I had high-minded ideals at the start of this year, hoping to linger more on larger books. It didn’t quite work out like that. I read a couple of longer books this year, most notably Alan Moore’s epic Jerusalem, but generally I haven’t found the time to read more in-depth. I have however, been sharing the articles and things I’ve enjoyed more through my newsletter.
In terms of writing, I haven’t done as much as I would have liked either. The follow-up short story collection hasn’t materialised. I made a massive life change this year, leaving my job and moving to a new city, so a lot of time has been taken up by that. I’m hoping to do better next year, in terms of reading and writing.
Anyway, onwards onto the best stuff of the year. Let’s start with books, because books are great.
I had thought I hadn’t read much non fiction this year, but a quick look at my GoodReads list proves that I was wrong. The non-fiction book that has been essential to my thinking this year was Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. How could it not be? With the world falling apart outside, I need a history of protest more than ever, especially when the current protests don’t have immediate effects. Solnit’s writing is lyrical and wonderful as she masterfully describes the struggles of direct action but also the importance of keeping hope alive. The book is an island of sanity in a world of madness.
Also Recommended: The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shulka, which made me realise I need to shut up and listen more. Written by 21 black, Asian and minority ethnic voices it tackles the barely hidden racism lurking in British society. It feels hugely important right now, especially with the forces of xenophobia and closed-minded nationalism on the rise due to Brexit. Every essay is passionately argued, but I especially liked Salena Godden’s powerful and lyrical essay Shade.
Jerusalem is like nothing I’ve every read, but I think Phillip Pullman’s The Book of Dust was my favourite story I read this year. Very much the first part of a trilogy, the story is a welcome return to the universe of Northern Lights. Pullman develops the original world and expands upon it, adding in all manner of strange and supernatural elements. Like the original His Dark Materials trilogy, this is children’s fiction that does not patronise children and is stronger than most adult fiction. The characters are so well drawn, there is a constant state of danger and the threat of real violence as well as a subtle probing of the mysteries of the multiverse. As it’s a prequel, you sort of know where it is going but the suspense remains high and it still manages to surprise and delight. I can’t wait to read the next installments.
Also recommended: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North. Hope is a woman who vanishes from your memory minutes after she leaves you. North runs with this premise so well, exploring every angle whilst creating a tense, powerful thriller. it works on many levels, as a superhero story, as a comment on our current obsession with ‘perfection’ and as a feminist allegory and an exploration of freedom and slavery. It’s fantastic.
This year has been a real bumper year for music. From the Flaming Lips’ strange heady Oczy Mlody to Los Campesinos’ fun but devastating Sick Scenes, really think we have been spoilt with the range and diversity of good music this year. Like 2016, returning artists only grew stronger.
If I had to pick one album, it would be Public Service Broadcasting’s Every Valley. Exploring the collapse of the mining industry in Wales, the album remains hopeful and positive even in the face of disaster. It expands Public Service Broadcasting’s sound beyond voice clips and music to include specially recorded singers and is all the better for it. It’s an album that is rooted in humanity and makes history personal. I’ve listened to it more than any other album this year.
Also Recommended; Mogwai’s Every Country’s Sun and LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream.
I don’t watch a lot of TV. I rambled on about it earlier this year. So it seems strange to devote a whole category to it. I will make rare exceptions to explore box-sets and I really wanted to talk about this show as it has been one of my best pop-culture experiences this year. I devoured all of Twin Peaks, starting with the original two seasons and then enjoying the immense, beguiling strangeness of Twin Peaks: The Return. It is a series that both rewards viewers for paying attention whilst also confounding their narrative expectations. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The series has a refreshing surreality to it, being terrifying in places without you ever really knowing why, whilst also exploring the liminality between worlds. The Return especially has some of the most striking and disturbing scenes ever put to film. Do I know what it’s all about? Absolutely not, But the experience is so rich and rewarding, so emotionally effecting, that the ride is so worth it.
So here’s where I make some plans for next year which will inevitably be proved wrong. I’d like to read more non-fiction books, alternating between fiction and non fiction if possible. I’d like to share more things I enjoy in my newsletter, whilst hopefully expanding its readership. In terms of writing, I’d like to keep this blog up and hopefully publish that book of short stories. Maybe a poetry book as well.
Will any of this actually happen? Who knows! I’d like it to, but this year has proven more than anything else I am not brilliant at making predictions. It has also shown me that some art just takes time. You can’t rush to the end. There are no shortcuts and sometimes creating a work of art takes a while.
See you in the new year!