2016 has been a tremendous year for books (thankfully, because it’s proved pretty poor on most other counts). Over the last twelve months our publishers have delivered consistently rad titles, from debut novels, to comics, to art and photography books, to all kinds of amazing genre fiction. We’re lucky in that the publishers we work with have been working hard to inject diversity into the industry; their efforts have resulted in some of the most daring, original and acclaimed book releases of the year. It’s been a tough job narrowing it down to our favourites, but here, in no particular order, are the books we’ve enjoyed the most throughout the year…
It’s possible I read this before 2016 but I’m calling it a book of the year because I’ve not stopped thinking about it. I spend a lot of time reading feminist nonfiction of varying degrees of autobiography, and it was oddly rejuvenating to swap out prose for Una’s haunting art. Exploring gendered violence, sexual abuse, slutshaming and the self-doubt, Becoming Unbecoming is a read you’ll need a good dose of self-care after. When speaking about the book, Una makes reference to the unspeakable nature of much trauma, and reading Becoming Unbecoming is like a lightbulb going off in your head: of course comics are the perfect medium to express this kind of pain and suffering. Read an interview with her here.
Working with Angel Catbird has been a total thrill from the moment it was announced to us – via a powerpoint made by office hero Margaret Atwood herself. When the artwork came in, it proved more gorgeous than our wildest, ManBearPig-influenced dreams. I’m extremely glad Atwood has turned her hand to comics and delighted to add another book promoting social justice to my list: the book is dotted with facts about cats, birds, and the environment, and how we can help achieve optimal conditions for all three.
I’m cheating and including a whole bunch of series here; picking one would be an impossible choice and the feeling of being wholly surrounded by Star Wars stuff for the second time in my 23 years is a big factor in me selecting these as books of the year. Hats off to all the many creators who’ve gone above and beyond the standard “spin-off” and provided a genuinely great insight into a massive range of characters.
Galley Beggar continue to break the mould when it comes to new fiction. This surreal and darkly comic tale about the staff and occupants of Green Oaks, an elderly care home, is an audacious take on themes of ageing and mortality. It reminded me of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror TV series, and was quite simply one of my favourite novels of the year. It’s an incredible mash-up of style and format – notably the comic book (mis)adventures of Captain Ruggles, complete with vintage advertising – which brilliantly combines absurdity, tenderness and an incredible energy, mirrored in the personalities of the ageing residents.
The Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook
This book combines my dual loves of cooking/eating and the arts – appreciations I know I share with a huge number of people! Replete with phenomenal illustrations, anecdotes by well-known writers and artists as well as some really corking recipes. However this is so much more than just a cookbook – it’s an album of thoughts, feelings, and memories about and connected to food, embracing family and childhood, love and art, history and politics. Uniting the cerebral and the physical offers a unique insight into the desires of some distinctive creative personalities – see especially Neil Gaiman’s eerie omelette, Peter Ho Davies’ chilli crab and Daniel Wallace’s aubergine sandwich… yum!
As someone who has always taken issue with the way in which genre fiction (especially my most-beloved fantasy) has tended to be relegated below ‘literary’ fiction, this book is perfect antidote. Benjamin Percy is himself an unabashed devotee and now also a writer of genre – his early short story collections and novel were decidedly literary – and these bold and provocative essays truly burst with verve and gusto. He talks about his own childhood love of reading pulp and pop fiction, as well as the authors – Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Aimee Bender – who inspired him to make the jump from literary to horror and thriller in his own creative work. As the world seems to become more and more like a plot from speculative fiction with each day, Percy’s essays provide much-needed inspiration to embrace genre as the voice(s) of our times.
I read The Argonauts in one go (fittingly on a boat) with a hangover, and it was the first book in ages to give me serious emotions. To make sure it wasn’t the hangover, and because I couldn’t stop thinking about the book after I closed it, I turned to the front page and read it again. I can’t really say how much it means to me in a paragraph, so in place of any strong feelings I’ll just say I’ve since read it twice more. Essentially a love letter from Maggie Nelson to her gender-fluid partner Harry Dodge, it’s about queerness, family-making and what radical means when you’re a queer person living a typically heteronormative lifestyle. I was waiting for this book to come along for a very long time, and I’ll no doubt be reading it again a few times next year (along with everything else Maggie Nelson has, and is going to, write).
The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is probably the most spectacular thing I own. It’s a complete dreamboat of a book: two perfectly bound volumes in a slipcase that people have visited my flat just to look at. As the title suggests, it collects every issue of the first, underground, all-woman comic that began in 1972 and ran through to 1992. It was the place where now-legendary creators such as Roberta Gregory (Bitchy Butch) and Melinda Gebbie (Lost Girls) found a home for their work, and it was founded by the very excellent Trina Robbins (Sandy Comes Out). I haven’t managed to read all of it yet (it’s much too big and precious to remove from its plinth in my room), so essentially it’s the gift-to-myself that keeps on giving. And if that isn’t enough, IT INCLUDES 3D COMICS:
We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire
To anyone who reads this blog and wonders who we all are, I’m the one always banging on about LGBTQ literature and how there needs to be more of it. There has been a lot of shoutiness about diversity in publishing recently, namely the lack of it, so whenever a new queer book passes through Turnaround I am usually doing my own shouting about it (because book people more highly than myself tend to ignore it a lot of the time). This year my favourite was a debut novel from Jules Grant. We Go Around is a fantastic crime novel set in Manchester that follows an all-female gang. When Carla is gunned down in a club for sleeping with the wife of a local gangster, her friend Donna seeks revenge. It’s a complete subversion of the usual crime novel, where protagonists are mostly straight white men, and it is completely absorbing from start to finish. There are no women victims here just for the sake of them being women, and Grant’s depiction of lesbian relationships and female friendship feels very real . I would be super pleased to see more like this in 2017.
I know, I know. I haven’t shut up about this book since I first heard about it in May! I even did a special write-up about it. Anarchic, self-deprecating and, above all, funny, The Artist really spoke to me – being a millennial (ugh, I know, I hate when they call me that) with a pointless degree trying to ‘make it’ in the creative industries while sinking in a sea of ennui – and helped me to just have a laugh about the whole thing. Likewise, that colour palette is just toooooooooooo nice. It was a total highlight when Anna Haifisch signed my copy of the book, with a doodle of The Artist himself accompanying it.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
Another book that really hit me this year was Mona Awad’s vignette-driven 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. Yet another book I did a special write-up for! Equal parts funny, dark and poignant, this is a very necessary book that touches on the lived experience of so-called fat girl – a demographic that is often either 100% invisible or 100% derided in our society – Elizabeth. It’s essential reading for anyone who is too preoccupied with their size, or for those who wish to understand the depths to which the female mind can sink after a lifetime of being told you’re just not ‘good’ enough.
Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs
2016 really was a helluva crap year for everyone involved, and oddly enough one of my main tonics to the utter shite has been disco music. No, seriously. What could be more soul-cleansing than putting on a fun 4×4 beat and just letting loose? (Preferably on some quality, LOUD speakers.) Frankly I think it’s hugely liberating, and getting all weird and funky with your body in your own space can be revolutionary as well. I think the thing that started the craze for me was this luscious Reel Art Press’ art book. Filled with high-quality black and white photos, this is an access-all-areas tour of late-70s New York nightlife. As James Hillard writes in his foreword, ‘These shots capture the very essence of what going out was, is, and should be, all about.’ It makes me want to throw on a gold bikini top and groove all night!
(Honourable mention goes to my boozy book of the year: Mark Oldman’s How to Drink Like a Billionaire. It’s no secret I’m a total wino, and this book has helped me class it up quite a bit! It’s no-nonsense, non-snobby and fun to read!)
Haunting, lyrical, and provocative; what more could you want? Equinoxes is a truly unique book, one that you won’t likely come across again. Filled with surreal images and lyrical writing, Pedrosa will impress you with his life-like illustrations and open doors you never knew were shut. For me, it made me promise to live life to the fullest, to enjoy every moment and to appreciate that the elderly are just as alive as the younger generation. An absolutely stunning book; perfect for those that appreciate rare artwork and like to reflect on the deeper meanings of life. Equinoxes will linger long after you’ve finished it. Find out more in my blog post!
The Krampus And The Old, Dark Christmas
I do love a dark take on a commonly jolly theme. The Krampus pulls you into a mythical world which seems to run parallel to the normally light-hearted Christmas we know. I enjoyed discovering more about the folklore and history behind the elusive Krampus and the rituals the modern world still perform today. The writing was so engaging and atmospheric, I felt drawn into Al Ridenour’s experience as if it were my own! Not just a standard fact-based book but SO much more! Go ahead, be brave; delve into the frightening world of the Krampus and discover his dark secrets… For those that dare, discover more here.
As the saying goes, always save the best till last! The Mirror Thief reached out and drew me in from the very first sentence. I was hooked. The words are mesmerising as the different storylines criss-cross and the pieces come together, you will be dazzled by the sheer ingenuity and audacity of Martin Seay’s writing. The Mirror Thief is a work of art which has been constructed by words alone and will delight all fans of literature!
So I’m repeating myself from last year and I already gave this series a send-off back in June, but it is fitting that one of my favourite manga series ever gets a spot in my best of 2016 picks. The first five volumes released in 2015 documenting Shōya Ishida’s attempts to atone for his bullying of fellow student and deaf girl Shōko Nishimiya were some of the hardest hitting comics I’ve read in recent memory. Volumes six and seven released this year were similarly effective at playing with my emotions but also brought it to a great conclusion which wrapped everyone’s journey in a very satisfying way. I was lucky enough to see the anime film adaptation’s UK premiere in October and it was just as effective at rendering me a blubbering mess. With a general UK release for the film set for early next year, now is definitely a perfect time to check out this amazing manga series.
I Promise my last entry will be something more cheerful, but this was easily one of the best manga releases this year and was my pick for the January Graphic Novel of the Month. That being said, it is a very difficult read and not one I would recommend if you need cheering up. It tells a bleak story of two high schoolers who turn to each other for sex to after both having bad experiences with love, but this combined with their inability to express themselves in a healthy way ends up causing them more emotional turmoil. Everything in the story feels very real and Inio Asano’s art is top notch with an insane amount of detail and a great eye for storytelling which greatly enhances the strong character work. If you can look past the bleakness, this is an amazingly deep manga which is well worth a look.
Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous
Rounding off with another one of my Graphic Novel of the Month picks, Ms. Marvel is one of the most consistently great comics hitting the shelves today. It has been a joy watching Kamala Khan grow as a hero while trying to juggle her stressful school and home life with her new responsibilities as New Jersey’s leading super hero. This volume sees her workload increase exponentially as she achieves her dream of being a member of The Avengers which she soon finds is no walk in the park along with having to deal a suspicious development company who has co-opted her face for their gentrification project. This volume delivers all the great action, family conflict and school life you’d expect with some new twist thrown in to keep Kamala on her toes. G. Willow Wilson must get all the credit in the world for the great character she has co-created in Kamala as her thoughts and actions coming off as very authentic and her solutions to her problems don’t always end well (although they provide the reader with plenty of amusement. The art team of Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona and Nico Leon is wonderfully vibrant and a perfect fit for the series. This has been one of the best superhero books for almost three years now so at this point, you have no excuse not to be reading this.
Cecilia Granata’s Mama Tried is the most gorgeous book to flick through – its vegan Italian recipes are presented in red and navy print and peppered with tattoo designs and adorable flourish. The tone is down to earth and inviting; absolutely nothing elitist or preachy here – it’s Nigella with edge. This brought me back to my own mother’s kitchen, where I learnt my first swear words, and how to throw a meal together with the vegetable ends and mystery leftovers in the fridge. Granata has included recipes from every corner of Italy, as tempting as “Black Rice and Creamy Zucchini,” “Sicilian Pistachio Pesto,” and an entire chapter of aphrodisiac recipes. Something for the playful and haphazard, it opens doors for vegans and non-vegans alike.
When I first saw Mara Wilson on screen as the lovable, bookish Matilda, who could use her mind to fuck shit up, I wanted to be her. My adoration resurfaced years later when she publicly stood against the 50 shades of grey phenomenon, provoking the wrath of E. L. James.
“Yes, you just got advice on sexy books from a former child actor. I feed off your ruined childhoods.”
Where Am I Now fills in the gap between tiny child actor and uncompromising woman, and Wilson’s dry humour and storytelling prowess make for a compelling read. She invites us behind the big screen, showing us exactly what her coming-of-age was like in the spotlight, and after the light dimmed. In doing so she exposes how her own insecurities and worries were not so far from the rest of us who grew up female in the Western world.
I’m only part way through The Mothers, but I already know that Brit Bennet’s novel is among the best of 2016 for me. Narrated by the mothers of the Church, the perspective is original and intriguing, providing a layer of judgement to navigate. Bennet’s exploration of grief and trauma, and command of lyrical narrative, produces sentences so poetic that you are forced to reread and savour – this is my excuse for not simply inhaling it in one go, as with most books I enjoy too much. By juxtaposing the naivete of youth and the supposed wisdom of the mothers, Bennet weaves an unyielding narrative that forces introspection long after you’ve stopped turning pages.
It’s hard to pick only a handful of selections with such a phenomenal year in books, but somehow we managed it! Now we want to hear what you loved reading most – let us know in the comments, or tweet us @turnarounduk.