Better than the real thing.
Alex Blight, Valorium Dreams (Wake Press)
Imagine the 80s happening again, only in the future. I felt at the point of cackling hallucination at the sheer number of things I recognised.
Emmy-May-Sparrow-Furnace, The Hattifattener’s Daughter (Maccabee Hare)
Dark magic-realist fable for our times. Unlike life, anything can happen. Gripping.
Anon, Wynt & Other Stories (Norse)
George Glaciate-Furbisher, Flenge’s Dictum (Silly Bugger Press)
A literature professor is entranced with a mysterious young exchange student, but can he complete his magnum opus before the ethics committee intervene? And is she even real? And is the real even real? Daring writing from the septuagenarian enfant terrible of English letters.
John (Kill John) art collective, GGgG (Codex)
Sima Nitram, I Fucking Hate Don XL (Woke Press)
Piqued by its unflattering portrayal of their industry, the critics unanimously disregarded the year’s most provocative novel, I Fucking Hate Don XL. Sima Nitram’s debut is an autofictive portrait of a louche, ruthlessly Machiavellian literary agent, the mercurial philanderer Don XL, as seen through the eyes of his ingenue intern and erstwhile inamorata. The narrator, who is denoted throughout the text by a mysterious double-underscore joined by a hyphen (_-_), struggles to reconcile her burning animus with the effects of an iron deficiency that causes her to write in the kind of listlessly insipid prose that an untutored reader might mistake for juvenilia.
A veritable triumph of form, Nitram’s bloodless narration is the most convincing rendering of dead-eyed anaemia in recent literary history. This translucent, hyper-listless account of one woman’s bland obsessive turmoil is punctuated by unaccountably captionless photographs, in a clever nod to the work of the late W.G. Sebald. Although _-_ never once leaves her bedroom, the visual mélange of Trip Advisor reviews, Deliveroo notifications and Chatroulette screen-grabs complements her plaintive monologues of dull despair to produce a powerfully immersive psychogeography of inertia.
Diana Smith-Higglebury, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion
From the author of the sensational bestseller, Build A Wall Around Our Island, comes, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion. This no-nonsense, comprehensive guide is full of delightfully giddy chapters: Family Morality (think diagrams explaining Corporal Punishment, Sex with Remainers), Special Occasions (look out for full-page glossy photos of Cheese-Rolling, Dickens’ Carols), Craft Activities (such as instructions on how to knit an egg-cosy celebrating Article 50) and a Recipe chapter devoted to Beer and Bacon. Striking a balance between playful and serious, the author also gives extensive advice and helpful instructions on how to set traps and eliminate hunt-saboteurs, the metropolitan elite and foreign neighbours. A perfect post-Brexit stocking-filler by Diana Smith-Higglebury, hailed as ‘the new Mrs Beeton’, much-loved wife, mother and presenter of the reality TV show Our Local Shop. Free with every purchase: a Jean-Claude Juncker doormat.
Non Jiven, Afgakistan
I loved this book, like I love a bit of flake in the Groucho on a Tuesday night. Daring, controversial, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And guns. Lots of ’em. Reading this made me feel like a man. A real man, like Ross Kemp. Not an alcoholic loser like Phil Mitchell. Jiven takes you right into the action of soldiers of blow — almost as if he has done loads of chop himself in the past.
This is state of a broken nation stuff. What Jiven manages to do is elicit no sympathy for these alpha male hogs of war, who hoover up the gak like it’s dust on a fancy carpet, before going out on the rampage and murdering children in Basra. The thrill of this book is how well he describes taking coke, it makes you want to rack up a line there and then and get bang on it. And he does this every ten pages. I ploughed through six grams of the old Bolivian marching powder in just the first half. I was gurning so much I thought I’d turned into James Corden.
Afgakistan is probably the first post-Lexit novel to be published. It’s a tour de force — literally! They are in the force, and they are on tour. You couldn’t make it up. Unless you’re Jiven, in which case you did make it up and it’s fabulous. A thrilling ride of packet, packet, and more packet. A packet tour. By Thomas Cooked. Oh, and there’s some stuff about what it’s like to be a bloke and masculinity and what have you. But don’t let the heavy stuff weigh you down, that’s just what the editor wanted to put in to bulk out the story.
Bravo! (bravo, two zero) Non — you’ve cracked (aha!) a new genre: War… On Drugs.
Fernando Sdrigotti, The Situationist Guide to Parenting
Since the arrival of twins, Spirulina and Ocelot, I have been indebted to my great friend and editor Fernando Sdrigotti for his invaluable parenting guide, inspired by the philosopher and alcoholic Guy Debord. No more awkward silences during the hours it seems to take the au pair to dry her hair — Sdrigotti’s guide provides no end of suitable conversation topics for bright 2 year olds, from Peppa Pig’s role in mediating social interactions between toddlers in the nursery to detourning the playground. Can’t afford another holiday abroad this year? Just remember, as Sdrigotti tells us, beneath each playpen lies the beach! The Situationist Guide to Parenting shifts the paradigm of the self-help genre, reinventing Sdrigotti as a Dr Spock for the modern dad.
S.T Havoc, Scumbunker
His words dripping with misanthropy and latent threat like a drunk outside a kebab shop at midnight, ST Havoc represents the authentic voice of twenty-first century Britain. Coming on like Chuck Bukowski wrestling Rabelais in Hemingway’s basement, Havoc rails against ‘crazed fools’, ‘scumbunkers’ and ‘cum scandals’ alike in this staggering indictment of post-millennial mores. What Scumbunker lacks in coherent narrative and consistent punctuation, it makes up for in belligerence. Not since Amis’ late-period masterpiece Lionel Asbo has a writer so successfully channelled the spirit of toxic masculinity and 24-hour drinking and bought it howling into the living rooms of the great and good. His spirited hijacking of the BBC’s Man Booker Prize coverage is worth an award in itself.
Renton Carmichael, Pampas Grass and Empty Parking Lots: A Tooting Odyssey
Renton Carmichael’s latest psychogeographical adventure sees him explore the outskirts of Tooting, a territory which almost exactly corresponds to the area he is forbidden to enter under the terms of the restraining order taken out against him by a former research assistant. While his previous work has been criticised (unfairly in my view) for the inordinate amount of time spent on descriptions of fucking trees, here Carmichael focuses his critical eye on human affairs: perfidious man, even more perfidious woman, midlife crises, swingers parties, departmental rivalries, thinly veiled accusations of bribery, drunkenness and harassment, divorce, unemployment and an extremely detailed (if somewhat partial) account of academic disciplinary procedures. The sight of a burger wrapper tangled in pampas grass in an apparently ordinary suburban front garden sparks a Proustian outpouring of memory, from which this odyssey takes flight. Carmichael has boldly stepped beyond the artificial boundaries of so-called ‘nature’ writing to produce the definitive account of the embittered and insecure masculinity in the twenty-first century.
Krise Plötzliche, Saint Cyanide (Fitzgeraldo)
Krise Plötzliche’s latest in translation involves a former special-Olympics swimmer, a misunderstood unpopular Hackney Grime DJ, a deaf-and-dumb trainee landscape gardener, an improperly-qualified railway mechanic, a stubborn Italian ex-cop, a gender-fluid Gazprom executive, an ailing Welsh hill farmer, a vivacious wannabe Cuban reality TV star, a partially psychic small-time Washington political fundraiser, an alcoholic French midwife, a recently-divorced Iranian crystal therapist, a depressive football hooligan and climate-change sceptic, a mysterious but lonely Nigerian waitress, a drug-addled Serbian chess prodigy, a philandering small-town Moroccan butcher and a shady intellectually impoverished selfish forgetful short-sighted bigoted English humanities academic all of whom are sought out by an unknown assassin with apparently unlimited travel budget and no discernible motive. Weaving such loose threads in terse vivid prose, Plötzliche aces the tapestry, the whole job accomplished with her typical mix of impeccable plotting and completely impenetrable psychology. I read it in a single sitting on a delirious endlessly delayed and diverted train up to Glasgow this summer. In the end New York is burning, London is snowbound, Paris is under water, Istanbul is abandoned, Havana is booming, Zagreb is waiting, Casablanca is forgotten, Shanghai is under bombardment, Sheffield is divided, Accra is almost-completely deserted and all of the protagonists are dead.
R Bewley, Fish pools and Concubines (Maccabee Hare)
This extraordinary novel is practically Orwellian in scope and interrogatory verve. Bewley’s work never fails to razzle and dazzle me in equal measure and Fishpools and Concubines doesn’t disappoint. It is perverse, rotten to its core, and better yet, moving, illuminating and experimental. Combining the watery worlds of competitive carp breeding and a protagonist unable to experience the act of love without economic exchange, this is an incisive challenge to masculine claptrap, fish hooks and sexual slavery. You need never read another book, this one is so marvellous.
George Henry, Academicon (Puffin)
James Maunder, Atrophy (Ladybird)
I’ve been too busy melting-down on social media to properly engage with what we used to call ‘the novel’ this year. I’ve had to limit my reading to one piece of fiction a day (or two if the books are less than 500-pages long). As this annus horribilis has ground on I’ve also found it increasingly rewarding — and apt — to read books written in languages that aren’t yet invented. This too has placed certain boundaries on what I can take in. The problem is that the books that exist in our heads tend to be more interesting than anything anyone else is doing. Don’t you think so? There don’t seem to be enough writers doing enough real work nowadays.
Anyway, I did find sustenance in George Henry’s Academicon. (I’m assuming it’s still permissible to nominate a white male?) George Henry’s lead character — Henry George — speaks to the struggle we all go through. He is that Everyman, the older but mysteriously attractive thinker, who can’t help but bring into his orbit (and bed) beautiful, but mysteriously difficult, young women. I thought: ‘At last!’ Here was someone prepared to speak truly and openly about how powerful an effect on others you can have with simple intelligence and an aching and important soul. George Henry is also good on all the frustrating papercuts of existence. His Henry George is rightly renowned, but, like so many of us, is also forced to lower himself to doing paperwork and clock-punching by unimaginative pen-pushers within the great crushing bureaucracy de la vie. Fortunately I read this one while on sabbatical, exploring the less commonly frequented beaches of Albania, otherwise it would have felt a bit too close to home. Would it be too optimistic to compare him to Saul Bellow?
Talking of Bellow, I also must put a word in for James Maunder’s Atrophy. Once I had got over my blushes at realising he had based some of his lead character’s more attractive traits on a certain not-as-well-known-as-he-should-be writer and publisher, I couldn’t help but lose myself in his energy and anger. ‘Why can’t we have more from the world?’ he asks and I can’t help but wonder too. I hope next year is better.
Stacey DoWeavil, The Russian Bot’s Wife
@______, Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage
Luca, Mort: Other Poems
Ever since I met my wife on Friends Reunited I’ve been intrigued by the ways in which social media facilitates human interaction and in the weeks following my operation I’ve been persuaded that of all the book trends this year the best by far is ‘up-lit’ — novels that manage to combine a strong story and fun, relatable characters with some feel good self-help. Best of these is by far is The Russian Bot’s Wife by Stacey DoWeavil. It’s a beautiful story, really, about Perry an intersectional feminist spokesperson who seems to have it all: the platform, the online cred, the verified Twitter account. But Perry feels her life to be hollow and after posting a piece she wrote for Teen Vogue about transgender travel blogs she is ruthlessly trolled by sexist and racist Twitter bot accounts. Initially overwhelmed by the abuse she receives, Perry bravely decides to engage with her detractors and soon finds herself involved in a meaningful dialogue with PureBlood3574. PureBlood3574 turns out to be more than just an angry crypto-Nazi; he’s actually a lonely Russian called Sergei whose job it is to programme the algorithms for over 5000 far right and Pro Trump bot accounts and lives in Vladivostok. He tires of the hate and just wants some love. A great twist comes in the final quarter of the novel when Perry flies to Russia and, after some initial funny misunderstandings, marries Sergei and gives up feminist punditry in favour of making homemade pickles and generating ironic not ironic Putin memes. Sergei, meanwhile, learns important truths about male and female friendships, biological essentialism and consent. The fact that much of the book was composed by reconstructing abusive tweets sent by actual Russian bots to Stacey herself was, for me at least, a bonus.
In a similar vein I also recommend Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage by @______ which shows how to not to digitally detox. The scene where the main protagonists ‘live Tweet’ their break up and are mainly concerned about who gets the most retweets while a kitten slowly suffocates in the background was quite harrowing: a searing indictment of our contemporary narcissism and solipsism.
Of course, I don’t read poetry anymore (who does?) but if I did my book of the year would be Mort: Other Poems by Luca, a series of blank poems in the style of a David Harsent lament, if David Harsent was really a Cold War spy doomed to permanently relive tense transitions through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin circa 1983.
Lord Erectimonious, Woodland Pleasantries
Lord Erectimonious has written numerous books celebrating Nature, birdspotting and woodland walks over the last decade, but Woodland Pleasantries is surely his magnum opus. I have had the good fortune to partner him on many a stroll across Hampstead Heath and watch in awe as he pauses to pluck Japanese knotweed for his legendary gourmet green stews, or specify rare ferns by their Old English nomenclature. Woodland Pleasantries takes the genre of nature writing to dizzying new heights by exploring the curious, fricative union that has evolved between the natural world and homo sapiens. In a series of essential lessons for budding naturalists, one learns that dead sparrows can be useful aids for onanism whilst reciting lines from Catallus; and that the correct etiquette for a carnal response to the flash of a rabbit’s ears should be the cry of, ‘Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo!’ You’ll never look at – or, indeed, caress – a helix pomatia gastropod in the same way again.
Not long after reading this inspirational tome, I found myself enjoying an exquisite orgiastic commune on the Heath with several millipedes, a toad and a hedgehog, all conducted with an ethical respect for the leafy milieu around us. In a world where our population is reaching uncontrollable levels, Woodland Pleasantries suggests new and thrilling ways to expel our desires, in sentences that unfurl and shiver with tremendous concupiscence.Benjamin Myers
Peeter-Karl Umlaut, My Very Long Life
Romilly Redditch, Her Name Was Probably
Ian McEwan, The Hairy Toe
Chattalus the Elder, Dialogues (trans. Lord Whopper)
Ted Punnet, Stoic Farmers
Described as the ‘first post-Brexit’ novel, My Very Long Life by Peeter-Karl Umlaut was the subject of a seven-way auction at Frankfurt, and is a dazzling debut about a Danish boy who jumps out of a tree, told from the perspective of a cat. I laughed, I cried, I read all 800 pages in one sitting, and was hospitalised for dehydration shortly afterwards. Volume II is described as ‘a Proustian response to “99 Red Balloons” by Nena’. Can’t wait.
Romilly Redditch’s biography of artist Gillian Omelettes, Her Name Was Probably, is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the overlooked proto-punk ‘faecal artists’ who exploded onto the New York scene in 1967. No Omelettes, no Acker, Basquiat et al.
I also found Ian McEwan’s latest, The Hairy Toe, about an ageing academic who has an affair with a young artist in post-Brexit Finchley, narrated by a sardonic abscess, to be deeply moving. It really tells us something about who we are today. A pre-late career highlight.
One guilty pleasure that I shall be taking away is the long-overdue reissue of Lord Whopper’s 1929 translation of 4th century philosopher Chattalus The Elder’s Dialogues. If I’m feeling mischievous I might translate them back again; I’ve bought copies for all my young nephews so that they might join in.
For light relief, former poet laureate Ted Punnet’s final poetry collection, Stoic Farmers, will be revisited on Boxing Day.
Lauren Cottenham, The Prime of Mala H. (Maccabee Hare)
Mala is not appealing. In her early 50s, her memory comes and goes like a mobile phone connection in the Peaks. She has lost her looks and her grip and is shedding friends like a yellow Labrador sheds hair. She says things she doesn’t understand: ‘My birthday is in Germany’. She writes notes she can’t interpret: ‘Collect the shia’. Sometimes she even speaks in (what she understands to be) tongues: ‘Hees moyse nay’. This obsessively repetitive novel opens in a packed theatre. From her seat in the fifth row, Mala is shouting, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ On stage, a woman dressed as a chicken stands between two men, one of whom wears a tangled wig. Three young women from the audience are leaving the auditorium at speed. Mala’s laughter segues into screams. The show goes on. And on. And on. There are sentences you will not understand and flash chapters that make only the slightest sense. You will be pleased when it’s over, yet glad to be back. You will seek out Mala again and again.
Eric Borstal, The Taj Mahal Does Not Exist
A delight for me this year has been the time spent waiting for public transport in the West Midlands. When the 50 from Maypole or the 1E from Acocks Green eventually arrive, I hop on board and enjoy the pleasant distraction of a dip into Eric Borstal’s affecting travel memoir, The Taj Mahal Does Not Exist.
Using the Situationist technique of the dérive paired with the operations of chance, Borstal roams the world, ever submitting it to his withering and (occasionally) hilarious glance. The lucky reader is thus able to revel in Borstal’s adventures and impressions without ever having to go to the discomfort of actually experiencing them. While some of his observations may seem dated (if not outright bigoted) to the modern eye, it is a pleasure to be constantly challenged by Borstal’s strident opinions. His daring claim that the Taj Mahal (along with the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and other such ‘pure — virtually empty — signs,’ as Barthes would have it) really do not exist is quite bracing, especially when the editor’s note informs us that Borstal wrote the book without ever going any further than the saloon bar of the Twelve Pins in Finsbury Park. Whilst Eric Borstal’s novels are, it is universally agreed, utterly awful, this travelogue is a dazzling gem of the genre.
Christine Fizelle, Phrt
Searching through a skip in Sparkhill earlier this autumn, I was delighted to chance upon a rare copy of Christine Fizelle’s legendary 700-pager. First published by John Calder in 1961 only to then disappear completely, Phrt is nominally the tale of the eponymous character, a man lost in an unnamed totalitarian state who resorts to developing his own private language in an attempt to cope with or confront his situation. Phrt has often been described as ‘difficult’ by its admirers (of whom there are few) and ‘unreadable nonsense’ by its detractors (of whom there are many). This long novel’s reputation for complexity is surely due to the mere fact that it is in large part utterly incomprehensible, and not because of any literary failing.
Tristan Bradley Saunders Jr, Flying Paper Aeroplanes in A World Filled With Pain You Cannot See (Norse)
Gus Benson, The Hole in the Whole (William Herschmann)
Whilst ensconced in Oldham for a week to visit a gravely sick relative, who had offered me the most charming Box Room at the front of their terrace house, I read Flying Paper Aeroplanes in A World Filled With Pain You Cannot See by Tristan Bradley Saunders Jr, possibly one of the most moving books of real human pain I have ever had the happiest deep pleasure to read. Based on TBS Jr’s own real, truthful experience, and his grandfather’s recently found travel journals documenting his time travelling through Afghanistan, when it was a beautiful, beguiling, and safe place for Westerners to live and travel cheaply, FPAIAWFWPYCS charts the tumultuous, troublesome, and deeply moving lives of three upper-middle-class brothers forced to travel to exotic, far-flung corners of the globe in search of not only themselves, but their shared past. Reunited at a family wedding in Zurich, we are dealt the devastating aftermath of their sorrow: a family secret so overwhelming (involving their grandfather) it nearly tears them apart. I was gripped, and as my relative slowly faded from this world, I felt like a new world was opening up before me in my own hands. The perfect succour for our troubling times.
Although nothing has come close to FPAIAWFWPYCS this year (and I read a lot of books, in fact I literally breathe literature on a daily basis) I feel I can’t finish this end of year list without mentioning Gus Benson’s The Hole in the Whole, a book I’ve read at least one and a half times now and still I feel it has so much to teach me about ‘Literature’, ‘Form’, the ‘English Language’, and ‘Humanity’. THITW is a great thing; one of those ‘Experimental’ works of fiction, published by a ‘Mainstream’, ‘Traditional’ publisher that doesn’t read like an ‘Experimental’ work of fiction at all, but like a beautiful, lyrical, breathtaking work of humanist fiction, the type you find short-listed on the new ‘Experimental’ writing prizes, glowingly reviewed in the broadsheets, and stacked high on ‘3 for 2’ tables in your local High Street. Benson is a magician: how can a book so ‘Fragmented’, so ‘Brave’, so ‘Out There’ in terms of ‘Form’, be so complete in terms of ‘Beginning, Middle, and End’? I had a good rummage searching for many holes in Benson’s whole and I can honestly say there aren’t any. THITW is a truly ‘Experimental’ feat of astonishingly pitch-perfect ‘Literature’ that makes, beautiful, concise, chronologically precise, easy-to-read, common sense. A book that perfectly illustrates our troubling times.
Pablo Katchadjián, The Thinned Aleph
Following from the experiment that got him sued by Jorge Luis Borges’ widow, María Kodama, Katchadjián embarks once more on a project of Borgesian overtones. The Thinned Aleph presents a thinned version of Borges’ The Aleph. Adjectives, adverbs, unnecessary conjunctions are cut out here and there, with no clear logic. Whole sentences are edited out or replaced by shorter versions of the same sentences. Pretentious quotes are removed. Whole paragraphs are deleted. Critical references to the Argentine literary scene are done away with. The result is a Borges that sounds pretty much like Raymond Carver. That is, a completely irrelevant Borges.
S.T. Havoc (editor), The Ultimate Aphoristic Style Guide for Writers of the Social Media Age
Havoc is an unlikely arbiter when it comes to questions of style (literary or of any kind). And to be fair he is an unlikely arbiter of anything and he should have never been released from prison. Yet this collection of aphorisms on the topic of writing surprises greatly. Havoc becomes here the driving force behind a great number of mediocre idiots writing idiotic truisms about literature, in abridged form. From the expected ‘show not tell’ to the more outlandish ‘don’t masturbate and write with the same hand, particularly not at the same time’, every writerly commonplace can be found here, delivered as an absolute truth. The recurrence of the term #WritingTips after some of these aphorisms seems to suggest Havoc might have lifted the aphorisms from Twitter, and why not? The Ultimate Aphoristic Style Guide for Writers of the Social Media Age is the perfect book for anyone wanting to write just like everyone else. Recommended.
J. M. E. Oliver, I Love Duck (revised)
Cuisine and necro-zoophilia are an unlikely topic for a novella. Yet here J.M.E. Oliver combines them successfully, creating a short masterpiece — an epicurean tale of lust, despair, and unchained obsession. The story begins when J, a fictional chef in a fictional restaurant called Twenty Three, cooks a Roast and Glazed Duck with Spiced Red Cabbage and Cranberries, as part of his new menu. A torrid and unhealthy love affair soon begins, between J and one of the ducks — dead obviously. The very graphic novella — made up of the unhinged letters drunk or extremely coked-up J.M.E. writes to his dead duck lover — is a sharp indictment of the human and the aviary conditions. The collection of duck recipes in the appendix is a welcome addition, as is the inclusion of the court proceedings in this revised edition. A perfect Christmas gift for any duck lover with a very sick mind.
@______, Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage (Blue Hut Press)
Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage by @______ is a searingly honest and unwittingly hilarious memoir (of sorts) about losing love in the modern age. When the author met her husband-to-be, he did not even own a smartphone, but with personal technological advances came distraction, fame, and ultimately, divorce. Told through ironic fragments of 140 characters, this Twitter-inspired ‘auto-fiction’ protests everything that is wrong (or merely confusing) in modern life, and probes the deeper motives for living a life primarily online. At times sad, lacklustre and annoyed, the memoir nevertheless displays genuine compassion for its antagonist, and for the human desire to escape reality (however promising), and champion illusions. A love song out of earshot. An ode to paying attention. An elegy for the blocked.
Aubrey Wilson-Burke, Her Thoughts
M.R. Collins, Palimpsest
Arabella Jones, The Cold Winter
I read three books during my extended stay in Tuscany which have captured my imagination in 2017. The first, a dazzling annotated study of Rita Sackville East, Her Thoughts, contains over 789 of her personal letters, including shopping lists, recipes, doctor’s prescriptions and childhood musings. It is a thrilling and genre-defying experiment in form that evokes her Sisyphean struggle with language. Aubrey Wilson-Burke’s is the 28th book on this subject and is by far the most refreshing literary biography I have come across since Rita: My Gardening Year.
The sophisticated musings of Hampshire’s M.R. Collins provided much inspiration throughout the long summer days by the pool. His remarkable wit and daring ambition in his fourth collection, Palimpsest, reveals the inner turmoil of a traveller abroad. His formative experiences at Marlborough are explored through the exceptional ‘In Love with My Bedders’, an unforgettable Keatsian ode which will stay with me for years to come.
I was struck by the devious and compelling unreliable narrator of Arabella Jones’ YA debut The Cold Winter. It is the first in a series of nine books bought for a seven-figure sum, and one can see why the publishing world is alight over this young Oxbridge talent. The novel is set in the tense surrounds of Chelsea, funnily enough, just down the road from where I live. The dynamic pursuit of protagonist Ziggy reveals her secret life as a psychic-sleuth, set against the backdrop of a Dystopian future; Jones’ captivating tale really tells us who we are as a nation. Recommended.
Here are my books of the year, created by feeding various end of year reviews (mostly from the TLS) into a text randomiser, and messing with the app’s parameters (tho I’d like to note that even a bot can’t be persuaded to score high on the VIDA count: could this be something to do with the text available for me to feed it ) to ensure that the busy seasonal reader has no need to read, critique, buy or gift the volumes in question: we can read it for you wholesale.
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Anonymous (Eds.), There Never Was A Light (Or If There Was It Went Out Long Ago) (Codex, £50)
Disappointment drips from every entry in this crowd-sourced compendium of complicity and regret, based on the celebrated blog and social media campaign that simply sought answers to the question: is Morrissey really a racist, and what might your answer say about you? The anonymous editors — surely fans themselves — are to be praised, for without them the subtle sensitivities of so many wounded souls might have been lost, like teardrops in the rain. Preserved in these pages, and fragile as pressed flowers, the cumulative effect of so many tiny epiphanies may just break your heart. Not so much a ‘music book’, then, but with impressive sales, and a wide readership that (despite the price point) has proved not to be limited just to Smiths fans and footsoldiers, There Never Was A Light… is the best of this year’s Morrissey-related titles, and sets the bar for 2018’s inevitable crop of reappraisals very high — or low — indeed.
Too Many Characters painting by Christiana Spens.
Saint Cyanide cover designed by Tim Etchells.
All other cover artwork by Yanina Spizzirri, a Los Angeles-based artist and experimental prose editor at minor literature[s].
Roberto Bolaño, Collected Shopping Lists (Pickled Ore)
I was concerned that death had finally ceased the prodigious output of the Chilean maestro, but this 782 page monster shows that nothing as banal as mortality will halt him. Intense, lapidary and, at times, hallucinatory in its commitment to list-as-narrative, list-as-poem, list-as-memoir and list-as-list, nothing has more refreshed my appetite for literature this year. This beautiful edition (with full colour facsimile reproductions on the left hand page and English translations on the right) is a book which makes you ask the big questions—first and foremost, what did he do with all that Cif?
Güiłelmò Preêti Szabø, Paddling to Botswana (Words Without Warders)
It is an indictment of our Anglocentric culture that there has been not a single translation from Bislama published in English until now. The indie-minded WWW fills the yawning abyss of ignorance with this ethnopoetically rich and vocabularically diverse novel by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ rising literary star. Collaboratively translated by twenty-one emerging necrolinguists, no two of them working from or into the same language, GPS’s wanderlustful shipwreck survival guide is bound to put both her archipelagic origin and her paradisiacal destination on the map.
Burton Roberts, On Adversity (Blue Note)
Style is the man himself, and there is nothing more stylish than Roberts’s coherently bleak, eternally gloomy exercises in self-styling. His latest essayistic endeavour, uplifting in its disconsolateness, will make you acutely aware that your own melancholia is not worth the paper your Prozac prescription is printed on.
Sadiq Marxwell, 1917 Reasons to Celebrate (Sinistro)
This timely history of the Russian Revolution, the 101st to mark this year’s anniversary, is proof positive, if any was needed, of the supremacy of Communism and its intrepid fellow travellers. The occasional mass murder aside, the author proclaims from his North London barricade, the Revolution was the people’s act of love, and we must not let any subsequent minor excesses overshadow its achievements.
Brian Keighley, The Bleak, Grim North (Northern Press)
Paul Brexit, Haddaway and Shite (Soil)
Richard Smythe, A Duck-Pond Year (Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald)
Sharon Gravy, The (Arndale) Centre Will Not Hold (Minus)
Ben Strickland, What a 1970s Folk Horror Carry On! (Kinema)
Bleak Northern landscapes meet bleak Northern violence in Northern writer Brian Keighley’s debut The Bleak, Grim North — a grim, bleak and uncompromisingly Northern tale of forbidden love and horrific vengeance, set on the bleak North Yorkshire pub car park fighting circuit. As a London-based journalist, I found Keighley’s visceral descriptions of life, death and vernacular dialogue among the grim, bleak moorland farmsteads beyond Harrogate thrillingly accurate. The first in a planned quartet.
Equally visceral, Paul Brexit’s challenging Haddaway and Shite reconstructs the grisly sights, sounds and smells of North East England in 435AD — telling the violent story of a dwindling band of hard-drinking, hard-fighting Original Britons, as they wage a guerrilla war to save their authentic culture and Way of Life against invading Picts, Scots, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and the occasional Jute. Written in the author’s own reconstruction of Ancient Cumbric, it’s an uncompromising and gruelling read that held me gripped throughout its 815 pages. ‘Howay, man, and let’s gan up the toon,’ indeed.
Gentler, more lyrical fare was to be experienced in Richard Smythe‘s long neglected but now republished late 1950s classic of Cotswolds-based nature writing, A Duck-Pond Year. A lyrical, healing meditation on the reclusive author’s year-long study of — and eventual relationship with — a local waterfowl, it culminates with a lyrical and moving description of interspecies love. Robert MacFarlane described the book as ‘Lyrical’, and nobody argues with Robert MacFarlane.
Less lyrical, but just as elegiac, Sharon Gravy‘s kickstarter-funded The (Arndale) Centre Will Not Hold: The Death of a Post-War Shopping Consensus celebrates and mourns a radical 1960s social and architectural experiment, its shining lights now almost completely demolished or unsympathetically re-clad. Touring the sites of all twenty-three original Arndale Shopping Centres, including in her home town of Luton, Gravy mixes political manifesto, memoir, travel guide, social history, hard-hitting architectural critique and ruin-porn coffee table book to powerful effect. Jonathan Meades was moved to call the book ‘authentically working class’ (Owen Hatherley was not available to provide a quote).
Finally, Ben Strickley‘s What a 1970s Folk Horror Carry On! was (hopefully) the final word in re-excavating the (by now almost empty) shallow grave of that decade’s oddly over-praised ‘tits-and-flares’ weird rural horror movement. Refreshingly, part-time film-maker Strickley rejects the usual Alan Garner-Children of the Stones-Witchfinder General-Whicker Man-Spooky Public Information Film touchpoints, and instead roots his study in an investigation into the disastrous and long-hushed-up filming of the never-released ‘Carry On Up the Blood on Satan’s Claw’. Essential reading for anyone who hasn’t already grown bored of this sort of thing.
Gavin James Bower
John Bull, Maiden Briton (Octet Books)
It took me a while to get around to it but I couldn’t put down (or putdown) Maiden Briton, published by Octet Books. I think that’s right — I’m not very good with names…
Lena Errante, The Story of the Lost Letters (Campania Editions), translated from the Italian by E. F. Rose
An astonishing turn in the oeuvre of the popular Italian author, one that will surprise many of her devoted readers but will certainly please the linguists, the oulipoists, the typo-ists, the concrete poets, and anyone interested in the bricks-and-mortar of language, in the magic of the alphabet and in the spells of (mis)spelling. By omitting the initial letters from the names of the Neapolitan series’ key protagonists and, indeed, from herself, and by allowing, in a daring speculative move, those very letters to become characters, Errante boldly gestures toward an ultimate reductio of linguistic substratum, as language is stripped away to a bare substance of nothing. The nonsense dialogue of L and L fishing in Ischia, stylistically indebted to the traditional Neapolitan song O’ Guarracino yet skilfully revisited as a compelling critique of the gendered tropes of extra-linguistic utterance in local fishing communities, is only one example of Errante’s bravura.
No-one better than the editor of The Bibliographical Dictionary of Alphabetical Failure, E. F. Rose, to translate this highly singular work of linguistic jouissance. By appropriating the initial letters from the elusive Italian author’s name, a strong case is made for the translator as author, although one whose identity is in constant change, and has no domain proper (‘errante’ in Italian means ‘wandering’). Superb.
Sean-Louis Pennett, Bond (The Wrath of God Editions)
Collecting moments from the life of a retired Scottish actor living in a cottage on the Irish coast in County Connery, Bond is an astonishing debut. The retired actor, who had gained fame by playing a secret service agent with licence to kill, tries on ill-fitting suits, ceaselessly and frantically inspects the rooms in the cottage in search of bugs and microphones hidden behind paintings, underneath the control knobs of a stove, and among rotting fruit, muses on “the savage swarming magic of martinis shaken, not stirred”, finds his language beyond meaning in a communion with nature which is grounded in the everyday as much as in the eccentric, in the pitfalls and pleasures of retired life as he shoots cows and mice and tests malfunctioning mechanical contraptions in the fields, dispassionately embodying the mundane psychosis familiar to anyone who has ever spent too much time in the service of Her Majesty The Queen. “Simmering in the elastic gloom, you only live twice”.
VV.AA., Satan Is My Kickstarter (Inferno Books), with an introduction by I. M. Behemot
Here is the perfect Christmas present for young relatives who have been contemplating raising funds as a cover for family money laundering. Dr. Behemot has brought together a sharp collection of critical reflections by some key players in the field, such as I.M. Beelzebub, I.M. Lucifer, I.M. Baphomet, I.M. The Beast, organised in two sections, Satan Kicked My Art (Theory) and Satan Kicked My Cart (Practice). The chapter on how to sell your soul to the devil and start a literary magazine, Mock My Religion, penned by the editor of the volume, is particularly noteworthy, and spans literature and history from the beginning of Time. Includes a glossary of curses, maledictions and hexes to successfully dispose of competitors.
Thomas Mudd, Death in Venice (Cholera Books)
A retelling of the classic, written from the perspective of the polluted lagoon. Eco-apocalypse with angst.
People are always asking me: What are you reading? Is it any good? Why have you always got your nose in a book? Where’s my mum? What’s for dinner? And so on.
In any case, here are my top picks for adult readers:
Helga Applebee, Childhoods of the Russian Futurists (Nunsuch)
Renowned cloud trouser wearer Vladimir Mayakovsky and fellow travellers throw their dummies out of the pram and beg for more gruel in this onerous compendium. Tintypes of poets and provocateurs at their least developed. Riveting.
Prof. Dr. Anselmo Slytherin Salazar, Heteronominous Bosh? (Bacalhau com Natas)
Prof. Dr. Anselmo’s tireless research in the back alleys of Baixa has uncovered the story of one Lourdes Ludovico, a lost heteronym of the poet Fernando Pessoa, who comes not only with the usual family tree, astrological charts, list of grooming habits, breakfast preferences, and employment history, but also a fully instantiated life-sized doll, lovingly hand sewn and garmented by Pessoa himself. You can even visit the doll on display in Dona Carlota’s Hospital de Bonecas. Utterly beguiling.
For younger readers and children of all ages (which is surely not a compliment), I recommend:
Christabel Smythe, Darwin, Voyage of a Beagle (Seventh Seal)
Classic real life adventure tale takes an anthropomorphic turn. Inclement.
John Banville, Adrian Mole: The Haunting (Viking)
Banville seizes the reins and revisits Adrian’s childhood for the last installment. Harrowing and spotty.
Frobisher Woodsman, Survivalist Saturdays: Prepping with Papa (Black Sun)
A hapless father and his five unruly children attempt to learn a new skill each week (knot tying, fire starting, tea making) in an endearing but ultimately vain and fruitless attempt to fend off the coming darkness. Indispensible.
Andrew Robert Hodgson
Oran Histrian, A British History of the Now (Unicycling Gewalt Press)
This timely historiography of the British present provides an in-depth view into the living space of the British now. Delving into the realities of unstable political leadership, growing social inequality, community estrangement and a worrying cultural turn inwards that have come to typify Britain in 2017, or 1982, or Rivers of 1968, or 1945, or 1938, or 1920, or any British now, really. Histrian’s conclusion that the British are a “nation of shopkeepers” (pp. 856-857) might perhaps sound somehow familiar, perhaps, however the term definitively describes the character of Britain now, whichever now the reader might prefer.
Georges Perec, La Liste d’achats (Éditions Désespérée, 2017)
Following the recent discovery and ensuing publication of Perec’s, termed juvenilia, Le Condottière and L’Attentat de Sarajevo, I had not thought Perec’s oeuvre could so easily be recycled back further, however this astounding discovery brings new light to his better-known texts. A collection of receipts and shopping lists the publisher explains, “was found down the back of Harry Matthew’s sofa”, this collection brings the reader past Perec’s attempts at exhausting the everyday, to his everyday. His preference for Monop’ over Carrefour, and penchant for trout has not gone unnoticed. As the brilliant post-face by Professor Whosit Whatnow explains, “the collection provides a window by which Perec’s writing can be done away with entirely, leaving the reader to finally be able to ponder the dinners behind the veil of fiction”.
Critique Keating, The Pataphysical Invention of Everyone (Éditions Prochain Porcin, 2017)
In this fascinating progression of the on-going case of ‘is Dadaist Julien Torma real?’, Critique Keating puts forward newly discovered material revealing the true identities behind a number of lacunae within literary history. Drawing from a dry-cleaning ticket, an off-tuned piano in the concourse of Gare St. Lazare and a small Yorkshire terrier turned glossolal, Keating begins by finally revealing the true identity behind the Comte de Lautréamont, who was in fact, indeed, invented by none other than Alfred Jarry, who himself was invented by a postal worker in Meudon, who, on his deathbed, revealed his ruse to the attending doctor, Louis-Ferdinand Céline – who, Keating reveals, himself is a figment of Julien Torma’s imagination, dragged into external reality during a particularly violent cycle of REM.
This discourse lays the groundwork for the revelations of Keating’s pre-post-ante-face, in which he revelates that Torma himself is Keating’s own childhood imaginary friend who, having escaped the bathroom despite agreeing “for sure” not to, had now not only inserted himself, but a whole host of entirely unbelievable fictional characters into French Literature courses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Though, as the post-post-face to this fantastic addition to Julien Torma studies relevates, everyone and everything turns on a ballerina’s spindle inside Victor Hugo’s left inner-ear anyway.
Roy ‘Coiner’ Greaves, Coiner (Brekkie Press)
‘Ok kitten, I’ll tell you what was great about the seventies. Windows are never clean. Brown was the colour of relationships and death your pissed fast mother, haircuts settled on the growth, repair, mutation and error connection phase like fast tracked replication fucks and horny bunny guys and gals fed on zero gales where brawn and carnal flesh linked to bolt machines and sloe grease a million blood and sperm miles north of any ponce gym.’ That’s how the late Roy Greaves starts to tell his story as the last Coiner. Half man, half penny, his kind were the giants in an age of giants. Moving, oppressive, violent and full of hairy sex and ripped ass violence, this is the kind of memoir that lacerates and refuses to heal.
‘Caustic and vital, the North East’s Brekkie Press carries the candle yet again for brave publishing in the face of corporate venture capitalism’s attempt to cut off literature’s cock and tits’ – Stewart Home in the TLS
‘Yes, I agree’ – Will Self
Collin Falla, Meshwork Driving: No Left Turn (MIT Press)
Epistemologist Colin Falla introduces a new way of truck driving for the 21st century, abolishing the prim representational logic of postmodern Top Gear symbolism and metaphors for apocalyptic chaos desire and plastic motion. Falla argues that now is the time for a new discourse of driving performance and material behaviours, behaviours behind the wheel that synthesize heterogeneous elements to catalyse different styles via what he calls ‘autocatalytic looping’. No longer are we to wait for the cameras and the green lights to start before driving like a fascist gimp across linear highways of the cortex-spawned language of roads, streets, highways and the like. Falla insists the new petrolhead will be a wired electrical zombie no longer at the mercy of the billboards and neon signs of a rapidly archaic urban logic. She may never actually drive. What Falla sees is the emergence of non-equilibrium conditions which depend on the energy flows of the chaotic to orchestrate self-organising traffic regulatory processes.
‘The road and the driver’s relationship now is one of breakdown, an interlocking insane meshing of impossible behaviours, each element working at different speeds, moving in different directions, with no one element acting as a container for those that crystalise at a later point.’ A book that stares without blinking into a technological future world of consuming auto-crash that goes beyond gridlock to driverless car crash apocalypse. ‘Of course we’ll all die in this,’ is Falla’s rather downbeat conclusion.
‘Bummer’ – Noam Chomsky, NYROB
Glen Zipe, Pointless Woolie Flesh (Straddle-Me Press)
When the last Woolworth’s finally closed, the sexual playground of a haunted English eroticism was lost forever. Glen Zipes’s urgent little book recalls the misery of the strange pathologies of the grim mauve sadness and holiness of these sacrilegious shopping emporia. Zipes writes badly, and there are moments when it isn’t easy to separate his own state of mind from the worlds he describes. But there is a seedy love here, somewhere between murder and onanism, and we all know that that is the exact territory of our lonely essential significance. A book that can be compared to anything by the Charles Gatewood of Painless Steel and Weird Mardi Gras, the chapters on Swansea’s Woolworth nudist bikers ‘… in the aisles of biscuits and cupcakes, naked like the ice cold bodies of the Tierra del F, but swankier…’ and Nottingham’s tattoo weekend held in 1994 when 10,000 enthusiasts crowded the Woolies store over the two days, ‘… Psychic TV soundtrack blasting throughout the days, sizzling flesh and flowing ink, Annie Sprinkle, S/M on the boxes of McVities and Micky Sharpz spazzing to a celtic punk curd, someone screaming they’d lost a genital…’ , nearly redeem this rather sad, loathsome book. There’s something about the lost mundane drabness of shopping at Woolies that overlays all the erotic expenditure. Perhaps this is the book for our times, where a nation had to chose between a future that happens elsewhere and a past of apologies. As Zipe writes: ‘Woolworths was our collective transcendental church. When it closed down, luxury lost its meaning and poetry its commercial backdrop. Who really believes the City can hold us together now.’
‘Reminds us what we lose when cities are brought down to Thatcherite suburban scale. A Larkin for our last decade’ – Owen Hatherley
Chuck Margoolies, Lunch Boxes – The Noughties (Houdini Press)
Over 100 photographs of lunch boxes decorated with scenes from popular jelly dishes of the early 21st century. Updates the classic Lunch Box – The Fifties and Sixties by Scott Bruce. Shows the sad decline of our general culture since then. Trying to substitute Bonanza, Get Smart and The Jetsons with jelly food reveals how far we’ve declined. A subversive and frightening critique of the current crisis in the Humanities.
Val Dobson, Lube Gal (XZ Press)
When Slender Vine loses her job as a manifold sorter at the local dock, she turns to lube groceries to pay her rent. Scumbag landlords of various stripes get their fill of lube as Val turns destitution and ruin to her advantage. Within a decade she is Lube Gal, a femme nightmare dominating the night scum of Darklord City and its myth-dripping power-wizards. Elegant she ain’t. Fast talking, smoking hot and lubed to her brows, she brings underground communism to the immortal city via sex maniacal bilingualism, leaving crooks, priests, businessmen and saps croaking for her waltzing egalitarian pussy. ‘Come on Mr, there’s no one here now but you, me and Karl Marx. This is a city of loss and emptiness, and you’re the bluebottle. I’ve come to fill it up with socialist hope. Now let’s see you do something really tough, like pulling your jeans off while I collapse your bank with my quantum lube tube…’
‘Hard boiled futurism at the interface between porn and sci fi/fantasy. Sleaze has never been so smart’ – China Mievelle
Ray Slim, Farewell Myxomatosis (Bloomsbury)
A reworking of the Peter Rabbit stories, mixing social realism with zombie disease dystopia. After a century of Disneyfication, Slim returns rabbit literature to the adults. A hallucinatory labyrinthine plot revealing for the first time the subterranean and hideous forces grounding ‘Farmer’ McGreggor’s ghoul powers. Cannibalism for the eco-terrorist, deep as a green swamp drowning, written on psilocybin and nerve gas. Dark and primal.
‘Bolano meets Potter in Lovecraft’s potting shed’ – Philip Pullman, London Review of Books
James Triote, Surfing the Polar Bear (Kangaskin)
A reissue of the sensational book that was banned in the UK in the 70s and never resurfaced until now.
‘We’re living through the 6th extinction and not exploiting the possibilities. I’m here to change all that,’ claims explorer, playboy and billionaire socialite James Triote. His book gives his account of the ‘extinction excitement’ that he thinks most of us are avoiding through collective guilt and puritan repression. His advice throughout is for us not to avoid the horrors of the dying natural world. We caused it, have no idea how to stop it so we should co-opt it and turn it into a ‘last days of new Rome’ adventure playground of new sports and wild experiences. New sports he writes about include ‘Surfing the Polar Bear’ — literally surfing using starving polar bears as surf boards, ‘Rhino Horn Jousting’ and ‘Snow Leopard Paw-boules’. After the initial feeling that this was all wrong, I found myself warming to the decadence. The message is clear: overcome disgust by embracing it. Timely.
‘This is the most truthful book I have ever read. Reads like a novel I would have liked to write. The psychopathology of the late twentieth century written in the hallucinatory prose of De Sade infused with the dream nightmare landscapes out of Dali’ – JG Ballard, New Statesman, June 1978
Naomi Andersen, The Lake of the Critical Condition (Cult Fictions)
A tour de force, The Lake of the Critical Condition is destined to become a classic. Living during the age of uncertainty, Lily Liliana succumbs to a mysterious illness. Her visits to the lake off the M1 become a meditation on the nightmares that plague our world. From the plight of refugees, to the pervasive inequality which has brought us a homeless epidemic, foodbanks, children suffering from malnourishment and long vanished Victorian illnesses, to tax havens, Brexit and plastic fantastic culture, the pernicious effects of which can be seen on the lake, her thoughts leave no stone unturned, and are poignantly summarised when she begins to make pithy altruist memes which become viral.
As her mysterious illness begins to subside, concrete poetry emerges from the lake as a kind of subtle vapour which then morphs into a swarm of birds which then fly through a few memorable pages in which playful typography disrupts and dissolves current fascist narratives. A labyrinth of echoes of many voices, there is a soft irony as Andersen swims through thriller, adventure, horror and romance genres, while delighting in homage, pastiche, re-mix and appropriation. Referencing The Altruist Meme throughout, wittily recording and expanding on the societal paradigm shift that is taking place, The Lake of the Critical Condition is an enchanting and urgent call to dream a better world, empowering us with an inspiring vision of the future. Naomi Andersen is a compelling innovator. And this is a marvellous book: the last pages are likely to leave you with a lingering smile.
Tenisha Brambler, Hardballs
The third in a projected series of 14 volumes, Hardballs is basically a reprint of its predecessor, Hardbals, and yet another unfortunate stunt by the publisher. With the blank affect of a Jennifer Egan novel and the outre shenanigans of mid-era Benny Hill, Hardballs’s numerous blank pages, reverse-type layout, and other textual nonsense add up to something decidedly less than zero.
Hubert Homs (misspelled “Homes” on the front jacket), The Jans
Advance reading copies of this novel came packaged, unfortunately, in what smelled like cat-micturated-in boxes. And — in the printing this reviewer received, at least — there were mis-paginated and missing pages. Despite these drawbacks, the book has a certain magnetism and allure, tracing a librarian’s obsessive quest for the perfect JAN due date stamp with regards to kerning, ligature, and alignment.
Jazmine Moor, HSac
HSac (human sacrifice) is the first such novel, we think, to be set in Knoydart, the Highlands. Although it has drawn comparisons to The Wicker Man (1973) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011), Hsac is even yet more restrained, and thus more terrifying. The 25-page flaying scene sits at the centre of the novel, whose spirals are dizzying.
This year I have been finishing a novel of my own, so I have really caught up on my reading and Minecraft. At last I have been able to get around to Oliver Pierce’s disturbing psychogeographical novel Murder Boards (Panhandler), a non-sequential, stream-of-consciousness exploration of the rippling consequences of a London missing persons investigation, which digresses about halfway into an elegy for closed pubs in the East End. I can’t say I fully understood or finished it, but I will be pretending that I did and recommending it to people for the foreseeable future. Pierce subsequently published the surprise autobiographical bestseller Night Traffic, and then completely disappeared, which is to say, stopped using Twitter.
In non-fiction, I found Hugo Pleasance’s pop-sociology smash hit Will This Do: The Surprising Science of Adequacy (Airside Smiths) to be a smooth, unobjectionable reading experience, containing at least three instances when a thought kind of occurred to me. Pleasance’s thesis is that exceptional performance in any field actually isn’t the norm, when you come to think about it, and that mostly people find acceptable results are more than enough to go along with, given the time, and that’s as far as the thesis goes, but it’s interesting in itself, when you come to think about it. It has sold two million copies, and I bought eight to give as gifts to people I don’t know very well.
But the book that made by far the biggest impression on my year was Jennifer Wimsey-Cannon’s Parp Parp Parp Parp (Noisy Duck). This illustrated tale of a farting elephant who is rejected by his herd but finds acceptance in a brass band is an exercise in Oulipo for the under-eights, consisting only of the repeated word ‘parp’. It has become a firm bedtime favourite in our house, having been requested every night since March. On no account buy this book or accept it as a gift. This Christmas we will be giving our little ones the Dark YouTube Annual 2018 (Deepmind), which looks back over the year’s best inexplicable, disturbing, algorithmically generated, horror-tinged videos for the under-supervised young browser, containing such highlights as Paw Patrol Salo Mastermix and the unforgettable Finger Family Abattoir W0W.
All cover artwork (except Susana Medina and Nicholas Rombes’s entries) by Yanina Spizzirri, a Los Angeles-based artist and experimental prose editor at minor literature[s].