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2018 Books of the Year

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    2018 Books of the Year

    I know, who can afford enough hardbacks to make a year list, and what relevance does the calendar year have anyway? Still, it's a lapsed OTF tradition that I start this thread and no one responds. I posted this on my long dormant house-dad's blog, but to save you the bother of clicking, and because I always seem to be on here pointing people towards stuff I've written, here's my, erm, Top Four.

    4. The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard (Vintage)

    Nicky Beard, the skinny nine-year-old kid on the front cover half-covered in a beach towel and crouching on a rock, looks just like I did in the 1970s. A few hours after it was taken, on August 19th. 1978, he drowned off the Cornwall coast, watched by his helpless older brother, Richard, who only just managed to pull himself free of the same treacherous undertow before running for help.

    The novelist uses this memoir to re-explore a day that his family had conspicuously ignored for 40 years. It will resonate with anyone who's experienced grief the British way. Exactly a week before this tragic drowning, my own favourite uncle died in a domestic accident. After the funeral, we didn't talk about it either. I remember my mum running out of the living-room to cry sometimes in the following months. But the emphasis is that she ran out of the room. No one said anything. No one ran after her. Meanwhile, she felt unable to subject us to her raw, raging feelings for her lost brother. It just wasn't done.

    Beard goes back in time to piece together what happened that day and in the following weeks, juxtaposing his own memories with those of his family, the coast guard who pulled his brother's body from the water, the official records, and the banal condolence cards that even in the days just after death suggest it's maybe time for everyone to move quickly on. Who was this boy, what remains of his identity in the minds of those who knew him, and why do we live in a culture so scared to properly grieve that we blank out those who've died as though they never lived at all?

    3. Four Feet Under by Tamsen Courtenay (Unbound)

    Most of us barely even notice the homeless, let alone talk to them and help them. This book aims to alter that mindset. The author interviews men and women living on the streets of London with nothing more than the possessions in their bags. They all have stories to tell, none of which are sugar-coated, and many of which follow a similar pattern - misfortune, child abuse and addiction, followed by destitution. A malicious step-dad or partner, a lost job, a weakness for something that gives you the illusion of strength - that could be any one of us out there in the rain, getting kicked and pissed on by some laddish wankers on their way home from the pub after all our physical and mental structures have fallen away.

    Sample quote (from the author's narrative): "We control our destinies. Maybe. But only up to a point. How many times have you made a rubbish choice or decision and seriously regretted it? [...] I've made several lousy decisions that have gone on, in one way or another, to colour the rest of my life. I've also not managed my life terribly well at times. But here's the thing - I was born bright, white, middle class, have supportive friends, a good education and was brought up to be confident. Periodically, I suffer from existential gloom but have no other mental health issues. I was able to more easily recover from my errors of judgment. So I asked myself - how hard and for how long are we going to punish the homeless for theirs?"

    2. Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (Knopf)

    In short - how wealthy companies, individuals and grandly titled foundations affect to change the world, while in reality preserving the status quo and, in the words of the jacket blurb, "obscure thier role in causing the problems they later seek to solve". And because the blurb puts it so well, let's continue with how Giridharadas "takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can - except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it."

    Sample quote: "When help is moved into the private sphere, no matter how efficient we are told it is, the context of the helping is a relationship of inequality: the giver and the taker, the helper and the helped, the donor and the recipient. When a society solves a problem politically and systemically, it is expressing the sense of the whole; it is speaking on behalf of every citizen. It is saying what it believes through what it does."

    1. Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch (Vintage)

    I was heartened to find this book on sale in a diminished pile at Manchester Airport. May enough people buy it and read it to elevate the collective British consciousness, stuck as it is right now in a belated imperialist hangover manufactured by faux-idiot barmen Farage and Johnson serving up colonial ale spiked with nonsensical lies, scurrilous incitements to xenophobia and delusions of empire. This brilliant and utterly absorbing personal account of an identity crisis - shaped by being the child of a Yorkshireman of German-Jewish extraction and a British woman born to Ghanaian immigrants - quickly broadens the picture to expose a nationally prevalent racism which, like grief and the homeless (see above), we are all quite gifted at pretending doesn't exist.

    Sample quote: "The whole debate around integration often overlooks the fact that many immigrants to the UK do not come with a headful of plans to live separately, or some kind of agenda as to how to avoid assimilation at all costs. They come with the ambition to create a better life than the one they had before. They bring with them their culture and traditions - mild attempts to preserve an element of their heritage, which pale in comparison to the behaviour of the British, who swept across the globe leaving Christianity, the English language, common law and Victorian education in their wake, and who ares till busy re-creating towns in Spain's Coosta del Sol, for example, in the image of the places they left behind in the UK. Immigrants who come to the UK are not looking for segregation, nor do they desire to be treated differently. What they desire is to be treated the same."

    I've only read one book released this year, so by default and because it's very good, my book of 2018:

    Revolting Prostitutes by Molly Smith and Juno Mac (Verso)

    Sample quote: "A system where everybody could migrate, live and work legally and in safety would not be a huge, radical departure; it would simply take seriously the reality that people are already migrating and working, and that as a society we should prioritise their safety and rights. Some journalists and policymakers argue that migration brings down wages. However, the current system, wherein undocumented people cannot assert their rights and as a result are hugely vulnerable to workplace exploitation, brings down wages by ensuring there are groups of workers who bosses can underpay or otherwise exploit with impunity. Low wages and exploitation are tackled by worker organising and labour law - not through attempting to limit migration, which produces undocumented workers with no labour rights."
    Last edited by Bizarre Lw Triangle; 18-12-2018, 13:37.