Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Not-new books of the year

How often is it that the year's best reading moment is from a newly-published book? Authors and critics choose their favourite old books of the year, from The Master and Margarita to The Return of the Native

  • guardian.co.uk,
Books at Hay festival
Not new, but not half bad ... old books of the year

Nothing marks the Christmas season more clearly than the newspapers filling up with books of the year recommendations from authors and journalists. In publishing, these new books are called 'frontlist', and our publicity, sales and marketing teams go to herculean efforts throughout the year to get them noticed, so it's incredibly satisfying when books we've loved make the cut.
But what about the rest of the books we publish? Those books we call 'backlist'? (For people who work with words this is lame terminology isn't it? I'd love to hear better suggestions). These are the books that live spine-out on the bookshop shelf, forlornly trying to catch your eye while their new brothers and sisters bathe in the front-of-store limelight or sprawl belly-up on the tables. As a classics editor I'm obviously interested in giving older books a chance. So I've asked authors and journalists which not-new* books they've read this year and which they would press into our hands …
*Criteria - it had to have been published over a couple of years ago and it didn't have to be a Vintage book

Irvine Welsh, novelist
Iceberg Slim's Pimp: The Story of My Life (Canongate) was the book that determined the ghetto persona, which has massively influenced popular culture through music and film. In terms of that influence he's probably the most dominant writer since Shakespeare.

Mohammed Hanif, novelist and journalist
This Ramadan, I read 10 Graham Greene books and realised that half the world's problems could be solved if every army officer and every journalist in the world were made to read The Quiet American. The rest can be explained if everyone reads England Made Me (Vintage Classics)

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