Friday, 25 December 2009

Books of the year

Everyone else does it, so here's ten books I read this year I would recommend... I wouldn't say they were my favourite books of the year (I published those ones) and they are in no particular order. Just ones that come to mind.
Deer Hunting with Jesus: guns, votes, debt and delusions in Redneck America by Joe Bargean (Portobello). Anyone reading this would have known the sub-prime market would collapse. See? One book could have saved the world's economy. Read this and weep. Yup, fucked over, heavily armed, anti-union... this lot will vote Palin for President if they get the chance.

Edward Carpenter: a life of liberty and love by Sheila Rowbotham (Verso). The big biography of the most interesting of sandal wearers, a socialist, a vegetarian, an adult education lecturer, a believer in “dress reform” and feminism who lived in an openly gay relationship near Chesterfield at a time when such things were considered impossible.

Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War by Daniel Gray (Luath). This is the book that told me that in my home town workers took over a knitwear factory to make clothes for Spanish people and ran it as a co-op. Didn't learn that in school.

Every Secret Thing: my family, my country by Gillian Slovo (Virago). A re-read here, in prep for interviewing the author at Lowdham Book Festival. The family in question were Joe Slovo, who became a cabinet member in Mandela's government and Ruth First, assassinated by the apartheid regime.

Who was Sophie? by Celia Robertson (Virago). Celia's search to find out what had happened to “Sophie”, her grandmother, once a poet published by the Hogarth Press, who became a bag lady on the streets of Nottingham.
Cello by Frances Thimann (Pewter Rose). A book of short stories by a new press in Nottingham. Delightful cover, elegiac short stories about old age.

Writers on Islands edited by James Knox Whittett (Iron Press). An anthology by mostly well known writers about the islands around the coast of Britain and Ireland, including Kathleen Jamie, JM Synge, George MacKay Brown and many more. Lots of good short pieces.

Cold Granite by Stuart Macbride (Harper Collins). McBride's first tartan noire book, set in Aberdeen. Mentions many of my old haunts and it is good to know that police still feel unsafe visiting the Fersands estate where I used to live!

The One That Got Away by Zoe Wicomb (The New Press, USA). Internet only for this one for the moment, short stories set in South Africa and Glasgow, mostly with South African characters. One story, “N2” is near perfect.

Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair (Hamish Hamilton, but due out in paperback in February). A rag bag, mishmash, rattle bag of Sinclair's usual concerns featuring a cast of the missing, the eccentric, the fictional, the even more unlikely factual.

There are probably others that would have been top tenners that I've forgotten, loaned out, returned to libraries, misplaced, but this seems a good enough selection. It was a good reading year, despite the misery in the book trade. Five of the ten were written by women and (phew) six were from independent presses.

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