Singaporean authors a hit this year
THIS year, Singaporeans raced to buy steamy chick lit and dystopian teen tragedies, according to The Straits Times' bestseller lists.
It was also the first time in five years that books by Singapore authors made it to the weekly Top 10 chart but, hopefully, not the last.
For at least 15 years, The Straits Times has compiled a weekly list of the best-selling books in Singapore, collating sales figures supplied by major bookstores at the time. Currently, these are Books Kinokuniya, Popular, MPH and Times.
Books on the bestseller list thus indicate what Singaporeans are buying at physical bookstores, while online purchases unfortunately remain a mystery. This is because analytical groups such as Nielsen BookScan do not operate here and the newspaper's previous requests for hard data to online retailers such as Amazon have gone unanswered.
So, what were Singaporeans reading this year? Romance and potboilers are perennial favourites and, indeed, the biggest fiction bestsellers flying out of stores this year included the steamy Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy by E. L. James and the new Dan Brown thriller Inferno.
The bestseller lists of this year look oddly like those of the past five years. Apart from relative newcomer James, who rose to prominence only in the middle of last year and paved the way for other writers of adult romance such as Sylvia Day, certain fictionauts dominated, with novels that sell as much on the strength of the author's name as on content.
Brown, of course, brought a smile to booksellers with Angels & Demons in 2009, The Lost Symbol a year later and Inferno this year. Feel-good guru Mitch Albom is back in first place as well, with The First Phone Call From Heaven, not to be confused with the big bestseller of 2009, The Five People You Meet In Heaven.
Other writers who will not be budged include the prolific James Patterson, who writes solo and with collaborators. He has a hit every year, starting with Alex Cross' Trial in 2009 to this year's Alex Cross, Run.
New movie adaptations of text also propel some denser, more literary titles to a few weeks on the list.
This year, these included 1920s romance The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Yann Martel's allegorical tale Life Of Pi and David Mitchell's complex story about reincarnation, Cloud Atlas.
Yet, a few trends set this year apart when compared with reader favourites from 2009 onwards.
This was the first time in more than five years that books by Singapore-born authors made it to the adult-fiction bestseller list, following Catherine Lim's romance novella, Leap Of Love, in 2008.
The star this year was Kevin Kwan's send-up of Singapore's wealthy, Crazy Rich Asians, followed by playwright Ovidia Yu's new mystery about a Peranakan cook with a nose for crime, Aunty Lee's Delights.
Readers clearly have an appetite for Asian fiction set in and around the region, given that the bestseller list also included Five Star Billionaire, Malaysian writer Tash Aw's story of South-east Asians trying to make it big in China.
A second trend this year is that young-adult science fiction and fantasy truly came into its own, after the success of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series last year.
Which books will then top next year's lists? Apart from name-brand releases from Patterson and romance queen Cecelia Ahern (How To Fall In Love, in stores soon), strong contenders include fiction from literary stars Chang-Rae Lee and Booker finalist Emma Donoghue, as well as new Singapore writer Kirstin Chen, whose Soy Sauce For Beginners, about a Singapore girl who takes over the family business, is slated to be in bookstores by year end.
Then again, filming has begun on the Fifty Shades Of Grey movie, to be released in 2015. If the publisher re-releases the trilogy next year with all-new covers and exclusive photos from the set, it could be yet another year dominated by adult romance.