So 2012 is almost over and those advent calendar doors are being eagerly opened as the countdown to the festive season has officially begun (much to the glee of this writer!). While December is mostly about looking forward to Christmas, it is also the perfect time to look back on the year that has been. 2012 has had a wealth of literary wonders, from stunning photography hardbacks to stylish literary novellas and all in between. There are too many to pick out individually so the publicity team have all racked their brains, and the shelves behind their desks, and come up with their top books of 2012.
The Lighthouse (Salt Publishing)
When choosing our top picks for 2012, Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse was the obvious choice. Even before it was short-listed for the coveted Man Booker Prize, the slim volume had most of the office gripped and arguing over the possible interpretations of that elusive ending. This eerily haunting tale follows Futh on a walking holiday, his melancholy journey described in taut and gripping prose that well deserves the many accolades that have been heaped upon it.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore 9781907773174 p/b £8.99
Colour Me Good: Ryan Gosling (I Love Mel)
Words cannot explain how much glee the arrival of this rather lovely colouring book caused. Gathering glowing press in droves, this collection of line drawings of Ryan Gosling in various alluring poses will inspire flights of fancy and cheer up the dullest day.
Colour Me Good: Ryan Gosling by Mel S. Elliot 9780957314832 p/b £7.50
Remembering Che (Ocean Press)
One of my favourite books of 2012, this is a beautiful ode to the man behind the legend, written by his wife Aleida. A bittersweet love song for both Che and Cuba, this opened my eyes to a whole new side of the iconic Cuban rebel. Aleida tells the story of her life with Che, from their first meeting to the shocking events surrounding his death. A must read for any Che fans.
Remembering Che by Aleida March 9780987077936 p/b £12.99
And what I’m about most excited about for next year:
It has to be from the new imprint Pulp! The Classics, which gives some of my favourite books like Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Pride and Prejudice a pulp makeover with some stylish original cover art. (Find out more.)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip (Angel City Press)
A rock fan’s heaven, this gorgeous full-colour coffee-table book swaggers down the music world’s coolest street: Sunset Boulevard. Photographer Robert Landau has been recording the iconic billboards that lined the Sunset Strip since The Doors kicked-off with the first jumbo-sized advertisement in 1967. Perfectly chartering modern rock music’s hey-day, Landau has interviewed the artists, record producers and designers behind the artwork of famous acts such as the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees. Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip reveals the fascinating, often quirky, tales behind the giant artworks and uniquely documents the era when counterculture went mainstream. Capturing the buzz of the most exciting decades of rock music, this stunning visual history is perfect gift material for music aficionados and pop art lovers. Rock on!
Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip by Robert Landau 9781883318390 h/b £35.99
Cozy Classics (Simply Read Books)
I can’t help but love love love the Cozy Classics series by Jack & Holman Wang, published by Simply Read. Published with the tagline, “Give a kid a classic,” so far they have come out with Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice, with Les Miserables and War and Peace in the works. These books are a unique way to introduce definitive literary works to children before they can even hold up their own heads. And while I’m sure babies will be captivated by the extraordinarily detailed felt creations that are so stunningly photographed, these books actually appeal more to adults. Not that I wish to discount the brilliance and effort of the authors who brought us some of our best-known and best-loved classics, but in this day and age, who needs thousands and thousands of words when you can enjoy the experience of a story in a series of images accompanied by only 12 words?
Cozy Classics: Moby Dick by Jack & Holman Wang 9781927018118 h/b £6.99
Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jack and Holman Wang 9781927018125 h/b £6.99
The Little Book of Little Gardens (Dokument Press)
Sticking with the visual, I really loved Steve Wheen’s The Little Book of Little Gardens. As you may have read in our recent blog post, Steve started his project as a way to raise awareness about the dangers – and ugliness – of potholes. He has become a smashing success, inspiring pothole gardeners around the world to bring a little bit of extra beauty to the cities in which they live. His new book documents these gardens, ensuring his temporary creations receive the permanent attention they deserve.
The Little Book of Little Gardens by Steve Wheen 9789185639540 h/b £9.99
Ulysses: Remastered (Music Ireland Press)
Because I don’t only enjoy classics in picture book format! The critics were a bit concerned about this book, in which Robert Gogan has taken James Joyce’s groundbreaking magnum opus – often regarded as the greatest book in the English language – and added in helpful punctuation and paragraph breaks to help distinguish between the narrative and the characters’ inner monologues. Some argue that this takes away from Joyce’s original intent, but I say it’s a good thing for those of us who have tried and failed to get past the first few chapters. If it brings literature to the masses, it must be a good thing! Although don’t get me wrong… It’s been months and I’m still wading my way through its 650 pages.
Ulysses: Remastered by Robert Gogan 9780955097447 p/b £12.99
The Boy in the Suitcase – Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
A bestselling fantasy writer and an up-and-coming children’s author wouldn’t seem like the most obvious pairing to write a gritty Scandinavian crime novel about European human trafficking, among other things, but that’s exactly what Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis did when they teamed up to create The Boy in the Suitcase. A bestselling series in its native Denmark, in early 2012 Soho Press brought out this first title and introduced readers to a compelling and at times disturbing story about a 3 year old boy discovered drugged, and barely alive, in a suitcase left in a Copenhagen train station. Darkly original, and starring a compassionate and vulnerable protagonist who leaves an impression long after you’ve put the book down, it’s not hard to see why this book was nominated for the same Glass Key award ultimately won by the don of Scandinavian crime, Stieg Larsson. The sequel, Invisible Murder will be out in January.
Soho Press, 9781616950996, p/b, £8.99
Pure – Timothy Mo
Timothy Mo’s first new novel in 12 years was massively anticipated, and the three-time Booker nominated novelist didn’t disappoint. Energetic, satirical and at times provocative, Pure won plaudits from reviewers and readers alike for its daring and unabashed narrative about an eclectic Thai Ladyboy, Snooky, who gradually gets sucked into the terrifying world of Islamic fundamentalism. What I found most extraordinary about the novel is the way it takes a topic that most writers wouldn’t dare touch with a 10-foot bargepole and holds it up for satire, and even ridicule, without detracting from the seriousness of the issues and situations depicted. It also helps that it’s beautifully written, as readers are whisked from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the Philippines to the bookish halls of an Oxford college presided over by an elderly spymaster don.
Turnaround Books, 9781873262795, h/b, £16.99
The Story of My Assassins – Tarun J. Tejpal
Continuing my general theme of gushing about novels set in exotic (or, at least, non-British) locations, I couldn’t talk about my favourite titles of the year without writing about Tarun J. Tejpal’s extraordinary book The Story of My Assassins. You know that anything that begins with “The morning I learnt that I’d been shot …” is going to be good, and this launches a breathless narrative about a journalist trying to piece together why five men were apprehended on the way to kill him. Tejpal writes with a brutal honesty, casting a frank yet sympathetic eye on modern India in all its forms, depicting extreme poverty and obscene wealth. It’s pretty clear the author, a well-known investigative journalist, knows his material, too – during his UK visit in September he casually talked about death threats and 24-hour police protection as if he were telling an amusing anecdote.
Melville House, 9781612191621, h/b, £17.99
Drawn Together – Robert & Aline Crumb
And now for something completely different! Everyone knows R. Crumb as the unapologetic, dirty granddaddy of the alternative comics world, while his wife Aline is an important (and equally filthy) figure on the scene herself. In Drawn Together, “the world’s only cartooning couple” form an unholy alliance to show readers the ins-and-outs of decades of married life – and they don’t leave much to the imagination! They both draw their own characters and write their own dialogue, so it really does feel like a joint labour of freaky love penned with hilariously unexpected yet touching honesty. Be warned though – the cover’s not lying when it says ‘shocking material for adults only!’ – although the images aren’t as graphic as you’ll find elsewhere in underground comics, it somehow seems a little bit realer when you know it’s two people drawing themselves!
Knockabout, 9780861661787, h/b, £22.99