Best books of the year

cafeTime to quickly move on from twee punk. Make yourself a coffee, and let’s take a look at the best books written over the past 12 months, at least according to the Folio people who have just announced their contenders for the 2015 prize of book of the year. I find this easily the most interesting award of the year, whereas more traditional book prizes like the Booker Prize every year seem to become more of a joke seemingly giving the award to those who cozy up to the bookish editors of certain newspapers and ignoring those out there writing anything originbooksal.

The Folio Prize, thankfully,  isn’t like that. It features a lot of independent publishers and seems to really look at the quality of writing (rather than heavyweight names to guarantee media coverage). It only began last year  and they give the first award of 2014 to George Saunders “Tenth of December”, a brilliant collection of short stories. This year their shortlist looks ace too, every one of those books I want to read. I remember writing here about that Jenny Offill last spring, and I’ve just started the Ali Smith book too which I’m really trying (and failing) to get into. Maybe I’m just not smart enough? 😉

Folio Prize 2015 Shortlist

  • Rachel Cusk Outline
  • Ben Lerner 10:04
  • Jenny Offill Dept. of Speculation
  • Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor  Dust
  • Akhil Sharma Family Life
  • Ali Smith How to Be Both
  • Miriam Toews All my Puny Sorrows
  • Colm Toibin Nora Webster

Still none of those are as good as the books from the last century :

“She liked dogs, horses, sailboats, airplanes, climbing apple trees, staying up late at night, walking in the rain, driving around and around in an open car on a summer afternoon, sitting by a beach fire at night, lying on the ground and looking up at the underside of leaves and at lightning bugs and falling stars dividing her attention between a book that she had read many time and an apple, watching the sun go down and the moon go up” – William Maxwell “The Folded Leaf”

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Books and Music for Winter Blues

It’s really raining an awful lot here in Sussex at the moment, so much so that the simple pleasures is starting to wane, you know like watching the rain splash on the pavement and wearing wellies and jumping in puddles, holding your nose in case that puddle turns out to be a secret lake. Or is that just me?

Anyway, I don’t know about your but I get tired of all these magazine articles about “escape the Winter Blues” full of tips to re-energeise your life like eating broccoli for breakfast, joining a gym, tedious positive thinking like staring at your tired face every morning and saying “you’re looking great, you’re a winner”, oh and jetting off to some luxurious Island for the weekend. Or wait, that last one doesn’t sound too bad but it was in the Sunday Times so is out of my price range.

So, rather than offer ways to beat the winter blues I thought it would be fun to offer a couple of new books and records that indulge in the melancholy a little bit, not too much though, but just enough for days when you unplug your phone, draw the curtains and curl up under the blankets with a couple of packs of your favourite biscuits to watch the Homeland box set with. You got the hot cocoa? Then let’s go…

Jenny Offdosill Dept. of Speculation A novel about “love, parenthood, infidelity, and a crumbling marriage “ already sounds great, right? This one tackles all that in an experimental way, so you’ve got a little novel crammed of poems, notes, reflections, scribbles. There’s a nice little interview with Jenny-O over at NPR, and this one is out in a few weeks and I’ll be checking it out. My second tip is the effortlessly cool Gwendoline Riley Opposed Positions, I already mentioned this last year, but now it’s just out this month in paperback. Nobody writes opbetter about modern love gone sour better, her crisp urgent sentences will get into your heart, and you can read this one in one setting, she’s the best writer under 40 around today, dark and broody but beautiful writing.

Onto the music, my first tip for embracing the winter blues is Benji, the latest by Mark Kozelek under his sun kil moon name. This will probably end up being my record of the year, as these days all I ever do is listen to Mark Kozelek records, but anymusicway here’s a nice piece he wrote for the New York Times last week where he talks about this record, and his crazy life. The guy’s the best musician and songwriter we’ve got right now, so support him and buy this record! Finally, someone I know very little about – I think I even skipped the page about her in NME last week – is Angel Olsen who has a new album out in February, she did this haunting acoustic set over at NPR (again!) which you can watch or download. I don’t even know if I like this music, I don’t know if it’s really for me, but it did transfix me when I heard this session. She sure sings about sad things though, so be prepared!

When that’s all over and you’ve had enough of moping around the house feeling sorry for yourself, you can go and check out this cool blog by a summer camp member. It’s bright, breezy, fun, clever, much like summer camp themselves, who remain one of my favourite bands and I’m excited to hear their new record later this year. Like Promise Ring sang happiness is all the rage.