prior
30. In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How It Has Shaped Us (Chatto & Windus/Pimlico, 2012) / Francine Stock

31. The Watchmaker’s Daughter: A Memoir (McWitty Press, 2012) / Sonia Taitz
32. The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Allen Lane, 2012) / David Thomson
33. The Fun Stuff and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / James Wood