Well, it’s a brand new year, and you know what that means – a whole new batch of book birthdays to celebrate! Here are some of the major book birthdays coming up in 2024.
Books Turning 10 in 2024
milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur might be one of the most divisive figures in contemporary poetry, and it all began with her debut collection, milk and honey. From humble beginnings (Kaur wasn’t able to find a traditional publisher, so she illustrated and put out the first print run herself), it went on to sell millions of copies and find a massive audience on social media. It’s rare that a poetry book hits the best-seller list, let alone the headlines, but the controversy and criticism drew a lot of attention and the debates sparked by Kaur ten years ago continue today. Does Instapoetry “count” as art? Does poetry have to be complex and challenging to be good?
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
If you’ve come across a copy of Yes Please, the cover has definitely caught your eye. For ten years now, comedian-actress-writer Amy Poehler has stared out from the shelves, wearing a Mona Lisa smile and pointing straight up to the book’s title in neon pink lights. Inside, you’ll find more of a scrapbook than a traditional memoir; it’s full to the brim with essays and anecdotes and full-colour photographs and letters from friends and extracts from television scripts. Poehler actually won a Grammy for the audiobook edition (Best Spoken Word Album). Read my full review of Yes Please here.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
For Anthony Doerr, inspiration came from an unlikely source. He was riding the train in 2004, and watching a fellow passenger become increasingly frustrated with his phone call disconnecting. Doerr mused that the passenger didn’t appreciate the “miracle” of long-distance communication, and from there set about writing a novel to pay the “miracle” its due. He spent ten years researching and writing All The Light We Cannot See, which ultimately became a historical fiction novel set during World War II, about a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths cross despite the conflict. Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.
A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Brief History Of Seven Killings is Marlon James’s third novel, and it’s a big one in every regard. It’s long, it encompasses multiple genres (historical epic, spy novel, gang thriller and mythical saga), it’s got a huge cast of characters (over 75 narrative voices), and it swept the award season after its release in 2014. James won the Booker Prize, with the chair of judges Michael Wood saying that the committee came to a unanimous agreement in less than two hours(!). Reading this one is a big undertaking, but plenty have done it over the past ten years, and by all accounts it’s well worth the effort.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
It feels like Celeste Ng came out of nowhere when she dropped her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, back in 2014. She’d spent six years working on the novel, going through four full drafts, and all that hard work well and truly paid off. The story about a Chinese-American family whose middle daughter, Lydia, dies tragically and unexpectedly, got tongues wagging for its piercing insight and keen sensibility. Ng got rave reviews from critics, and beat out a lot of big names (including Stephen King and Hilary Mantel) for prizes like Amazon Book Of The Year and the Massachusetts Book Award. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.
You by Caroline Kepnes
Even though it’s probably better known now as the Lifetime series starring Penn Badgley, You was originally a psychological thriller novel by Caroline Kepnes, first published back in 2014. But whether you read the book or watch the show, you’ll be unsettled and totally gripped by this story about a young writer and the man she encounters in a bookstore. Their mutual obsession seems doomed to fail, but you won’t be able to pick exactly which horrific ending is coming until the last second. Kepnes has since followed up with three sequels (Hidden Bodies, You Love Me, and For You And Only You).
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Even though some of the pop-culture particulars have dated a little, it feels like the underlying concept and philosophy of Bad Feminist has only become more resonant in the ten years since it was first published. Roxane Gay’s collection of essays explores the ways in which women might Know Better(TM) and yet fail to live up to their own feminist ideals. If you’ve found yourself dreaming of a Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce romance or bopping along to songs with hideously misogynistic lyrics, you’ll find this book both relatable and reassuring. Read my full review of Bad Feminist here.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Britt-Marie Was Here might be the poor cousin of Fredrik Backman’s best-selling body of work (he’s far better known for Beartown and A Man Called Ove), but it still sold well internationally in translation and got picked up for a movie adaptation in 2019 – not bad for a quiet Swedish blogger, eh? It was originally published in Backman’s native Swedish in 2014, a follow-up to the previous year’s My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. It follows a side character from that novel, the titular Britt-Marie, exploring what exactly made her such a “nag hag” and what her life could be outside of her marriage. Read my full review of Britt-Marie Was Here here.
Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
It feels like we’ve had the term ‘mansplaining’ forever, the portmanteau that so perfectly encapsulates the experience of women being talked down to and over-explained to by men. And yet, it’s only been ten years, since the essay collection Men Explain Things To Me brought it into the popular consciousness. Rebecca Solnit’s small book has a deceptively simple cover, but it contains a lot of big and complex ideas about living in a patriarchy and the ways in which women are routinely subdued and suppressed by the system.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Death is one of the last big taboos, and Caitlin Doughty doesn’t think it should be. For over 20 years, she’s been answering our weird and confronting questions about death, based on her work as a mortician. Ten years ago, she wrote and published Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, a memoir of gallows humour and honest insight into what happens to the body after death based on her years working in a crematorium. Yes, it’s a spectacle and it’ll make you squirm a bit, but it’s also rich food for thought about the ways in which our fear of death and dying has shaped our lives.
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
Even now, ten years after its release, Horrorstor still has one of the greatest conceits for a horror book I’ve ever heard. Here it is: haunted IKEA. Doesn’t that just send chills right up and down your spine? Plus, it is beautifully designed, formatted to look like an IKEA catalogue, complete with an order form for a copyright page and product descriptions for chapter headers. Even though it’s billed as a horror-comedy, it’s a surprisingly gruesome and quite scary read. You’ll definitely never shop at a Swedish furniture superstore without looking over your shoulder again! Read my full review of Horrorstor here.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is a surprisingly prolific writer of literary fiction, so his book birthdays come around quite often. This year, it’s The Children Act, his 2014 novel about a a High Court judge ruling on the case of a 17-year-old boy who is refusing life-saving medical treatment on religious grounds. Even though the book itself received mixed reviews upon release, the movie adaptation – starring Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci – got wall-to-wall raves, so the story itself definitely holds up. Read my full review of The Children Act here.
Books Turning 20 in 2024
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
My Sister’s Keeper is Jodi Picoult’s eleventh novel, but it’s definitely the most widely read and the one for which she’s best known – and in 2024, it turns twenty! It’s the story that brought the ethical quagmire of “saviour siblings” to the mainstream, children who are conceived and genetically designed to donate life-saving blood and organs to their family’s older child. It set book clubs alight with its controversial ending, and then again when the ending was completely changed for the widely-panned film adaptation – people are still talking about it today! Read my full review of My Sister’s Keeper here.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke is a notoriously slow writer – averaging one book a decade or so – which is difficult for her legion of fans around the world. It’s comforting to know, though, that it’s always worth the wait. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was her first full-length novel, an epic alternative history/fantasy novel about two men who harness magical powers in very different ways. It took her ten full years to write to her own satisfaction, and then a little longer to get it out into the world. Now, twenty years later, it’s still beloved by fantasy readers and historical fiction fans alike. Read my full review of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell here.
Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim by David Sedaris
In an increasingly chaotic world, it’s nice to know there are some things we can rely on – like David Sedaris writing essays that will make us howl with laughter. Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim is one of his collections, and it turns twenty years old in 2024. He draws on his family and upbringing, as he always does, to turn his autobiographical essays into hilarious anecdotes for our enjoyment. You’d think that well would run dry eventually, but here we are decades later, and he’s still hauling it out. Read my full review of Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim here.
Books Turning 50 in 2024
Carrie by Stephen King
Can you believe it’s been fifty whole years since Stephen King’s wife pulled the manuscript of Carrie out of the wastepaper bin? King was ready to give up on the whole endeavour, but his wife wouldn’t let him. When he got over his doubts and got it out into the world, the paperback edition went gangbusters, selling millions of copies and launching King’s illustrious career. The short novel that almost wasn’t has changed the cannon of horror fiction, and marked a massive change in the way these books are read and talked about to this day.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
We tend to think of true crime as a new phenomenon, one that came about with the advent of podcasts and YouTube channels, but we can actually trace it much further back. Fifty years ago, in 1974, Vincent Bugliosi (with Curt Gentry) wrote Helter Skelter, a book so comprehensive and detailed that it finally sated the public’s appetite for the Manson murders. Bugliosi was a prosecutor in the case against mastermind/cult leader Charles Mason, so he had a unique insight into the nature and ramifications of his crimes. It remains the best-selling true crime book in history, and we’re sure to see some renewed chatter about it and special editions to mark the milestone in 2024.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
In 1968, Robert M Pirsig took his son on a 17 day road trip from Minnesota to California, on a Honda CB77 motorcycle. This journey served as inspiration for his fictionalised autobiography, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s an auspicious enough beginning, but Pirsig still holds the dubious record of having the most-often rejected best-seller. His manuscript was turned down 121 times before he finally found a publisher willing to take a chance on it – and it’s just as well he did, because it sold over 5 million copies and became a cultural shorthand all its own. Read my full review of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance here.
Honourable mention: E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India has fallen somewhat out of favour (well, I didn’t enjoy it, anyway), but this year marks 100 years since its publication. That’s nothing to be sneezed at! Read my full review of A Passage To India here.