And so, as the literary year heads into its final furlong, The Specsavers National Book Awards offers us one last chance to don a tux, sip some bubbly and judge the year's new books against one another.
Billing its self as the 'Oscars of the publishing industry', the NBAs is the anti-Booker, a shameless celebration of the year's biggest hits where a corporate sponsor props up each award and readability is king.
JK Rowling has been nominated for UK Author of the Year
Hence on today's newly-announced set of shortlists, 50 Shades Of Grey leads the race for Book of the Year, while in Non-Fiction Book of the Year, comedian Miranda Hart is up against James Bowen (the homeless man saved by a cat in his memoir A Street Cat Named Bob) and Caitlin Moran's great hits collection Moranthology (hoping to land the prize a second time in a row after How To Be A Woman won in 2011).
In 2011, Alan Hollinghurst's disappointment at not making the Booker shortlist for The Stranger's Child was tapered slightly when he won the UK Author of the Year Award - the most 'serious' gong at the NBAs.
This year Zadie Smith could be similarly vindicated for the Booker snub of her novel NW which has put her in the running alongside Booker winner Hilary Mantel (Bring Up The Bodies) and JK Rowling (The Casual Vacancy). That prize has also produced a potentially fascinating tussle between Smith and John Lanchester, whose book Capital was a similar (if far less subtle) stab at a state-of-the-nation novel set in London.
Elsewhere on the shortlists, literary heavyweights including Salman Rushdie and Laurent Binet rubs shoulders with celebrities like Clare Balding, David Walliams and Gok Wan.
Winners will be presented at a ceremony in London on Tuesday 4 December, except for the Book of the Year which will be put to a public vote and announced Tuesday 18 December
The shortlists in full:UK Author of the Year sponsored by Waterstones:
- Capital by John Lanchester (Faber and Faber)
- Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (Faber and Faber)
- Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate)
- The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
- NW by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
- 1356 by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins)
- The Thread by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review)
- The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson (Quercus Books)
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (Arrow)
- Citadel by Kate Mosse (Orion)
- Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (Michael Joseph)
- My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding (Viking Adult)
- Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper (John Murray)
- Back Story by David Mitchell (HarperCollins)
- Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
- Who I Am by Pete Townshend (HarperCollins)
- Camp David by David Walliams (Michael Joseph)
- A Wanted Man by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
- Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Hodder and Stoughton)
- A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (Chatto and Windus)
- The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Orion Fiction)
- Perfect People by Peter James (Pan)
- Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina (Orion)
- Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook by Mary Berry (DK)
- The Great British Bake Off: How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister (BBC Books)
- Hugh's Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury)
- The Hairy Dieters by Si King & Dave Myers (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
- Lorraine Pascale's Fast, Fresh and Easy Food by Lorraine Pascale (HarperCollins)
- Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan (Michael Joseph)
- HHhH by Laurent Binet (Harvill Secker)
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Granta)
- Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Canongate Books)
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Allen Lane)
- The Dinner by Herman Koch (Atlantic)
- A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen (Hodder and Stoughton)
- Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre (4th Estate)
- Is It Just Me by Miranda Hart (Hodder and Stoughton)
- Moranthology by Caitlin Moran (EburyPress)
- Brazil by Michael Palin (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
- The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Picador)
- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage)
- The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House)
- The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)
- Pirates Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort (Simon and Schuster)
- Itch by Simon Mayo (Doubleday Children's)
- Tom Gates: Genius Ideas (mostly) by Liz Pichon (Scholastic Children's Books)
- Ratburger by David Walliams (HarperCollins Children's)
- Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Slater (Whole Story Audiobooks)
- Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, read by Juliet Stevenson (Random House Audiobooks)
- Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, read by Dan Stevens (AudioGO)
- Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart, read by Miranda Hart (Hodder and Stoughton)
- The Killing by David Hewson, read by Christian Rodska (Macmillan Digital Audio)
- The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend, read by Caroline Quentin (Whole Story Audiobooks)
- The Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne (Headline)
- The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (Orion)
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
- The Land of Decoration by Grace McLeen (Chatto and Windus)
- The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt Publishing)
- Care Of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (4th Estate)
Last year's award-winning books:
Originally published in 2010, Edmund de Waal's memoir tells the story of his family, the Ephrussi, who were once an extremely wealthy and powerful European Jewish banking and oil dynasty - until they were 'Aryanized' by the Nazis in 1938. Using the story of a family heirloom that miraculously survived the war, de Waal traces five generations of his elders to evoke the rise of anti-Semitism and the Ephrussis' varying fortunes between 1871 and 2009. The judges praised it as a 'haunting evocation' of history that 'never slips in sentimentalism' and a 'stunning piece of writing' full of 'economy and grace'. De Wall - who is also a extremely accomplished ceramicist whose porcelain is shown in museums across the world - picked up the Costa Prize (Biographies - pictured) and Galaxy National Book Award in the year it was published, before claiming this year's Ondaatje (and £10,000 in prize money) in May.
In a year in which the Booker came under heavy criticism for settling on a shortlist that unashamedly favoured 'readable' fiction, in the end it was by far the most literary novel (almost a novella) on the list - Julian Barnes' The Sense Of An Ending - that won, taking a little wind out of dinner party rants throughout the literary world (until next year's prize at least). Barnes's 11th novel was a master class in brevity that masqueraded as a gentle if unsettling thriller, but was really an intricate exploration of language and memory told by a unremarkable man reflecting on the more remarkable events of his life. The Sense of an Ending beat off competition including Stephen Kelman's excellent debut Pigeon English and Carol Birch's celebrated Jamrach's Menagerie to take Britain's most well-known literary prize - and the considerable £50,000 prize money.
Back in 2009, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott was forced to withdraw from the election to become the next Oxford professor of poetry after a scandal involving allegations he had sexually harassed former students. Such was the press attention at the time (not helped by the dramatic resignation of his election rival Ruth Padel days later, who admitted she'd given the story to journalists), it was easy to forget that the Saint Lucian writer is one of the world's most masterful poets - something he reminded us of in January with an emphatic victory in the TS Eliot Prize. "It took us not very long to decide that this collection was the yardstick by which all the others were to be measured. These are beautiful lines; beautiful poetry," said the chair of judges Anne Stevenson, before adding that his collection was 'technically flawless'. Walcott fought off competition from fellow Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage to claim the £15,000 prize.
The Orwell Prize attracted more attention than usual in 2011, though not for the right reasons. The career of one of its former (and most high profile) winners, journalist Johann Hari, was brought to a humiliating halt when he was accused of plagiarism, leading him to give back the prize he won in 2008. In terms of sticking to the rules, this year's winner would appear to be a far safer bet - Tom Bingham was a former senior law lord and, according to the prize, 'one of the world's most acute legal minds'. Published in 2010, his book examines how the concept of 'the rule of law' provides the foundations for all areas of society, from civil peace to economic growth. Bingham sadly died of cancer in September 2010.
Partly to register their disgust that Alan Hollinghurst was omitted from this year's Booker shortlist, the 750-strong panel of book industry insiders who vote in the British Book Awards named him their Author of the Year instead - a victory no doubt made sweeter by the fact he beat eventual Booker winner Julian Barnes in the process. The Stranger's Child is Hollinghurst's fifth book and traces the posthumous rise in fame of a bisexual poet who died in World War One. Given the level of critical acclaim it attracted, its omission from the Booker shortlist was one of the shocks of the 2011 literary year, with one reviewer claiming the novel proved that Hollinghurst 'has a strong, perhaps unassailable claim to be the best English novelist working today'.
In the world of broadsheet journalism, Caitlin Moran is the closest thing the UK has to a rock star - something her adoring online following and clutches of industry awards attest to. Her appeal, aside from being funny as hell, is partly down to the fact she's a woman from a working class background outclassing all before her in an industry dominated by privately educated males. As her Twitter profile states: 'a woman, yes, but still funny.' But if that wasn't enough to cement her as a feminist hero for modern day Britain, her part-memoir, part-manifesto How To Be A Woman should do. One of the word-of-mouth hits of the year, it shows off Caitlin's entire repertoire - from coffee-snorting one-liners to tender, touching reflections on family life - in what is basically an attempt to make 'feminism' a word the X Factor generation feel happy to use.
This year, the award set up English playwright W Somerset Maugham in 1947 to reward promising young writers with a travel fund recognised Belfast poet Miriam Gamble for her first full-length collection The Squirrels Are Dead, Oxford graduate Alexandra Harris's exploration of the artistic revolution of the early 20th century Romantic Moderns and Manchester-born poet Adam O'Riordan's debut In The Flesh. The Somerset Maugham Award's commitment to recognising writers under the age of 35 means it often sheds a light on raw new talents rather than established literary titans, but this year's winners - particularly O'Riordan for his elegant meditations on time and loss - were broadly celebrated for already displaying a mastery of their fields. All three winners picked up £3,500 that they must spend on travel that will help enrich their work.
Fans of Terry Pratchett will no doubt have been appalled that a debut novel by a comedian saw off their man to claim this year's Popular Fiction Book of the Year award - particularly when most reviewers found Dawn French's light-hearted family tale somewhat unconvincing - but then the British Book Awards are about rewarding popularity as well as critical merit. The Vicar Of Dibley star remains one of Britain's best-loved actresses and the sales figures of A Tiny Bit Marvellous - the story of three family members as approach a pair of landmark birthdays - have reflected that.
One of the more surprising victories in 2011's literary awards calendar was Téa Obreht claiming the Orange Prize in June. Her success was surprising, not because The Tiger's Wife - her curious alchemy of magical folklore and brutal realism set in the aftermath of Balkan civil war - was anything less than a worthy winner, but because she was both a first time novelist and, at 25, the youngest winner in the award's 16-year history. Her victory came at the expense of established authors Emma Donoghue (for her bestselling Room) and Nicole Krauss (for Great House). Praised by the judges as 'a very brave book', The Tiger's Wife earned Obreht £30,000. The Orange Prize is awarded each year to a female author of any nationality who has published a novel in the UK.
Picking up the Pulitzer for fiction - and $10,000 (£6,400) - this year was American author Jennifer Egan for A Visit From The Goon Squad, a book no one could quite decide whether to call a novel or a collection of short stories. Either way, the Pultizer panel called it 'an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.'
Siddhartha Mukherjee took on a subject most of us hope to spend our lives never having to think about for his first book - cancer. The oncologist wrote what he describes as "an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behaviour", tracing the disease from its first recorded case in 500BC to the modern day. The Guardian awarded The Emperor OF All Maladies their prize ahead of four fiction titles, including 2011's perennial awards runner up, Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English. Mukherjee collected £10,000 along with the prize.
"We have been quite thoughtful about this," insisted Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, "we have not been rash in choosing a Swede." In the end few could have complained, for although Tomas Tranströmer shares sovereignty with the Scandinavian committees who award the Nobel Prize, his victory was no real surprise, and certainly no controversy. The 80-year-old took the world's premier literary prize having long established himself as Sweden's most famous poet, his work evoking the perilous landscape of his homeland to take readers on surreal journeys through his inner world. The judges cited his "condensed translucent images", which give "fresh access to reality" as the reason for his selection. Tranströmer's poetry has been translated into 50 different languages - a trend that will only continue now he's landed the biggest prize of them all.