In the second part of a two-part series, we’ve asked our authors to take a look back at the year and pick out a number of their personal cultural highlights – some you may be looking forward to revisiting, while others you may have missed.
Check out their fascinating responses below…
Chris Anderson, co-author of The Numbers Game:
“As the parent of two younger boys, the end of iCarly on Nickelodeon was a watershed for us as a family. I’m only being mildly facetious – iCarly was one of the few examples of clever, witty, and worthwhile kids shows these days that parents could enjoy, and Carly growing up before our eyes was a reminder of how quickly time passes when you’re raising kids.”
Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism:
“It is the publication of An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris for me. Since Fatherland blew my mind, I have been a big fan of Harris (except for some of his Roman-themed novels). An Officer and A Spy is a remarkable fictionalisation of an extraordinary historical event, but it is also a chilling reminder of the perils of the ‘secret state’ of our time. As a firm believer in the positive potentials of collective action through the state, I am the last one to reject the notion of ‘the greater good’, but An Officer and A Spy is a powerful reminder that the notion can be so easily abused as an excuse for a self-selected elite to wield arbitrary power, to cover up mistakes, to intimidate and discredit ‘whistle-blowers’, and to distort the very notion of what is ‘good’. The book forces us to confront and reflect upon similar issues of our time, ranging from the dossier on the Iraqi WMD to the NSA files.”
Catherine Elliott, author of My Husband Next Door:
“I probably watch far too much television whilst eating far too much chocolate but I have very much enjoyed Sally Wainwright’s scripts this year – an excellent reason to stay in. Last Tango in Halifax proved that scintillating television doesn’t have to be fast or furious and I just adored her wry and clever series which became more intriguing and intricate as it quietly gathered pace. The acting was outstanding too – Derek Jacobi, Sarah Lancashire and others. I’m not surprised they’ve made a second series which has proved to be equally good. It’s a brilliant piece of writing which must be an absolute joy to act.
Sally Wainwright is also responsible for that excellent cop drama Scott & Bailey, which is wise-cracking, smart and pacey. It seems she can change key effortlessly. I’m quietly in awe…”
Giovanna Fletcher, author of Billy and Me:
“Ooh, this is a tough question! We absorb so much culture throughout the year, sometimes without even realising it’s had any effect on us… But, after sitting down and having a think, I’ve realised that one TV series took over my life like no other – largely because we only discovered it this year and so watched all six of its series in a matter of months. We even managed to catch up before the last half of the series started to be played on NetFlix – it was necessary to avoid spoilers. I am of course talking about Breaking Bad. Now, I’m not saying it’s impacted me to buy a UV and start cooking crystal meth, not at all, but the whole thing was a masterclass in storytelling. The writers, actors and everyone involved managed to pack a whole lot of heart into a series that could’ve easily been made loud, brash and predictable. Instead, the moments created (in the most unlikely of settings), were beautiful – every single detail was thought through meticulously, every silence given a meaning, every sentence formed to grip your ears and leave you wanting more…
“Gosh, I think I might go watch the whole lot again!”
Tim Hayward, author of Food DIY:
The single biggest cultural influence over me this year has been the place I live. We moved in a year ago, having previously enjoyed perfectly standard Victorian London houses. The Laslett House was built for an academic and his small family by a brilliant young Modernist architect called Peter Dannatt. Living inside the three dimensional realisation of one creative artist’s care for another, where every corner, surface, or fall of light is considered and the cumulative effect is one of immense, cloistered calm, has entirely altered the way I think and work.
Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband’s Secret:
“I’ve loved everything Kate Atkinson has written so I knew I was in for a treat with Life after Life, especially because I have a fondness for anything relating to time travel (it’s not about time travel), destiny, second chances, paths not taken and so on. The premise is this: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? If I were to write a novel based on that premise, I’d end up with a Sliding Doors style romantic comedy. (Not that I don’t love Sliding Doors.) But Kate Atkinson took that premise and created something extraordinary. I had such a sense of movement when I was reading this book. It was as though she (Kate) were spinning me in circles, leaving me laughing, dizzy, breathless and exhilarated. The wartime scenes were incredible. I’ve read about the London Blitz before, but never with such authenticity that I felt as if I were truly there, experiencing the horrors. I read voraciously, and always with great pleasure, but only a handful of novels have allowed me to re-experience the enchantment I felt when I read as a child. Life after Life is one of them.”
Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project:
“At the risk of reinforcing Australian stereotypes, ‘culturally’ is a problematic word for me – it suggests something organised, formal, institutional rather than reading a passage in Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock or listening to alternative versions of Dylan songs you’ve known for forty years. And a bit more highbrow than the Springsteen concert. With that in mind, I’ll nominate World Book Night in London, at which I read from The Rosie Project in the company of the good and great of the literary world and a responsive audience…”
David Thomson, author of The Big Screen:
“The greatest impact that our culture had on me in the last twelve months was the unmistakable evidence that our world is lost and that we have been driven to a point of futility in trying to deal with it. I fear that the next step will see the futility turn to anger and violence (for which the US is especially well prepared). And so the struggle for survival will surpass fine distinctions between this novel and that painting, such as a survey like this hopes to celebrate. Yet there was a film that felt this crisis – All is Lost. Why was this impact so great? Well, the crisis is profound and I have children and grandchildren.”
Nina Stibbe, author of Love, Nina:
“The book I’ve most loved this year is The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Starting with the book itself. Its simple, buff orange cover with plain white-out typography, is like some old flyer inviting you to hear someone’s ideas in a hall. Then, inside, the 7 pages of titles and well over 700 pages of extraordinary stories. To dwell on their shortness seems silly, when not all of them are (particularly short) but I find the briefest ones, where the title is almost as long as the story, say ‘Mother’s Reaction to My Travel Plans’ or ‘Nietszche’ which are just one line apiece, the most affecting. ‘Happiest Moment’ – one short paragraph – in which a man’s happiest ever moment is a duck-eating moment belonging to his wife – is genius.”
Click here to read the Penguin team’s choices for books of the year.