Goodbye 2019, hello 2020. Nuts as it may seem it’s time to put on a lid on the 2010s and talk about the many wonderful things waiting for us in the new decade. We’re of course talking about books, here’s what we’re most excited about.
Radical Attention by Julia Bell
(Peninsula Press, 9781999922375, £6.00, May 2020)
Next up in Peninsula Press’s pocket essay series, Radical Attention is about the battle for our attention in an age of distraction, about how, in today’s online economy, our attention has become a commodity to be bought and sold. Like the other books in the series, this is pitched as both a personal and polemical essay, as Julia Bell asks what has been lost and how can we reclaim our attention in a world of distraction. I would really like to reclaim my own attention, and so I am very keen to read this one.
Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park by Andy Mulvihill & Jake Rossen
(Penguin Books, 9780143134510, £14.99, June 2020)
I’m not sure what it is that’s so appealing about shit theme parks, but I love them. I love funhouses based on 90s movies and rickety log flumes. Water slides in general feel very nostalgic. It was through watching YouTube videos of crap rides like these that I first came across Action Park, also known as ‘Class Action Park’, ‘DIY Disneyland’, and ‘Traction Park.’
A staple of New Jersey throughout the 80s, millions of people flocked to Action Park each year to have a go on its many dangerous rides. People were injured, some badly. Six people died. Yet people kept going back for more! Perhaps the most notorious ride was the Cannonball Loop, a waterslide with a complete loop that was so intimidating staff were paid $100 to test it.
In Action Park, the son of its famed founder tells the story of the park as seen through his own eyes. Described as ‘a wet and wild 1980s adolescence’ that’s reminiscent of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it sounds brilliant and I cannot wait to get hold of a copy.
The Flood That Did Come by Patrick Wray
(Avery Hill, 9781910395530, £8.99, June 2020)
A dystopian, apocalyptic, cosy catastrophe set in a northern British town about struggle, friendship, and archaic bureaucracy? YES PLEASE. A disclaimer here would be that Patrick is a good pal of mine, but that aside, I have loved his art for years (I have it on my walls). I was hugely excited to find out he’d signed a deal with the equally brilliant Avery Hill and am extremely excited to see his comic in the flesh when it publishes next June.
My Art is Killing Me and Other Poems by Amber Dawn
(Arsenal Pulp, 9781551527932, £13.99, June 2020)
I was SUPER thrilled to see this new poetry collection from Amber Dawn on the 2020 line-up. My Art is Killing Me investigates the sacrifices writers make during the process of writing and explores exactly what we expect from them in a cultural era where marginalised authors are popping up on bestseller lists. It has been described as incendiary, tender, and rapturous, and if it’s like Amber Dawn’s other books I know it’s going to be a real banger.
Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné, translated by Roland Glasser
(World Editions, 9781912987016, £11.99, February 2020)
I read this one earlier last year, but I can still look forward to its official publication in English, right? Real Life is a haunting deconstruction of abusive families, told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Told in sparse, simple prose, the book walks an ever-thinning line between hope and despair, rooted in a relentless realism that even the child perspective of the narrator cannot fully obscure. One of those reads that keeps you thinking long after you’ve finished reading it.
Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som
(Feminist Press, 9781936932818, £20.99, April 2020)
A collection of comics exploring queerness, bodies, and myth through a South Asian lens, Apsara Engine had me from the get-go. Bishakh Som has created a series of strangely familiar alien worlds, trying to capture twenty-first century queer life in all its glorious diversity. Billed as a ‘delightfully eerie’, the stories are about strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak; all rendered in beautiful watercolours by a phenomenal up-and-coming trans artist.
Big Girl by Meg Elison
(PM Press, 9781629637839, £12.99, May 2020)
It’s true and I should say it: Meg Elison’s The Road to Nowhere trilogy is the single greatest piece of (post-apocalyptic) writing ever produced. Elison’s books are raw, intoxicating and apologetically queer, with messed-up characters who somehow, against all odds, find hope in a bitter world. There’s a rage boiling underneath her words; an absolute and utter refusal to submit, to accept; to gently go.
Imagine my excitement when I found out about Big Girl. Part of the Outspoken Authors series by PM Press, it contains several short stories (at least two of which are newly published!!) and an interview with Elison herself.
I cannot wait.
Four by Four by Sara Mesa, trans. by Katie Whittemore
(Open Letter, 9781948830140, £14.50, May 2020)
Last year I read The Haunting of Hill House, Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, and in the process discovered that I rather like gothic-y weirdness (shocking, I know). Translated from the Spanish, Four by Four is set entirely at Wybrany College, a school where privileged people send their kids to keep them safe from whatever is happening outside. Something deeply sinister is going on at the school, too, but the book never elaborates, instead building up the tension through short chapters with various (unreliable) narrators. The result is a deeply unsettling investigation into personal freedom, power, and monsters that gradually slides into unimaginable horror.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
(Text Publishing, 9781922268334, £10.99, January 2020)
Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here follows the bizarre and mundane exploits of 28-year-old Lillian and the children she is brought in to look after – children who spontaneously combust when they get emotional. The book was published in the US this Autumn, and its popularity has already spread like…. erm… wildfire. Nothing to See Here is the second book on my list to centre a thorny, complicated friendship, so I guess 2020 is going to be a bumper year for me, fictionally speaking.
Never Seen the Sea by Holly Watson
(Open Pen, 9781916413665, £5.99, February 2020)
Open Pen are a new publisher for us here at Turnaround, and in 2020 they are coming in strong straight out of the gate. Never Seen the Sea, by Holly Watson, tells the story of a young girl growing up in Coventry in the 1990s. If you’ve seen Holly’s blog The Coventry Conch, then you’ll be familiar with the cast and Holly’s entertaining voice. If you haven’t seen Holly’s blog The Coventry Conch, then I would highly recommend checking it out in anticipation of Never Seen the Sea.
Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak
(Text Publishing, 9781922268860, £10.99, April 2020)
I love a complicated friendship in fiction. I’m fascinated by those relationships – in real life, and in stories – which aren’t bound by blood, romance or law, but which still can’t be severed even if they kind of suck for all involved. Anna Pitoniak’s Necessary People follows the co-dependent relationship between ‘ordinary’, hardworking Violet and Stella, her reckless, mightily privileged pal. Stella and Violet are a package deal, but Violet eventually begins to tire of tidying up Stella’s messes, and lands a job at a cable news network in New York where she becomes a rising star. But Stella, used to getting her way and being the star that Violet orbits around, isn’t best pleased. I’ll confess to having had a peek at Necessary People already, and I’ve got to say it is super sharp and utterly compulsive.
Spotlight Books series by Various
(Myriad Editions, £5.00 each, January 2020)
Working in collaboration with Creative Future and New Writing South, Myriad are kicking off 2020 with an awesome little project publishing the work of six under-represented writers. Coming in at sixty-four pages each, these slim volumes range from poetry on mythical dogs and bipolar disorder, to a Yellow Wallpaper-style short story on post-natal depression. I’m particularly excited to read Ana Tewson-Božić’s Crumbs which involves a drug-induced plunge into computer cults, psychic aliens and chemical conspiracies (wild).
It’s not officially out until the end of January but for those who hail from Brighton, City Books has some early copies that make for perfect stocking fillers. Otherwise, consider this six books off your Goodreads challenge for next year.
Dementia 21 Vol. 2 by Shintaro Kago
(Fantagraphics, 9781683962816, £25.99, February 2020)
How to explain how the joyous fun of Dementia 21? Well, in one story its senile characters bear horrific rictus grins, which is generally how it felt to reading Shintaro Kago’s absurdly (and painfully) funny manga collection. Following the exploits of young home health aide Yukie Sakai in a bizarro version of modern Japan, each self-contained tale lists between demented body horror (a senior citizen who turns into dentures) to outrageous humour (an aged superhero does battle with octogenarian kaiju) as poor Yukie finds herself dealing with increasingly outlandish clients. I could read Kago’s stories until my teeth fall out or I otherwise die from laughter, so consider this second volume pre-ordered.
An Opinionated Guide to London Green Spaces by Hoxton Mini Press (Hoxton Mini Press, 9781910566688, £9.95, April 2020)
Though it may come as a surprise to many, London is in fact one of the greenest cities in the world, with over sixteen percent of it covered in green spaces. In a fitting celebration, Hoxton’s latest Opinionated Guide will spotlight fifty of them. From its Royal Parks and botanical glasshouses, to lesser known gardens and enchanting walks, London Green Spaces looks to be an entirely new way to explore my favourite city.
The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, translated by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon Press, 9781912242245, £8.99, January 2020)
Described as ‘part Kurosawa’s Rashomon, part Capote’s In Cold Blood’, The Aosawa Murders won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel and has successfully piqued my interest. Bitter Lemon are known for their work on excellent translated fiction, and this promises to be no different. On a stormy summer day in the 70s, during a lavish birthday party at the Aosawas’ island villa on the Sea of Japan, tragedy strikes, and 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only clues that remain are a cryptic verse that might be from the killer, and the doctor’s blind daughter, Hisako, the only member of the family left alive. Inspector Teru is convinced she had some role in the incident, and the truth unfolds through multi-voiced testimonies and interviews. Lauded by the Japanese press (Hokkaido Shimbun called it a ‘spine-chilling masterpiece’), and dressed in such a beautiful jacket, how could I resist?
Smoke & Mirrors: Learning to Live in North Korea by Lindsey Miller (September Publishing, 9781912836413, £16.99, June 2020)
This June offering from the wonderful September Publishing is a very intriguing travel memoir, written by the Scottish wife of a member of the skeleton-crew British Embassy in North Korea. Lindsey Miller lived there from 2017-2019, and was granted a freedom to move around that few foreigners get, travelling to the country’s coasts and its poverty-stricken rural areas without minders or guides. She was assigned a North Korean teacher by the state who she later discovered had a secret goal not to truly teach her anything, and she stood in Pyongyang watching Kim Jong Un shake hands with Donald Trump on a giant screen. This memoir, which will include a section of her photography, promises to be a surprising and insightful read as a Westerner’s experience of everyday life in North Korea in such tumultuous times as these.
Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen by Claire Fauvel
(NBM, 9781681122519, £29.99, March 2020)
Another biography – this time in graphic novel form. Phoolan Devi’s incredible life story was the subject of the 1994 film, Bandit Queen, but this offering from NBM looks to be a new take on her life and influence. Devi was sold at the age of 11 as a wife to a much older man, and this is the story of how she joined a gang of bandits, rising as their leader, and ultimately becoming a strong voice for change in Indian parliament. Prix Artémisia and Prix Jeunesse winner Claire Fauvel’s incredible art is moving and captivating in the samples I’ve seen, and I can’t wait to see this graphic novel in person.