Robert McCrum, the outgoing literary editor of The Observer, recently summed up the last decade in books in ten short chapters (with accompanying timeline).
People will argue about the decisive milestones (I have come up with my own 10, which I have set out in chapters), but there will be general agreement that, in Britain, a decade of change starts with the election of New Labour in 1997. That was also the year Random House launched its website, John Updike published a short story online and Vintage started a series of reading guides to encourage new book clubs. As well as new readers, the millennium saw the emergence of a new literary generation, writers born in the Sixties and Seventies, and few of them more fascinating than Zadie Smith…
McCrum also shares a tidbit about Malcolm Gladwell’s first book which I’d never heard before.
The Tipping Point was almost a flop. It was published to mixed reviews in the US, did no serious business in the UK and was saved by — yes — word of mouth. After a dismal launch, and as a desperate last resort, Gladwell persuaded his American publisher to sponsor a US-wide lecture tour. Only then did the book ‘tip’. Eventually, it would become a literary success of its time, turn its author into a pop cultural guru and spend seven years on the New York Times bestseller list. This was one of those pivotal moments that illustrates the story of this decade.
At the WH Smith shop at Heathrow last weekend, the paperback copy of The Tipping Point was still #5 on the business bestsellers list and nearly sold out.