The year-in-review panel


To reflect back on the year that was, CBC Books asked some friends in the literary and publishing world to weigh in on the biggest book stories of the year. We sent a questionnaire out to Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC's Writers & Company, Natural Order author Brian Francis, Toronto-based bookseller Ben McNally, and literary agent Sam Haywood. Here's what they said!

1. What was the biggest books story of 2012?

Most of our panelists agreed that the major merger of Random House and Penguin was the book news of the year. Wachtel says the merger creates "the biggest consumer book publisher in the world, with control of 25 per cent of the global market. And we're talking about already very big operations since Random House is owned by Germany's Bertelsmann and Penguin by the U.K.'s Pearson PLC. (The new company will be called Penguin Random House just so we can't make those errant penguin jokes.)"

Wachtel and Haywood also agreed that the bankruptcy of Canadian publisher Douglas & McIntyre was certainly felt here.

McNally, meanwhile, believed the biggest book story was the U.S. Department of Justice's intervention into the pricing of e-books.

On the more pleasant side of things, Francis said the $5,000 holiday bonus that Random House employees around the world will receive this year is "a much-needed good news story in an industry that has had its share of challenges this year."

2. Were there any books stories or new releases this year you feel deserved more attention?

"A book industry issue that continues to develop and interest me is that so far two big self-published authors have landed print-only deals with big U.S. houses, while Hazlitt emerges at Random House Canada with e-book originals," Haywood said. "In the midst of all this change I'd like to see all publishers increase their standard e-book royalties from 25 per cent of net to something more realistic and competitive."

Wachtel feels that the removal of the words of French-Canadian author Gabrielle Roy from the new $20 bill is a shame. "'Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?' alongside images of the wonderful creations of West Coast artist Bill Reid."

Following up on the e-book pricing debate, McNally believes "the predatory practices of Amazon have somehow managed to escape serious examination."

In terms of overlooked authors, Francis said it's always tough to say, but offered some advice to writers working to gain more recognition. "Books often take a long journey and there's no way of knowing where they'll end up. So for any of those overlooked authors, I say hang in there. You never know where you'll be in a year or two."

3. Which Canadian author made the biggest splash this year?

"I haven't read the book yet, but I've heard lots of positive chatter about Tanis Rideout's Above All Things," Francis said. "Same goes for Anakana Schofield's Malarky. And both debut novelists! Also, I've heard very good things about Lynn Crosbie's Life is About Losing Everything. I have it on my Christmas wish list. We'll see if I get it."

Wachtel believes that Alice Munro "almost made the biggest splash when it looked like she might win the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. An international survey conducted by Swedish critics found her to be their favourite. So close." Wachtel also highlighted Will Ferguson (419) and Candace Savage (A Geography of Blood) for their big wins in the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Haywood and McNally, however, didn't select any author, both feeling that no Canadian book or author really outshone their contemporaries this year.

4. What about for international author?

McNally and Francis agreed that E.L. James and her mega-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was the talk of the industry in 2012, although the re-emergence of Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling with her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, was also a high-profile event.

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Haywood offered two picks for international author of the year: on the commercial side, Gillian Flynn and her suspenseful novel Gone Girl, and on the literary side, Hilary Mantel for her second Man Booker Prize win for Bring Up the Bodies.

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Wachtel selected England's Edward St. Aubyn. "With the publication of At Last, the fifth book in the Patrick Melrose series, St. Aubyn's work was newly discovered and greatly admired, especially on this side of the Atlantic. A surprising and quite brilliant novelist, he's managed to transform his own painful upbringing into remarkably entertaining fiction."

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5. What are some book-industry developments or new releases you're particularly looking forward to in 2013?

"I'm certainly eager to see how the merger between Random House and Penguin plays out in Canada," McNally said. "There is serious cause for trepidation, though not for immediately apparent reasons. There are several books to be released this coming year that show great promise."

Francis is interested in seeing if the phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Grey will continue to push erotic novels into the mainstream.

"I'm looking forward to this new Canadian erotica book [S.E.C.R.E.T. by L.M. Adeline] that's coming out from Random House. I can only wonder -- will it set temperatures soaring or will be it 50 Shades of Meh? Time will tell."

Haywood is keen to see the release of several of her clients' books, including The Truth About Luck by Iain Reid, Consumed by food writer Sarah Elton, The Miracles of Ordinary Men by Amanda Leduc and The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison. "And, of course, fingers crossed for D&M."

And we'll give the last word to Eleanor Wachtel, who has a big list of upcoming releases she's looking forward to reading.

"I'm looking forward to Claire Messud's new novel, The Woman Upstairs. She had a big hit with her last book, The Emperor's Children, in 2006, and I'm a big fan of her earlier novel, The Last Life, which also has a female protagonist, but a teenager, unlike the 42-year-old at the centre of her new work.
And Jamaica Kincaid has a new novel coming up, her first in a decade, See Now Then, about the unravelling of a marriage. She's such a fierce, poetic writer, this one looks to be even bolder than usual.
Irish writer Edna O'Brien has done what she swore she would never do: she's written a tell-all memoir, The Country Girl, which sounds fascinating and deeply gossipy, moving in circles that include Paul McCartney, Al Pacino, Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal, Günter Grass, Jack Nicholson, Norman Mailer, Marlon Brando and R.D. Laing (with whom she took acid). 
Another discovery this year is Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. The first volume of his epic, My Struggle, was translated into English this year. The second volume, A Man in Love, will be released in 2013.
To end on a bittersweet note, David Rakoff -- who died last August -- has authored a final book, due out in July: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel."

What are your favourite books of the year and anticipated releases of 2013? What did you think the biggest book stories were? Let us know in the comments below.