Continuing our ‘Best of’ lineups, Team Turnaround turn their attention to the myriad of non-fiction titles that have been delighting and challenging us this year, from stunning art-books to scientific explorations to rousing political calls to action. Sharpen your pencils and flip back your notebook – you’re gonna want these on your reading list!
The Hero’s Body (No Exit)
I never thought I’d find myself reading a book about bodybuilding, but one of the many joys of working in publishing means getting exposed to new and wonderful stories, and No Exit hit a real winner with this one! William Giraldi grew up in a family which was missing a maternal figure, and his resulting memoir is a wrenching exploration of masculinity, through the pursuit of absolute physical perfection. As artists sculpted figures of Adonis from marble, Giraldi, and his many gym-obsessed companions, sought the supreme combination of exercise, calorific intake and steroids, to carve the ideal form from their own flesh. Self-reflexive, shattering and meticulously detailed, The Hero’s Body was a stand-out for me this year, and particularly informed my understanding of the effects of toxic masculinity on men.
The Science of Orphan Black (ECW Press)
I’d been eagerly awaiting this title since starting at Turnaround last year, and managed to get my hands on a copy just in time – after the sensational finale of the show I desperately needed some more clone-club. Originally a blog on Tumblr created by professional science nerds Casey Griffin and Nina Nesseth, ECW Press packaged The Science of Orphan Black up with gorgeous full-colour images and an official seal of approval from actual science consultant Cosima Herter and co-creator Graeme Manson, who contributed their exclusive insights to the book. If you enjoyed Orphan Black, you need this book – with explanations of the science (and scientific stretches!) explored through the seasons, historical events in the show located in real context, and spotlights on all your favourite clones, it was everything I wanted and more. Genetics! Mosaicism! Neolution Worms! Yes!
A Passion for China (September Publishing)
Molly Hatch’s gorgeous hardback has been lusted over in every corner of the Turnaround office; it is absolutely beautiful, even if you, like me, are hopelessly ignorant of china patterns. In A Passion for China, Molly explores her own family history through the porcelain that they own, sharing intimate stories alongside stunning hand-drawn illustrations of each piece of china. A true celebration of the potteries and patterns that we often take for granted, A Passion for China restores the wonder back to the objects that feed us every day.
The Big Push (Myriad Editions)
Who doesn’t like a fresh take on feminism? (Aside from sexists). This book is all about patriarchy, an old and dull sounding concept, right? Wrong. It draws on what’s been happening in our still painfully patriarchal times, highlighting that unfortunately it is STILL current. Cynthia Enloe is a respected name in gender studies held in high esteem, and it’s clear why that is when reading this. It’s time to push back.
Light the Dark (Penguin Books)
This is perhaps my favourite. A selection of writers including Stephen King and Khaled Hosseini share their writing inspirations. I love the structure of the book – it’s so easy to dip in and out of over a long period of time, it has sketchy drawings that flood the page before a new chapter, and it introduces a range of literary texts that you might otherwise have not encountered. I loved David Mitchell’s entry – so grab this book and look out for that one.
Unseen London (Hoxton Mini Press)
As a born and bred Londoner, I found the concept of things being ‘unseen’ immediately interesting. The photography is stunning and the book overall has been produced beautifully. Hoxton Mini Press’ latest offering is more than just a lux coffee table book. The section in response to buildings affected by the Blitz was of personal interest due to the history of my grandmother’s house which has an underground shelter that was used during the Blitz. Overall, it’s a captivating book.
The Lion King: Twenty Years on Broadway and Around the World
The Lion King is my all-time favourite Disney movie – it’s hard to say why, maybe it’s the lions (the proud ‘kings’ of the jungle) or the addictive music *Hakuna Matata, or the very human personalities that lay beneath their animal masks – maybe it’s all of those things, and maybe that’s why the theatre production works so fantastically and has survived for two whole centuries.
So in celebration of The Lion King’s 20th anniversary – Disney have created this beautifully produced book outlining the journey of the animated movie to theatre form, explaining why The Lion King has become one of Disney’s greatest hits, and Broadway’s highest grossing show of all time.
Children and adults alike are fascinated by The Lion King – what better gift to give at Christmas than the entire history and making of this captivating tale?
Read more here!
Tale As Old As Time (Disney Editions)
Beauty and the Beast was in actual fact my first Disney favourite – that is, before I found out about The Lion King – sometimes I think it was the enchanting gold dress Bella wears towards the end of the animation… I remember being fascinated by the magical enchantment the witch places on the prince and his staff – the animation of inanimate objects has a certain appeal, something I’d never seen before as a child, and of course, the story of love that contains no boundaries and looks beyond all appearances, which is at the very heart of the tale, and which makes Beauty and the Beast what it is today – a timeless classic.
This year Disney released the live action movie of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens; Luke Evans as Gaston also does a superb job, in addition to Josh Gad playing LeFou! Tale as Old as Time explores the making of the film and the history of the much loved classic – with stunning artwork and behind-the-scenes images, this is one for fans to cherish forever; a beautiful keepsake.
Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years (Reel Art Press)
Celebrating the TWO HUNDREDTH anniversary of Frankenstein!
Did you know that Frankenstein has had 120 films adapted in its name? I sure didn’t – and I thought I knew a lot about the classic gothic tale! It just goes to show that you can always find out something new about your favourite novels – and this book won’t disappoint! Explore the journey of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein over the last two decades, the criticisms she faced along the way, how the story has been used in pop culture, theatre and movies – most notably the film starring Robert De Niro.
Perfect for those who love Frankenstein and want to know more, as well as fans of gothic tales, horror and the supernatural.
Draw Your Weapons (Text Publishing)
This book really changed how I think about many things – art, war, non-fiction. Around the juxtaposed stories of Miles (student and former US soldier and prison guard at Abu Ghraib) and Howard (imprisoned as a conscientious objector), ex-divinity-scholar-turned-art-teacher Sarah Sentilles knits together a mind-boggling array of art theory, philosophy, psychology and quotations from thinkers as far-ranging as Lucretius and Rebecca Solnit. This really is an incredible and important book.
Brolliology (Melville House)
A book about umbrellas by my friend and former colleague – which she’d been working on since I first knew her – I was honestly bowled over by how utterly magnificent this book is. ‘A book about umbrellas’, as a description, barely scrapes the surface the sheer range of aspects this book encompasses about the social and political (yes, political) history of the umbrella, and how this has translated in its representation in art and literature through the ages. Effervescently narrated, with brilliant footnotes; crammed with beautiful artwork, fascinating facts and quotes from a huge range of authors, this book is a sheer joy to read.
A Cage of Shadows (Tangerine Press)
When recalling the books I’d read this year, A Cage of Shadows initially slipped my mind because it feels like a book that’s been with me for much longer. Originally published in 1973, then unavailable for years after a libel suit brought against author Archie Hill by his mother, this is a harrowing and heart-breaking memoir, told like a novel, in gritty yet sublime prose. In parts reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, The Grass Arena by John Healy and Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, this is a stark and at times bleak memoir but one also full of dark humour and searing insight. The most astounding moments are those when Archie talks about his relationship to art, literature and music and how they changed, and often saved, his life… at least for a while.
The Madeleine Project (New Vessel Press)
When Clara Beaudoux moved into a new apartment in Paris she discovered it came with basement storage. However, when she went to investigate her space, she found it was still full of possessions left by the lady who had the apartment before her. As she tried to clear this space, she found herself becoming more and more intrigued by the belongings she found and by the woman who had once owned them. Each discovery gave a clue to the life of Madeleine (as she eventually discovers the woman was called) and Clara decided to document her findings and tell Madeleine’s story. Like a mix of Amelie and Alexander Masters’ A Life Discarded, this is one of the most inventively structured books I’ve ever read – the story of Clara’s piecing together Madeleine’s life is told via the author’s Twitter feed, making each discovery feel immediate and exciting, a work of detection. Full of pictures of Madeleine’s treasure trove of belongings, including photographs and pictures, letters, old notebooks and diaries, magazines and books, household ephemera – everything that goes to making up a life – meant I was just as captivated by Madeleine as Clara was.
Tinderbox is one of my favourite books of the year, in any genre. It’s a memoir about books and bookselling, about the end of the Borders bookshop chain, and about Raymond Bradbury’s seminal sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451, which imagines a future where reading is outlawed and books are burned. It’s hilarious and poignant, and it’s very smart. Author Megan Dunn writes about writing, specifically about trying (and failing) to rewrite Fahrenheit 451. She gives us deadpan snapshots of her personal life at that time. She writes about being a book lover who ends up merchandising vapid pop culture at Borders. It’s quite sad reading about the closure of a bookstore, even a huge chain like Borders, but Dunn finds a balance between nostalgia and humour. If all that isn’t enough to tempt you: there are lots are really stellar paragraphs about Julie Christie’s hair.
As an aside, I have a nice story about this book: I used to work with Megan at Borders Norwich about ten years ago. We both did an MA in writing at UEA (not at the same time). Tinderbox is especially endearing to me for this reason, and it’s one of those tipsy coincidences that a decade later I get to work with the book here at Turnaround.
Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats (PM Press)
I’m a little bit obsessed with pulp fiction, specifically lesbian pulp fiction, because to my mind it was pretty much the beginning of queer publishing. And it has an incredible history that is pulpy in its own right. This book is a really great collection of pulp of all types and genre. It’s an exploration of youth culture through cheap paperbacks, which is right up my street. It’s full of essays, interviews and full-colour cover images. As a highlight, it features a lengthy interview with Ann Bannon, who is the King of queer pulp.
Unfuck Your Brain (Microcosm)
I’m sure everyone has felt the need to unfuck their brain at some point. I have that feeling quite regularly, and so this book is really helpful. I’ve been glad to see more conversations about anxiety and mental health over the past year – Unfuck Your Brain is one of those rare books that deals with the issue by being straightforward, normal, and actually pretty funny. It’s a book you might want to have a pint with while it offers you some advice. Written by Dr. Faith Harper, it uses humour and science to explain what’s going on in your head and help you get through it.
The Clitoral Truth (Seven Stories)
I’m sneaking this in here mostly because of the excellent pun. It only just makes 2017 – it’s published on 31 December. But it’s obviously very important: it’s about orgasms and the like.
Share your non-fiction favourites in the comments below, and check out our round-up of best 2017 fiction too!