By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
The book industry, including publishers, book reviewers and book marketers gathered at Hyde Park Corner n Sandton at Exclusive Books, the country’s leading book retailer. After enjoying breakfast, we were addressed by the boo retailer’s Chief Executive Officer Grattan Kirk who was in a buoyant mood. He had every reason to be in that spirit. He delivered good news especially to the ears of the publishers who gathered there.
“I know that Covid-19 has left behind it a lot of damage and devastation. However it gave us an opportunity to rethink and revisit our business strategy. We took advantage of the disruption brought by Covid-19 to reboot. As a result book business has grown by 20%, and we have been able to employ around 100 more people as a result, something we would not have been able to do without this growth,” he said.
But just as there was smiles on the faces of those in the room especially among the ranks of the publishers, he added a damper. “However the volume of books sold has decreased, and what this means is that there are less people reading books in South Africa. We need to encourage the young people, from kids to young adults, right all the way to old people to start reading. The increase in income from book sales is as a result of books being more expensive,” Kirk explained.
Kirk went on to pant however a rosy picture of the book trade, and not only in South Africa, but globally, as he explained that from 2020 to date, “the book business has been rocking, and not only in South Africa, but globally as well.”
“Just recently I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and book traders that also reported a positive outlook for the book sector,” he said.
Apparently in South Africa, a few books by the same authors keep on doing well as they every year become repeat performers, suggesting that once local book lovers fall in love with an author, they are loyal and continue to buy the same authors year in and year out, explaining the trend of the same books doing very well on the market.
But the real reason why we gathered as we enjoyed the breakfast and gins mixed by a talkative and colourful mixologist from Norman’s Good Fellows on a weekday morning was the releasing of Exclusive Books’s annual pick for books as Christmas gifts. And this year, the list is quite impressive, catering for every taste in books and different age groups.
“A book is the only present you can open twice – first peeling back the gift wrap to reveal a cover, and then opening the magic inside, between the pages and the lines. For anyone who knows and loves books, you will know, that twice actually doesn’t begin to cover it. A book that is meaningful and enjoyable is often dipped into again and again, sometimes as a source of comfort and escape, sometimes illumination and inspiration.
Whatever books bring you, our Festive Season Catalogue, Exclusive Books’ magnificent selection of 130 titles for the Festive Season, will give you at least 130 reasons to choose books as gifts this Christmas. In making our choices, we had every kind of book-buyer in mind – those buying for themselves as much as those buying gifts for others. Because we truly believe that whoever you are, whatever your age, reading taste or pocket, a book is the perfect gift – its thoughtful, its bespoke, it’s and yes, it’s the only present you can savour again and again.
During the year, books are bought individually by each Exclusive Books store, each store curating their own selection, but for Christmas, The List is chosen with input from all EB store managers, as a group, and the result is a national selection of books for absolutely everyone. The range of 130 titles covers fiction, history, humour, children’s, cookery, sport and more. The most important criteria for selection being “giftability” – the appeal of a book as a gift.
To make the Christmas List sing, you will find The List books front and centre of every store, with gorgeous, eye-catching point of sale spreading Christmas cheer. The bumper catalogue – physical and online – is the only one of its kind in South Africa, and it’s jam packed with exclusive content, interviews and the ever-popular word searches. There are shiny new gift wrap options – making a book from EB a beautiful gift to receive. Fanatics members earn double discounts on all Christmas Catalogue titles for November and December, plus shopping with us in November and December will put you in line to win one of ten R1000 Exclusive Books vouchers! If you are not a Fanatics member yet, joining in November and December will also put you in line to win one of ten R1000 Exclusive Books vouchers!,” says the retailer.
Some trends from The List:
In the South African bookworld, it’s either a Deon Meyer year or its not. This year is! Leo is set already heading to bestseller status, and the Season has barely begun. In fact, the Afrikaans selection is packed with other big hitters too – Marita van der Vyver, Nataniel, Rudi van Rensburg and others.
The Fiction list is deep and wide, with unputdownable page-turners from the ever-faithful Wilbur, Follett, Gerritsen and Child, Archer, King and Cornwell, Grisham and others. A long-awaited title is Terry Hayes’ The Year of the Locust – we’ve waited ten years for the sequel to I am Pilgrim.
Inclusions reflect current international trends, with a new cosy murder by Richard Osman, The Last Devil to Die, and Before we say Goodbye by Toshikazu Kawaguchi representing the current obsession with Japanese writing. Local gems abound, leading with a new thriller, The Reed Dance Stalker, by Angela Makholwa and Lauren Beukes’ Bridge. Literary fiction features Michael Cunningham’s Day and Daniel Mason’s North Woods.
Books about books are always a hit for readers – John Connolly’s The Land of Lost Things and Alice Hoffman’s Invisible Hour both celebrate the power of books to transport and enchant.
For sheer reading pleasure you can’t beat The Covenant of Water – at 750 pages of sheer literary splendor – as much a spiritual teaching as it is a work of fiction.
So the fiction list features fiction for every kind of reader – from speculative and fantasy to bookclub and mystery.
History and current affairs
Women finding their voices is a theme we have seen throughout 2023, and The List tips it hat to this trend with the Emperor of Rome from the iconic feminist classicist Mary Beard, and the stories of Normal Women by Phillipa Gregory.
For those looking for sumptuous titles worthy of the coffee-table display, look no further than two big celebrations of South African Heritage – Grootbos Florigium and the new book on Mandela. Nothing says fun gift like the iconic Zapiro or Madam & Eve.
The List at Christmas is delicious for both the taste buds and the eyes. Most importantly, our selection features most strongly local titles. For being able to source ingredients easily, and those familiar with our way of cooking, eating and entertaining, nothing beats local cookery titles. Highlights include Nostalgie by Herman Lensing and Khanyisa – a culinary storyteller, by Khanyisa Malabi.
Biography – the people behind the stories
Biographies offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of remarkable individuals, showcasing triumphs, tribulations and transformative moments on their personal journeys. The range of personalities spans across sport luminaries like Caster Semenya and Rassie Erasmus to business icons like Elon Musk and Lew Geffen, as well as culture greats like dancer Gregory Maqoma, Miriam Margolyes, Marius Weyers and the K-pop sensation BTS.
The young ones are always the focus at Christmas time, and what better way to introduce young readers to the joy of reading than the gift of a special book. Reading fosters imagination, empathy and critical thinking. It expands vocabularies, enhances communication skills and fuels a lifelong love for learning, empowering children for success.
There is tremendous value in reading stories set in your local environment – readers learn about children just like them, recognize places and nuances that speak to their context and relate to the stories that just as easily could have been theirs. We particularly celebrate the inclusion of Refiloe Moahloli’s A Friends for all Seasons, Paula Fourie’s The Dog with the Broken Wag, Shudu Musida’s new book I am Shudu. The List would be incomplete without Jaco Jacobs.
There is a reason some books or characters are timeless, and we have included some classics in the Christmas selection for their ever-faithful appeal. For the really littlies – which features the now-famous Gruffalo, the Grinch, Mr Men and Little Miss, for slightly older Percy Jackson, Treehouse and Wimpy Kid, as well as Alex Rider. A new David Walliams is always an event!
Young adult and Tiktok
TikTok is as big as ever, and whilst word in the halls of Frankfurt is that TikTok is expanding to non-fiction, we’ve showcased a selection of what’s trending now – mainly light romance and fantasy. Wildfire by Hannah Grace, Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood and Holly’s Black’s Stolen Heir are but some. Each TikTok book in the catalogue is highlighted in the catalogue with the annotated Tik Tok icon so they are easy to identify.
23 books of 2023
It is always interesting to note that around 8 of our top 20 bestselling books are perennials – books that are far from new, but just keep on selling and selling – confirming the quip that “there is no front list or backlist – only books that people have read or not read.” These books feature on our top 23 – Robin Sharma’s 5am Club, Mark Manson’s Subtle Art and James Clear’s Atomic Habits. The rest of the Top 23 for 2023 is dominated by local heavy hitters – like Andre de Ruyter’s Truth to Power, Rassie, Jonny Steinberg’s Winnie and Nelson and Michael Cardo’s Harry Oppenheimer. The Kid’s Bestsellers follow similar trends featuring perennial modern classics, with books like Seuss’ Cat in the Hat and The Day the Crayons Quit, by Oliver Jeffers.