It was the year that J.K. Rowling returned to publishing with The Casual Vacancy, and yet the creator of Harry Potter was completely overshadowed, and that is not an overstatement, by an author called Erika Leonard, who used to work as a TV executive and started off by writing Twilight fan fiction.
Erika Leonard writes as E.L. James. She is the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed). While the first in the series was originally self-published earlier, it hit the bigtime in 2012 and James turned erotica into literature’s biggest genre of the year. She sold millions of copies. There is going to be a movie. There is a Fifty Shades of Grey board game. There are Fifty Shades of Grey cakes. The Fifty Shades of Grey Classical Album was released. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are household names. Book clubs read the novel with everybody discussing the merits of spanking in a literary narrative.
The book is set mostly in Seattle and the staff at the city’s Visitor Information Center now have to handle hundreds of questions about the locations mentioned in the novel. Time Magazine listed E.L. James as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Frankly, the world went crazy for Fifty Shades of Grey.
Fortunately for those of us less inclined to be dazzled by that form of the erotic arts, there were plenty of other publishing triumphs to celebrate in 2012 as well, including new books from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Richard Ford, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, and many more.
2012 was also the year in which we lost a number of fantastic authors including children’s author Maurice Sendak, science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury and the heavily decorated Maeve Binchy. We said goodbye to William Gay - the carpenter who continued the Southern Gothic traditions of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe, Harry Crews – who escaped grinding poverty of the Okefenokee Swamp and survived the Korean War to gain a cult following for his gritty novels like Feast of Snakes, and Dora Saint – (AKA Miss Read) who will be remembered for her two series of novels set in the British countryside, the Fairacre novels and the Thrush Green novels.
The massive popularity of the Fifty Shades trilogy cannot be understated. Steamy romance books are nothing new but the sheer number of sales attributed to E.L. James is definitely a new development in books. The trilogy sparked many more novels of erotica from other authors eager to follow in the footsteps of E.L. James.
What would a year-end roundup be without a glance at the winners of the major literary prizes? The Man Booker prize, which is awarded annually for the best original full-length novel written in the English Language by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations (including Ireland and Zimbabwe), was won by Hilary Mantel for her historical novel, Bring Up the Bodies.
This achievement was particularly notable because Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the award in 2009, making Martel the first woman and first Briton to win the prize twice.
The 2012 awards were not without controversy. The Nobel Prize for Literature went to Chinese writer Mo Yan. Depending on your standpoint, the selection either ignored China’s abuse of human rights or highlighted China’s abuse of human rights.
And there was more controversy in the book world in 2012. The Pulitzer Prize board announced that for the first time in 35 years there would be no Pulitzer winner for fiction - the somewhat baffled finalists were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and The Pale King by (the late) David Foster Wallace. Ron Charles from the Washington Post quipped: “Only one finished real novel among the finalists, AND they can’t pick a winner,” hinting to Johnson’s book being a novella and the Foster Wallace entry being an unfinished manuscript.
Other major controversies included Salman Rushdie canceling an appearance at an Indian festival after death threats, exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian’s protesting the Chinese government by smearing red paint on his face and book at the London Book Fair, and Matt Bissonnette (aka Mark Owen) publishing his account of the death of Osama Bin Laden without running the text past the US Department of Defense.