As far as individual books go, controversy is normal and often welcomed. In terms of disagreement on entire genres, however, one category up for discussion is that of self-help literature. These types of books have been around for over a century, even if they seem to be a relatively modern occurrence, and their popularity has been on the rise. In 2018, sales of self-help books in Britain were up 20% from the previous year, landing at a solid three million books sold. Celebrities have even gotten in on the business, with Russell Brand and Fearne Cotton having written and published their own books. It is estimated that the genre will be worth 13.2 billion dollars in the US market by 2022.
With the end of 2019 came lists and awards from media outlets about the past ten years in review. Among these was the declaration by The New Republic that Rupi Kaur was their writer of the decade. Kaur, at only twenty-seven years old, is known as an “Instapoet,” and owes much of her success to her highly popular Instagram account where she publishes short poems accompanied by distinct line drawings. Kaur currently has 3.9 million followers, and her posts alternate between coloured photos—often of Kaur herself—and poems made up of black text on a white background. Social media poetry tends to follow a similar structure: aesthetic, brief, and easily digestible.
“An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details,” wrote Roald Dahl in Boy: Tales of Childhood, in which he, rather ironically, describes his childhood and the experiences that influenced him into becoming an author. Autobiographies and memoirs have been present in literature for centuries.
An interview with Zadie Smith recently appeared in The Guardian, and, in the title, was a quote from Smith herself: “I’ve never finished Proust or even the Brothers Karamazov.” Only in the subtitle is there any information about Smith’s responses to the multitude of dependent-clause prompts that read a little like a feedback form: The book I’m currently reading. The book I wish I’d written. The last book that made me cry. Despite the format of the interview, it still manages to provide plenty of lovely insight into the interests and reading habits of one of the world’s most famous authors.
At the end of October, six authors gathered in Toronto’s Koerner Hall, having been shortlisted for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of the most notable prizes in Canada. The event was dubbed “Between the Pages.” Shortlisted candidates travel from coast to coast to present excerpts of their nominated works and are offered a chance to discuss their work and creative lives.