Part three in our end-of-year cultural highlights extravaganza, in which a host of authors, bloggers, Faber colleagues and acquaintances tell us what’s delighted them the most in 2010. If you’re a latecomer, you might have missed part one and part two.
As always, feel free to let us know what you think. Agree? Disagree?
“My favourite book this year was Dave Eggers’ remarkable Zeitoun. An account of the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it’s written in understated fashion, letting the shocking facts of the Bush administration’s reaction speak for themselves.
The best album I heard this year was Yes And Dance by Silver Columns, a pair of nu-folk artists who put aside the guitars to create a crazy future-retro dance record, like Bronski Beat fronting Underworld.
And recently I’ve been mesmerised by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip, a brutally near-the-knuckle comedy about midlife crisis.”
– Doug Johnstone is the author Tombstoning, The Ossians and Smokeheads, which Faber publishes in March. ‘Four friends, one weekend, gallons of whiskey. What could go wrong?’
“Patti Smith at the Union Chapel in March. A mixed poetry and song show, plus Patti reading a couple of passages from her autobiography – was a remarkably moving experience.
In the theatre, A View from the Bridge on Broadway with Scarlett Johansson, Stoppard’s Arcadia at The Gate in Dublin and Women Beware Women at The National were all highly enjoyable big hitters. Sondheim’s Passion at The Donmar was a fitting celebration for his 80th birthday. A great score beautifully performed.
And LCD Soundsystem at the Coronet in London was a glorious night out with James Murphy in scintillating form.
Finally, and it don’t get more cultural than this, Man City’s ‘Team Bridge’ annihilation of Chelsea at ‘the Bridge’ was ‘the Beautiful Game’ at its finest.”
– Kevin Cummins’ Manchester: Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain is available in hardback. He takes us through some of the many iconic photographs here.
“Reading the first draft of Simon Reynolds’ spectacular, timely and radical (in a retro-reactionary way) new book, Retromania – which Faber will publish in June 2011 – I was turned on to the genius of Ariel Pink. To indulge redundant and lazy comparisons listening to Before Today was like hearing Diamond Dogs or Parade. Compulsive, completely unknowable and yet totally familiar, Reynolds’ description of Ariel Pink’s sound as hauntological makes perfect sense when you listen to this album: Joy Division, The Cure, Foreigner, Bowie; 80s drivetime AOR meets British postpunk and west coast psych Lyrical, gorgeous, addictive. A refracted engagement with a pop landscape everyone would recognise.”
– Lee Brackstone is Editorial Director at Faber, and co-editor of Loops.
“My highlights this year were both films: The Social Network, a smart, funny movie with a refreshingly intelligent screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.
I also enjoyed The Kids are All Right which boasts female characterisation the like of which is rarely seen in film, and stellar performances from all concerned, but particularly from Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo.”
– Jane Harris is the author of The Observations. Her new novel, Gillespie and I, is published in May and, if you can, make sure you get hold of a proof!
“The most compelling book I read all year – apart from The God of Small Things (a tragedy with childish humour in the A. A. Milne league, which I’ve had on my shelf for ten years and only just read) - was the paperback of Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story by J. Randy Taraborrelli (the 2010 edition that takes account of the death). Jackson emerges very clearly from it as a sort of well-meaning, unique sprite, who took longer than one might think to be engulfed by the strangeness of his circumstances.
The film I liked best was Skeletons, a micro-budget British feature - a psychic thriller with droll, downbeat dialogue and an unashamedly pretty, bucolic setting. It has the logic and elusiveness of a dream.”
– March 2011 sees publication of Andrew Martin’s The Somme Stations, the seventh outing for the ever-popular Railway Detective, Jim Stringer.
“So many books, so little time … standouts for me this year have been Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn, which proved that books can compete with movies when it comes to rendering the Vietnam
War; Iain M. Banks Surface Detail, his latest foray in to the Culture Universe; and Andrew Roberts’ The Storm of War, one of the finest single volume histories of the Second World War that has ever been written.
In a movie year stuffed with re-makes, re-imaginings and sequels, one sequel stands out: Toy Story 3, a fantastic example of making art that operates at multiple levels. I could live without the 3D though – I like my films without added headache.”
– Simon Appleby is the bibliophile behind the Bookswarm websites – Bookhugger, Bookdagger, Bookdiva, Bookgeeks etc. When he’s not reading books he’s working hard for a rival publisher.
“Favourite books of the year …
Lean On Pete by Willy Vlautin. Damn thing made me cry.
Micka by Frances Kay. Somewhere between the Irvine Welsh and Laura Hird schools of grimy realism, Roddy Doyle’s pared back vernacular, Shane Meadows’ This Is England and juve hall tales like The Wasp Factory and A Clockwork Orange, British playwright and social worker Frances Kay’s debut novel was the find of the year.
Rob Young’s Electric Eden, a sprawling and often awe-inspiring 664-page book, might best be described as a pysycho-geographical history of British folk music. It constructs a new mythography out of old threads, making antiquity glow with an eerie hue, and can sit proudly on any bookshelf beside Alan Lomax’s The Land Where Blues Began, Greil Marcus’s Invisible Republic, Nick Tosches’ Where Dead Voices Gather or Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming. The true life story behind Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ song and video has the makings of a novel in itself.
Audio dept …
Alan Moore – Unearthing (Lex Records)
A spoken word/music collaboration with producers Crook & Flail (Andrew
Broder and Adam Drucker), Alan Moore’s Unearthing is a two-hour reading of a piece commissioned for Iain Sinclair’s anthology London: City of Disappearances. The album takes the form of an homage to Moore’s old friend, British comics veteran and fellow occultist Steve Moore (no relation). As well as telling the story of one man’s life, Unearthing functions as a map of Steve Moore’s imagination, work, and the locale of Shooter’s Hill in South London.
Jinx Lennon – National Cancer Strategy (Septic Tiger Records)
The Dundalk soundtrack to the national breakdown. If 2009′s Trauma Themes, Idiot Times was a sandwich board scrawled with songs warning of imminent spiritual, mental and financial collapse, this album takes the form of 13 iodine pills to relieve the symptoms, chief among them being ‘Respect Yourself This Year’, the most unlikely self-empowerment mantra of the decade. ‘Nothing But A Leprechaun’ is a screed against rendition-complicit local politicos – plus us gobshites who pay their wages (tartly profiled as a race of people ‘who will only stand up for a soccer result’). ‘Pink Scrunched Up Thing’ is a revenge saga in which a wrathful Jinx visits a sadistic priest in a recovery home, collects him in his van, and, well, I won’t spoil the ending. Let’s just say it involves the words Black & Decker and a backing track
that’s like Grandmaster Flash on happy pills.
Then there are titles like ‘It’s Not Good To Be Alone In Your House When The Weekend Comes’ and ‘If You Change Your Accent For the City People’. Jinx Lennon is Ireland’s greatest living Irish songwriter, a Burroughsian state pathologist, bad conscience and protest singer all packed into a dark suit and shades.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (Sony)
For many Bruce diehards, Darkness on the Edge of Town is the holy grail. The Promise, containing some 21 unreleased songs alongside the original album and three films, tells the whole story of those sessions. That the original album’s title echoed James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’ was surely intentional. It’s a record about forbidden things, broken things, people who’ve had their noses bloodied by harsh realities, men and women who can’t bear to look at each other, other men and women who can’t keep their hands off each other. The Promise is the sound of a devotional rock ‘n’ roller giving
it everything he’s got, the kind of record Scorsese might’ve made if he’d picked up a guitar instead of a 16 mm camera.