As January draws to a close, I suppose it’s finally time to accept that the holiday period is well and truly over (it takes some of us a little longer than others to acknowledge the rude and sudden resumption of Real Life). For booksellers, the reality generally hits home a lot earlier; once the mad rush of Christmas is over, bookshop shelves suddenly go from packed to pillaged and the avalanche of new releases shrinks to a slow trickle.
January is generally a deathly quiet period in the book trade, but perhaps this is a cunningly disguised blessing; not only is it an excellent time to catch up on your summer reading, but a time to take stock and look forward to what publishers have to offer in the coming months. After a surprisingly robust Christmas – according to Books+Publishing magazine, most publishers reported an increase in sales in the lead-up to the 2013 festive season for the first time in several years – it feels as though we’re at the start of a promising new chapter in 2014.
The tail end of last year saw some weighty fiction releases hit the shelves, often literally: two of Christmas’s biggest sellers were Donna Tartt’s highly anticipated tome The Goldfinch, her first novel for 11 years, and Eleanor Catton’s 800-page epic The Luminaries, the longest-ever Man Booker Prize winner. For those less inclined to need two hands and a degree of brute strength to handle their reading choice, 2014 promises some huge new titles in a less physical sense: we can expect novels from literary heavyweights that include David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami and Hanif Kureishi. Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (Sceptre, September) will be a complex, sweeping epic spanning 60 years in the life of a woman named Holly Sykes; Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (the English translation is due from Random House in October) is about a man trying to rediscover the meaning of life, and is apparently reminiscent of 1987’s Norwegian Wood; and Kureishi’s The Last Word (A&U, February) is the tale of an English writer penning the biography of an Indian-born literary giant.
Closer to home, we’ll also see new work from standout Australian authors. Sonya Hartnett’s urban gothic The Golden Boys is due from Penguin in June, and two Miles Franklin shortlistees will have their second novels published this year: Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes, set in Hobart and Antarctica, is out in September from Hachette, and UQP will release Tony Birch’s short story collection The Promise in May. For those after something a little lighter, a sequel to Graeme Simsion’s blockbuster romcom The Rosie Project is waiting in the wings at Text.
One of last year’s most anticipated and successful debuts was Hannah Kent’s breathtaking Burial Rites, but 2014 has some promising firsts up its sleeve: March alone sees the release of Sebastian Hampson’s The Train to Paris (Text), a love story about the allure of older women, Wet Ink co-founder Dominique Watson’s historical novel The Yellow Papers (Transit Lounge) and Mark Mulholland’s heartbreaking tale of an IRA sniper, A Mad and Wonderful Thing (Scribe).
So if the shelves of your local indie bookshop are looking a little sparse right now – or if, like me, you’re a bookseller whose insane pre-Christmas shifts are now blissfully calm and quiet – use the next few weeks to clear your reading decks and catch up on that pile of summer books, because it’s going to be a page-turning year.