This year’s reading has seen another change, after inaugurating a ‘poetry shelf’ on the bookcases in 2016, this time round one of the prominent themes has been reading and enjoying, ‘books by people I know’. Step forward: SJ Bradley, Mark Connors, Mike Farren, Alicia Fernandez, Ian Harker, Gill Lambert, Mark Pajak, Hannah Stone, Adelle Stripe, Tom Weir and Joe Williams – all of which goes to show either, that W Yorks is a hot bed of talent or, we are a small circle of people slapping each other on the backs rather like an Escher drawing…As this is the season of goodwill, let’s call it for the former.
There has also been a lot of re-reading of things I first enjoyed years ago: Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart; Camus’, The Outsider; DeLillo’s The Body Artist; Goethe’s, Faust (pt I); Heaney’s, Beowulf; Kerouac’s, The Subterraneans; Raj Anand’s, Untouchable, to name a few – all reliably short and to the point.
Plus, things new to me that made an impression and would therefore be recommended, either new works by writers I have read other stuff by, or entirely new writers: Alderman’s, The Power(good, but not as good as it might have been, the wedge grew thin toward the end but still worth a good few conversations); Barry’s, Days Without End (two young soldiers in love during the American Civil War); Beatty, The Sellout (a deserved winner of prizes); Burnet’s, His Bloody Project (brutally macabre); Chiang’s, Arrival; Greenwell’s, What Belongs to You; Whitehead’s, The Underground Railway (an imagined reminder that can be read as an antidote and response to, the attempt to move the US further to the white-right).
The single most stunning thing I have read this year was The Unwomanly Face of War – reportage by Svetlana Alexievich, pulled together after thousands of hours of work interviewing women who fought in or supported the Russian front line in WWII. Simply astonishing for the work involved, the results achieved and the individual stories that would otherwise have been lost. Which means she wins this coveted award for the second year running…
Other award winners are:
“best read of the year” – Dirt Road by James Kelman (which also wins the coveted “best story about a 16 year-old in a strange land armed only with an accordion”)
“best ‘dark-humour’ about the meltdown of a comic on stage, in Israel” – A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman
“best collection of short stories from which they picked one to base a huge Hollywood film on, but the book was way better”, Arrival by Ted Chiang
“essential memoir by a survivor of Auschwitz” – The Drowned and The Saved by Primo Levi
“best weird shit from Iceland”, Blue Fox by Sjon
“best fictional unfiction about a playwright from Bratford and how she was destroyed by the ‘entertainment industry’, amongst others” – Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe
“best novel about The Balkan War, a holistic healer in the west of Ireland, a failing marriage and retired greyhounds and lots more” – The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien
“best novel, in which the idea of sentences as an essential pre-requisite to building a work of fiction in simply ignored, (each chapter is a sentence: and each sentence a chapter) as the deranged (?) protagonist moves around the world in an effort to find the right place to kill himself, only after he has transcribed onto the internet a life-changing document he has found accidentally, perhaps” – War And War by Laszlo Krasznahorkhai (NB. Not read in the original Hungarian)
Leaving aside the already noted West Yorkshire massive, my favourite poetry of this year has been: Liz Berry’s Black Country, Sinead Morrissey’s On Balance, Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and endlessly re-reading Alice Oswald’s work.