From Islamic State to adult colouring–the year in booksby Sameer Rahim / December 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
In December, The Guardian asked writers and publishers to comment on cultural diversity—or rather the lack of it—in the literary world. Many contributors rightly pointed out that the industry is drawn from too small a pool of talent. But there was little recognition of how successful writers from minority backgrounds have been in 2015. As I wrote in Prospect in November, this has been the year of the migrant in literature. The Man Booker-shortlisted The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota is set in the grimy world of illegal migration in Sheffield. The Booker winner Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings is about gang violence in Jamaica in the 1970s. In his Guardian contribution, Akhil Sharma, the winner of this year’s Folio Prize for Family Life, said he thought he benefited from being an ethnic minority: “Because I am writing about a community that people are curious about, I have received a great deal of attention.”
In America, the black writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a surprise bestseller about racial injustice, Between the World and Me. This was also the year we learned that in her original version Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch was not the saintly white saviour he became in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The world in a year We used to have history books on long eras; then it was reduced to decades; and now it is single years. Micro-histories were all the rage in 2015: there was 1916: A Global History by Keith Jeffrey; 1956: The World in Revolt by Simon Hall; 1956: The Year that Changed Britain by Francis Beckett and Tony Russell; and 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage. Why the trend? We have become distrustful of grand era-history epitomised by Eric Hobsbawm’s “Age of…” histories of the 19th and 20th centuries. By getting into the granular detail of a year’s events, you can avoid sweeping generalisations. You can also expand the focus from western Europe, as Keith Jeffrey and Simon Hall have done. But is there a danger we’re losing the…