From Trump to trauma cleaning to #MeToo and Michelle Tea, 2018 has delivered us another stack-load of exceptional non-fiction. These are our top picks…
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
(Text, 9781925498523, p/b, £12.99)
In this biography of Australian professional trauma cleaner Sandra Pankhurst we don’t just get one life story, we get so much more. As well as all the different lives Sandra herself has lived – adopted and abused son, young husband and father, transitioning sex worker, one of the earliest recipients of gender reassignment surgery in Australia, one of Victoria’s first female funeral directors, wife, small-business owner, councilwoman, premiere trauma cleaner – we glimpse the (often tragic and grisly) lives of Sandra’s clients and of the author Sarah Krasnostein herself. As well as a truly remarkable story, The Trauma Cleaner is just so beautifully written – full of humour and humanity – it will completely astound you.
Unequivocally two of the most important books you will read all year. The Women’s Atlas is an arresting infographic guide to women in the world, and all the issues affecting them – from education and literacy, to work, legal rights, politics, and bodies, sex, and abuse. The statistics are as eye-opening as they are accessible and magnificently displayed. This is a book that is as necessary in classrooms and school libraries as it is on Christmas gift guides. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is similarly crucial, mind-blowing and mesmerising. Sohaila Abdulali was raped as a teenager in India and went on to work for a rape crisis centre, as well as a writer and journalist. Here she brings her own experiences, as well as those of the many women she has helped and learned from, to the discourse around rape and rape culture. This book is truly spectacular in its scope and impact, but also in its readability, deftness and wisdom.
Following the publication of her first novel, Oliva Sudjic began to question her role as an author – and indeed the position women authors are always put in in regards to their work, especially in the age of social media – in the reception of her book. Turning to Elena Ferrante, Rachel Cusk, Chris Kraus, Jenny Offill, Maggie Nelson, and Roxanne Gay (amongst others), Sudjic explores and questions this relationship in a fascinating and insightful essay about feminism and the media, writing and wanting, isolation and vulnerability.
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman
(Text, 9781911231110, p/b, £9.99)
This was the very first book I read in 2018 and it’s really stayed with me. This is such an intricate book. Nadja Spiegelman is the daughter of Maus creator Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, the New Yorker‘s art editor, and in this phenomenal memoir she tells her maternal family’s story through remarkable matriarchs: her mother, her grandmother Josée, and her great-grandmother. But the really wonderful thing about this book is the way in which history repeats itself as familial truths (or lack thereof) filter down through the generations, becoming skewed and warped but no less real.
Trump’s ABC by Anna Telnaes
(Fantagraphics, 9781683960782, h/b, £11.99)
There are many things out there claiming to be an “antidote to Trump”, but Trump’s ABC is the real deal. (Appropriately) stylised as a children’s picture book, each page reduces Donald’s defining qualities to a letter of the alphabet, from “T is for Tweeting thing skinned and obtuse” to “S is for separation of powers abuse”, complete with a hand-drawn illustration from the Washington Post cartoonist herself. Funny but also pointed, comedy but also critique, the board book depicts the Commander-in-Chief in his various natural habitats. And though Telnaes could probably do with adding a few more pages since its January publication (Stormy Daniels anyone?), this remains a clever homage to America’s most juvenile president.
After Man: A Zoology of the Future by Douglas Dixon
(Breakdown Press, 9781911081012, h/b, £24.99)
First published in 1981 by palaeontologist Douglas Dixon, After Man: A Zoology of the Future took on the momentous task of imagining the future ecology of our planet 50 million years from now. A “life after man” where all manner of bizarre creatures roam a world comparatively alien to the present day. The result feels like something you might pull out of the zoology section in a public library; lavishly illustrated, meticulously detailed, and as the NYT put it “uncannily believable”. Featuring pack-hunting ‘night-stalkers’ that look like bats crossed with velociraptors, to lion-like otters and badger-coloured squirrels, the world of After Man is terrifying and delightful in equal measure, and well worth a look.
Featuring shortlisted portraits from the British Journal of Photography’s annual photography exhibition, Portrait of Britain promises to deliver “200 photographs that capture the face of a changing nation” – and it does not disappoint. Open this book on any page and you will find a powerful, resonant and often moving snapshot of one of the massively diverse ranges of people who live in this country. Drag queens, nuns, artists, asylum seekers, Catholic girls, Muslim nannies, cleaners, swimmers, charity workers, Morris dancers, basketball players, dog-walkers, and kid go-kart racers, this book is an exhaustive, captivating, and non-normative collection of compelling British identities.
XXXXX by Jamie Reid
(L-13, 9781908067210, h/b, £35)
Jamie Reid is an anarchist and an iconoclast, and it is an absolute crime that he hasn’t had a major retrospective exhibition before now. But here we are, it’s been 50 years, and we have this hefty book – a collection to coincide with the exhibition, featuring Jamie’s Sex Pistol’s artwork, previously unseen pieces, and absolutely no explanation for any of it. Defying convention is punk, you know?
Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
(The Feminist Press, 9781936932184, p/b, £15.99)
There was a bit of a contest to see who could claim Against Memoir here at Turnaround HQ (towers were scaled, feats of unimaginable strength were performed, there was a spelling bee component…), which is why you’ll find write-ups on it from both myself and Jenn in this post. For my part, suffice to say I read this in a weekend, and I loved ‘How Not To Be A Queer Douchebag’ – may we someday all provide such sage advice.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
(Melville House, 9781911545224, p/b, £9.99)
I’ve already ranted about Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay collection extensively over here, so what I will say now is that this book is phenomenal, Hanif Abdurraqib is phenomenal, everything is phenomenal. ‘Death Becomes You’ and ‘Fall Out Boy Forever’ especially transported me back to the heady days of Scene in the early-mid 00s.
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
(Penguin Canada, 9780735235939, h/b, £12.99)
“I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the word girl by turning it into a weapon they used to hurt me.”
So begins I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, in which she transforms the conversation about gender and toxic masculinity by writing about her experiences as a queer, trans woman of colour. Hers is an essential voice that’s been missing from the conversation until now, and the result is one of the most powerful and lasting books I’ve read all year. Written in a series of vignettes, Vivek’s prose is snappy, humorous, and deeply affecting. I’d recommend this book to absolutely anyone, so read it!
Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
(The Feminist Press, 9781936932184, p/b, £15.99)
A collection of non-fiction by iconic queer writer and my long-time friend crush Michelle Tea? YES PLEASE! I’ve already written about how much I loved Against Memoir on this blog, so for a full write-up you should read this. Here I’ll just say that, after a very trying year, this book made me very happy. And the essay HAGS In Your Face is probably my favourite essay of all time.
Ice Diaries by Jean McNeil
(ECW, 9781770414464, p/b, £15.99)
Here’s a not-very-interesting fact about me: I like weather. Weather genuinely thrills me, especially snow and ice, and in Ice Diaries novelist Jean McNeil satisfies all my cold-weather cravings by describing her four months spent in Antarctica. This is a really beautiful book (hello, prose), mixing science with personal narrative to examine our relationship with ice. McNeil writes about the people drawn to Antarctica, and the witchcraft of ice. The book is full of charming ice facts, and descriptions of blizzards and cold. It’s a super exciting read, and a heart-fluttery love letter to the poetry of science.
You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar
(Melville House, 9781911545163, p/b, £7.99)
Virgie Tovar’s slim polemic to self-acceptance in a world that wants to shame you into submission is incredibly effective in its mission. Reading it was difficult at times as Tovar recounted her own journey to where she is today, her emotions and doubts and self-consciousness achingly familiar, but there is something galvanising and incredibly buoying about her refusal to stand down. This comprehensive and scathing analysis of ‘diet culture’ as a means of control is persuasive and gloriously feminist, and left me with a renewed conviction to wear what I want, eat what I want, and enjoy the only body I have on my own terms.
Like Ruby Tandoh (Eat Up!) and Roxane Gay (Hunger, Bad Feminist), Virgie Tovar’s voice is indispensable in understanding the world’s relationship with women’s relationships with their own bodies. Essential.
PoC||GTFO Volume 2 by Manul Laphroaig
(No Starch Press, 9781593279349, h/b, £33.99)
This second volume collecting the cult hacker zine International Journal of Proof-of-Concept or Get The Fuck Out (aka POC||GTFO) is a glorious leatherette-bound ode to creativity in programming and hardware. Previously available only online or printed and distributed for free at hacker conferences, this second volume brings more fascinating tricks and workarounds. As but a casual fan of hacking I can only read and wonder at the ways people discover the process of hacking a Wacom tablet pen with voltage glitching, or of folding an entire Android app into the internal structure of a PDF file (though as a side note I’ve always been a fan of filetypes that disguise themselves as other file types, or exist simultaneously as two types, such as ebooks that are at the same time a jpeg cover image) and dream of one day understanding everything in this book.
Completing its ecclesiastical feel with bible-paper pages, a ribbon bookmark, and a gold-foiled cover, PoC||GTFO Volume 2 enthrals with the promise to expose the secrets of the universe (or at least the Apple ][ series of computers) one glitch at a time.
Keep an eye out for our top fiction picks next week. And if graphic novels are your thing, be sure to check our top graphic novels picks for 2018, featuring Battle Angel Alita, Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam, The Mental Load & more.