Literarily speaking, 2017 was packed with as much drama as a bestselling novel. We saw dire dystopian books fly off the shelves, a piece of short fiction break the internet, and a trollish alt-right personality battle it out with an ex-publisher. There was scandalous “bestseller” manipulation—caught red-handed in real time—and gloves torn off for the soul of our country’s libraries. Read on for the top literary moments of the last year.
1. Kazuo Ishiguro Wins the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature
British author Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Nominated alongside authors Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami, Ishiguro won unexpectedly, most shockingly to himself. Despite his fairly small literary output, the author of The Remains of a Day and Never Let Me Go is now in the company of legendary literary figures including Toni Morrison and Pablo Neruda. While the win is a personal victory for Ishiguro and a huge step in his career, it also symbolizes the progress of untraditional, speculative fiction—a genre that is often overlooked, especially in a literary community that values realistic fiction.
So what’s next for Mr. Ishiguro? Well, between a new novel, several film adaptations of his books, and a couple of theater projects in the works, it’s safe to say that we will be seeing and reading a lot more of Kazuo Ishiguro.
2. Overwhelming Success of Atwood’s (and Hulu’s) The Handmaid’s Tale
Over 30 years after its original publication, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be influencing every corner of pop culture. From the runway to the women’s march, Atwood’s novel has resurged to the top of various bestseller lists. With book sales rising above 200 percent, it is one of the most widely read and talked about books of the year. Part of its success can be attributed to Hulu’s award-winning adaptation of the novel as well as its chilling relevance to the current political climate.
With a second season already in the works, it’s safe to say that we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more of The Handmaid’s Tale in 2018.
3. Dystopian Novels Dominate Bestseller Lists
After the presidential inauguration, dystopian novels have become quite comfortable atop multiple bestseller lists. Nearly 70 years after its initial publication, George Orwell’s 1984 found its way to the number one spot on Amazon’s bestseller list for weeks. A notable surge began after advisor to the president Kellyanne Conway defended the use of “alternative facts” (also known as lies, untruths, or total fabrications—take your pick), which readers were quick to point out echoed Orwellian language. In 1984, facts are suppressed and distorted, and lies are manufactured by the “Ministry of Truth.”
Origins of Totalitarianism*, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 also soared to the top of bestseller lists. Uneasy about the future, readers are gobbling up decades-old works that are undoubtedly speaking volumes to them at this point in time.
*While not a novel, this important, non-fiction work by Hannah Arendt topped bestseller lists as well.
4. Scandalous New York Times Bestseller Manipulation Controversy
Lani Sarem’s debut book, Handbook for Mortals, was pulled from the number one spot on the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list after accusations of the author’s buying her way onto the coveted list. Never heard of it? Neither did anyone else until it topped the list with book sales skyrocketing to over 18,000 copies. Young Adult author Phil Stamper was the first to question the sudden success of the novel due to its unusual trend in book sales and its overwhelming out-of-stock status on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ultimately, it was concluded that the author or publisher made a strategic effort to place bulk orders for the book amongst book distributors that influence the Times’ bestseller reports.
While this whole situation is awfully suspicious, Sarem and her team continue to deny all allegations. You will not see Handbook for Mortals on the Times’ bestseller list, but rumor has it that the film franchise is coming soon.
5. The First-Ever Translation of The Odyssey by a Woman is Published
One of the oldest and longest poems in the Western tradition, Homer’s The Odyssey, was first composed in Latin around 700 BCE. Several centuries later, Emily Wilson, a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is now the first woman to publish an English translation of the ancient epic. While there have been multiple English translations of the text, Wilson is the first one to adapt it to a woman’s perspective. In 400 years of versions of the poem, no translator has made the kinds of alterations Wilson has. Wilson explored the dynamic of the female characters and how they are presented in the poem. While most translations place the female characters into a singular category empowered by beauty and seduction, Wilson illuminates the dynamic, complex nature of these women that dismiss traditional gender roles.
Wilson’s translation goes far beyond just a feminist interpretation of the text—offering contemporary insight into a timeless piece of literature that continues to be referenced and researched across the world.
6. A Nationwide, Impassioned Fight for Libraries Began
The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2018 included drastic cuts for domestic programs regarding the arts, humanities, and public media. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the source in which a majority of federal programs are distributed by each state. Federal funding is crucial in giving libraries across the country financial support for their communities. If the budget is implemented, the proposed budget cuts would diminish programs that support student literacy, job training, business expansion, entrepreneurship, veterans’ assistance, high‐speed internet access, and millions of library patrons in communities everywhere.
Individuals all around the country are vowing to fight these prospective changes for the sake of the current and future generations.
7. “Cat Person” Broke the Internet
Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” set the internet aflame since its online publication in early December in The New Yorker. The story recounts a young female student’s disappointingly lackluster sexual encounter with a 30-year-old man. The praise and criticism of the story dominated online discussions for weeks since publication. Many women feel that this story is relatable and shines light on bigger issues regarding the stigmas and stereotypes attached to a woman’s exploration of her sexuality. Regardless of how one may interpret “Cat Person,” it undoubtedly inspired countless constructive discussions that have contributed to our current national discourse.
No matter what, we’re totally here for thoughtful dialogue around a piece of fiction on Twitter.
8. Simon & Schuster vs. Milo Yiannopoulous
Right-wing personality Milo Yiannopoulous sued Simon & Schuster for $10 million dollars after they canceled his contract for his controversial book Dangerous. Yiannopoulous decided to self-publish the memoir after Simon & Schuster dropped him back in February (after ongoing criticism that they had granted him a book deal in the first place). After news spread of Yiannopoulous’s initial six-figure advance with the publishing company, editors, authors, and readers began threatening to boycott Simon & Schuster if they continued to support the project. The author of Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay, pulled her upcoming title, How To Be Heard, to avoid any association with Yiannopoulous—or any publishing company that would support his work.
While Dangerous ended up getting published in July, sales were low and unwelcomed. Editors everywhere also had their moment in the spotlight when Yiannopoulous’s editor’s comments on the manuscript were released. Viva la editors!
9. The #MeToo Movement Becomes a Powerful Storytelling Force
The #MeToo movement was voted Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017. While the hashtag was created over ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, it was this year that the hashtag rose to prominence in the wake of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other accusations against many powerful men in media and politics. The movement has inspired numerous individuals to break their silence and share their haunting experiences with the public. Women have come forward from all walks of life to share their personal accounts of sexual harassment and assault—most notably in the workplace. While each individual’s story is unique to their experience, their voices would not be recirculated and shared to the extent it has without the help from countless journalists, writers, and publishers who are dedicated to promoting a culture of truth.
We may have crawled our way to the finish line, but the good news is 2017 is officially over. We embrace the fresh start of a new year and try to establish an optimistic perspective on what’s ahead. While it’s difficult to find comfort in our current political climate, we can look forward to many things on the literary horizon. Some of our favorite books like Ready Player One and A Wrinkle In Time will be hitting the big screen, new work will surface from some of our most beloved writers including Zadie Smith and George R.R Martin, and surely new voices will strive to make their imprint on contemporary culture.
As 2018 starts to unfold, we’re crossing our fingers that this lap around the sun will be brighter (and even more bookish) than the last.
(Featured image by freddie marriage on Unsplash.)