Staff picks of 2014
Over the year we have seen a lot of books. From the new arrivals that we anxiously grabbed from the warehouse as soon as they arrive to the old classics that have been revamped this year, hundreds have passed over our desks. We’ve raved about them to journalists and friends and so as Christmas approaches, I asked my fellow five members of marketing to reflect on their favourite books of 2014.
As a group, our literary tastes span a lot of genres, from literary fiction to manga to music to niche photography and so the choices below are an eclectic bunch. If you’re searching for the perfect literary present or are simply intrigued to see what we liked, read on…
Francis Plug – How To Be A Public Author by Paul Ewen (Galley Beggar)
My fiction book of the year was never going to be in doubt. Francis Plug, a chaotic, alcoholic, aspiring ‘public author’ presents his guide to becoming a success in the literary world; appearing at launches clutching purloined first editions and drinking the complimentary wine by the bottle (and frequently from it). If you work in the book industry you will recognise more than you’d hope to. The extended sequence at the Hay Festival not only nails it (with affection), but provides one of the most bizarre and hilarious sequences I’ve ever read, during which Plug attempts to lull an imagined giant squid to sleep by singing ‘Sex On Fire’ to it, before going on to spread a rumour that Ruth Rendell has killed a man. This is a faultless comic performance from one of today’s most promising novelists.
The Weirdness By Jeremy P. Bushnell (Melville House)
Have you ever suspected that Powerpoint might be an invention of the devil? And that chain coffee shops might be a bit more sinister than they appear? Yeah, me too. Jeremy Bushnell’s The Weirdness is a surreal, labyrinthine and very funny takedown of the ‘deal with the devil’ story. The novel’s hero, Billy Ridgway, is offered something every young writer secretly dreams of: a bestseller. All he has to hand over is his eternal soul… he figures all the great artists eventually do it anyway, so why not sell out now? Unfortunately, the deal turns out to be a little more complex than he first imagined…
Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 2 by Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
In the second volume of this block-rockin’ series, Piskor captures the flavour of early-‘80s NYC in panels bursting with obsessively authentic detail. Captured are the vivid personalities of stars like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy, as well as a bunch of upstarts from Compton who would later form NWA. On top of all that, there are cameos from LL Cool J, Notorious B.I.G. and even New Kids on the Block… This series is a superb example of how to tell a great story in a dynamic and fresh way. Volume 3 is scheduled for next year; I can’t wait.
Jaybird By Laurie & Jaakko Ahonen (Dark Horse)
In a strong year for creator-owned graphic novels, Jaybird, the debut offering from Finnish duo Laurie and Jaakko Ahonen, stands out with its evocative melancholy, muted colours and a brave (yet doomed) bird protagonist. Not only does Jaybird spin a great yarn, it also looks beautiful with autumnal colours and a simple brushstroke style; spare dialogue adds to a chilly atmosphere. For fans of gothic drama, this might just be the perfect tome to snuggle up with over the festive season.
It might be weird to have a crush on two-dimensional humans – but I do. And so I was always going to be biased when The Love Bunglers brought Maggie and Hopey back into my life, ten years after I discovered them and over thirty since Jaime Hernandez first created them. The Love Bunglers focuses on Maggie and her backstory. It’s brilliant and it’s terrible, and it fills the gaps we’ve been wondering about all these years. It also continues the story of Maggie and her on/off love interest Ray. But never fear! Hopey is in there too, now living with her girlfriend and their misfit kid. And it wouldn’t be the same without Vivian Frogmouth and Angel Rivera. The Love Bunglers is full of hilarity and optimism, violence and sadness. Basically, it’s a total knockout of a book and without a doubt the best thing I’ve read all year.
ICON Edited by Amy Scholder (Feminist Press)
Not only does this anthology feature writing from some of my heroes, it’s also really, really good. It’s a collection of essays in which today’s most fascinating writers give a private view on a public person. Highlights include Mary Gaitskill’s musings on Deep Throat porn star Linda Lovelace, Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s smart, sassy, and poignant account of an obsession with model Karen Graham, and Le Tigre’s Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. Put together, the nine essays read like intensely intimate splinters of biography that you kind of want to pass on to everyone you know but also keep to yourself at the same time.
This is FUN. Even though exclamation marks in fiction make me really cranky, you can’t help but like this. A take on lesbian pulp fiction from the 50’s and 60’s, Dolly Dingle is the story of a failed actress who spends her time mostly drunk and waking up in strange beds with voluptuous women. Realizing she is too old for this lifestyle (at the mere age of thirty-something), Dolly takes on the responsibility of making sure everything runs smoothly at the Magdalena Arms Residence for Women. But as Christmas approaches, she finds herself distracted by two very different, very hot residents. I am a huge fan of lesbian pulp and admit to being a bit dubious about a contemporary version. But it’s great. If I had to live at the Magdalena Arms Residence for Women, I wouldn’t be too upset about it.
I cannot get enough of this series. Initially it was the art by long-time favourite of mine and co-creator of The Runaways: Adrian Alphona that drew me to it. But it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the series had much more to offer beyond Alphona’s wonderfully quirky and stylish art. When you have a cast of characters as diverse and engrained in popular culture as the Marvel Universe, it’s hard for a newbie to stand out. Yet, G. Willow Wilson has managed to create a character who has the potential player to be a standout for years to come. Beyond being Marvel’s first Muslim superhero to headline their own book, super-hero fangirl Khamala Khan is shaping up to be the Spider-Man of this generation (the hero who could be you) as she tries to balance the new challenges brought on by her polymorphic abilities alongside the trials and tribulations of high school and a strict family life.
It was a great source of sadness to me this year to learn that this series was coming to an end. It is hard to think of another example of superhero comedy being done so well. During Doctor Octopus’ dark era of proving to the world he was the Superior Spider-Man, this title was a shining source of levity. All while being about super-villains! In the absence of a legitimate Sinister Six, Boomerang elects to fill the void leading a team consisting of Shocker, Speed Demon, the Beetle and Overdrive. Doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence does it! Being down one member after their first encounter with the Superior Spider-Man isn’t much help either! What follows is a desperate race to the top of the New York underworld by any means necessary whether it be possessing the head of Silvermane, a painting of Victor Von Doom or by flat out betrayal. All while making enemies with major players: The Owl and The Chameleon. Nick Spencer pulled off the impossible by making me care for a group of unscrupulous D-List villains who have little to no redeeming qualities and pulling it off in hilarious fashion. Whether it be Mach VII realising the pitfalls of his rather unwieldy costume or the Owl’s shocking tale of the Man-Bull, I don’t think there was an issue that didn’t cause me to laugh out loud. Props also to artist Steve Lieber whose imaginative and quirky style is a perfect match for Spencer’s witty writing. If you’re after something different in the Marvel universe, I can’t recommend this series enough.
The Archie series has been running for over 60 years. Therefore, you’d think any twist on the formula would be unnecessary. However, we must thank whoever thought of crossing the undead over with Riverdale as it has resulted in one of the best horror comics currently available. After his beloved canine Hot dog is killed by a car, Jughead begs Sabrina the Teenage Witch to bring him back to life. She agrees, but the consequences are dire. Hot Dog returns as a zombie and kills his owner. You can probably guess what happens next. Archie must band together with survivors including Betty and Veronica to try and escape the zombie apocalypse that has gripped Riverdale. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa must be given credit as he manages to keep these characters recognisable despite the horrific circumstances they suddenly find themselves in. The dead rising isn’t enough to stop the 60 year plus love triangle of Archie, Betty and Veronica. But what really blew me away was the art by current comic industry superstar Francesco Francavilla (Dark Horse’s Black Beetle, Marvel’s Hawkeye). Placing the light-hearted world of Archie into a horror setting was never going to be easy, but Francavilla has helped create one of the creepiest looking comics on the shelf and at the same time turned in some of the best art of his career. Regardless whether you are an Archie fan or horror fan, you need to check this out.
The Shoujo genre is a rather busy category in the manga world. As a result, it can be quite difficult for some series to get noticed often overcompensating in certain areas to its own detriment. Thankfully, this is a series very grounded in reality and all the better for it. High-school student Mei Tachibana has written off the idea of having friends or relationships after some unpleasant experiences in her early years. One day, a misunderstanding leads to her landing a kick to the face of the school heartthrob Yamato Kurosawa who takes it upon himself to befriend the isolated Mei and bring her out of her shell. This series was a welcome break from the other entries in my action orientated reading list. Kanae Hazuki has created some highly likable and believable protagonists who make a welcome change from the more zany characters in this genre. Add some wonderfully delicate art also from Hazuki and you have one of the best shoujo titles currently available.
The thing about reading Rookie is that you start out looking at pictures of shoes and you end up being better informed about the state of homophobia in modern America and the complex psychology surrounding eating disorders. Giving a slick summary of what Rookie is or does is difficult, if only because it feels like it has bought a new genre with it into the world. A magazine by and for teenage girls, it is best contextualised as the pop cultural heir of the fanzines popularised during the heyday of punk. Well, that and the high-production-quality fashion magazines like Teen Vogue. And perhaps the ‘Dear Abby’ advice columns. The Rookie Yearbooks (1, 2 and 3 – all available from Turnaround) collect the best features from the online magazine into one, beautifully bound volume, the ‘cut and paste’ aesthetic style of which simultaneously references the frenetic, collaged art of punk and a current teenage girls Instagram page.
Rookie is truly one of those rare pop cultural happenings; spend an hour poring over it and you’ll leave feeling like art and music and politics are as exciting and relevant and vital as they’ve ever been, and that you are a part of it all and should really get cracking on that creative project you’ve been putting off. Also – there are stickers! I’m still not over this even though it’s been a few months since I first saw the physical copies of Rookie Yearbook 3. A beautifully produced magazine about politics, sexism, art, music and books – complete with a sheet of quality gemstone and lipstick stickers. Finally!
Ahh, another of the books that I intend to bulk buy in the lead up to Christmas and press feverishly into the hands of everyone in the target age range in my life (four to eight year olds, in this case). Succinctly, Pearl Power is a picture book that tells the story of four year old Pearl’s refusal to take playground bullies telling her that she ‘does things like a girl’ as an insult. ‘You run like a GIRL’ someone will sneer, ‘why thank you!,’ Pearl will reply. Her unruffled replies to casual sexism should be taken as an inspiration to us all. Plus, the highly stylised bold, scribbly, artwork makes it look very much like a classic in the making.
I feel the title alone is enough to show how good this one is. It is, literally, a step by side guide about how to knit. It is also beautifully presented, funny and portable – perfect for whipping out when trying to finish off knitting a Christmas present scarf on the tube while on the way to meet the person whose present it is. (We’ve all been there – right guys? Guys?)
2014 will henceforth be known as the year that I learned to cook, and therefore I wanted to select an inordinate number of cookbooks for this, as that’s what I’ve spent most of my time reading. (Seriously – can anyone recommend anything to me that doesn’t have lots of pictures of food in it?) I’ll just leave it to the one, and truly it’s the one that stands out the most. This cookbook also doubles up as an art book with a bit of comedy to boot. It’s Rapper’s Delight: The Hip Hop Cookbook(Dokument Press), which you may already recognise from its reign over nearly every UK reviews outlet – from The Telegraph to The Mail Online to Metro– all of which seem to have featured the book in one way or another. Take one part classic hip hop artist, throw in a good sprinkling of cheesy puns (mmmm, puns!) and mix it all together with inspired culinary know-how and colourful, spot-on artwork and design from dozens of artists around the world. What do you get? Tasty, tasty recipes like Wu-Tang Clam Chowder, LL Cool Souflé and Snoop Stroganoff. Personal favourite? Tiramisu Elliot. How did these guys know to mix together my favourite dessert with my favourite rapper?
Like many a dreaded millennial, I tend to fetishise the 1960s and talk about how great it would have been to be at Woodstock! As I get a bit older I realise that I’m perhaps a bit too uptight (and hygienic!) to be a hippie… but I can still take showers that AND wear flowers in my hair at Field Day. But I still feel like I’ve missed out on something. Cue glorious tome Woodstock (Reel Art Press). Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman’s evocative photos are published here for the first time, focussing more on the crowd and general goings-on than the acts themselves (perfect for me, ‘cause I’ve already got the director’s cut of Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music and have seen the performances). Woodstock founder/creator Michael Lang is also interviewed, and the foreword by Carlos Santana, whose Woodstock performance is the stuff of legend, really takes you there! This is one of those coffee table books that is worthy of far more than being a glorified coaster!
And finally, my not-so-secret bonus favourite book of the year has got to be Who Did It? (pow!), which teaches kids a few lessons about bodily functions (sneezing, burping, farting, pooing and peeing) – some more taboo than others! – explaining what they are, why they shouldn’t cause embarrassment and how to deal with them. Why do I love this book? Because I’m ACTUALLY a 12-year-old masquerading as a marketing manager who is yet to outgrow or cease to appreciate the merits of scatological humour. I’ve already bought this for my 3-year-old sister!
Ah another year and so many books. Having asked everyone to pick their favourite books of 2014, I turned to my shelf to peruse the tomes stacked up there, and attempt to pick some favourites.
While my colleague Tom may have already bagsied writing about Francis Plug (Galley Beggar), I had to mention it anyway, no other book has made us collapse into hysterical laughter at our desks as we reminisced about our favourite parts of the book (probably Francis’ hilarious misadventures at Hay Festival, involving a field, a murder and Ruth Rendell). Along with Clara, I must also mention the wonderful Rookie. It looks beautiful and it talks about life for teenage girls in a way that doesn’t make me seethe with anger about the blatant sexism. Indeed, in a gloriously alliterative fashion, it is fun, fascinating and feminist.
The novel that I recommended to all my friends was For Once in My Life (Text Publishing). For all you Londoners in your 20s afflicted by millennial angst about who you are, what you’re doing and who you’re dating, this funny and charming book about two soulmates who just haven’t met yet is a breath of fresh air.
The very snapchat worthy Guide to Troubled Birds (Blue Rider Press), was another that had us chuckling at our desks. We gleefully perused the pictures of some very angry and vicious looking birds, all with worrying gleams of malice in their eyes. Picking a favourite page is hard but i think it might be this one…
The book that I now know inside out and still has the ability to make me chuckle is Rupert Smith’s Interlude. From my first read through when it was still in manuscript form to seeing Rupert captivate a crowd in a cold Dalston basement, this book is still drawing me in and making me laugh with its sharp commentary and flawed but fascinating characters.
Those lovely Germans, Bruno Gmunder, were involved in publishing Red Hot 100, a collection of photographs of red headed men, taken by popular photographer Thomas Knights. Having hair of a ginger tinge myself, I very much appreciate the sentiment that red hair is something to be admired not teased and this gorgeous coffee table book definitely proves that red can be hot.
And finally for the title alone, how can you not love The Manly Art of Knitting (Gingko Press)? The cover features a cowboy knitting atop a horse and it is filled with knitting patterns to encourage men to take up the needles. Finally a present for my oh so difficult to buy for father?