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More 3:AM Books of the Year

Will Ashon

Roberto Bolaño, Collected Shopping Lists (Pickled Ore)
I was concerned that death had finally ceased the prodigious output of the Chilean maestro, but this 782 page monster shows that nothing as banal as mortality will halt him. Intense, lapidary and, at times, hallucinatory in its commitment to list-as-narrative, list-as-poem, list-as-memoir and list-as-list, nothing has more refreshed my appetite for literature this year. This beautiful edition (with full colour facsimile reproductions on the left hand page and English translations on the right) is a book which makes you ask the big questions—first and foremost, what did he do with all that Cif?

Anna Aslanyan

Güiłelmò Preêti Szabø, Paddling to Botswana (Words Without Warders)
It is an indictment of our Anglocentric culture that there has been not a single translation from Bislama published in English until now. The indie-minded WWW fills the yawning abyss of ignorance with this ethnopoetically rich and vocabularically diverse novel by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ rising literary star. Collaboratively translated by twenty-one emerging necrolinguists, no two of them working from or into the same language, GPS’s wanderlustful shipwreck survival guide is bound to put both her archipelagic origin and her paradisiacal destination on the map.

Burton Roberts, On Adversity (Blue Note)
Style is the man himself, and there is nothing more stylish than Roberts’s coherently bleak, eternally gloomy exercises in self-styling. His latest essayistic endeavour, uplifting in its disconsolateness, will make you acutely aware that your own melancholia is not worth the paper your Prozac prescription is printed on.

Sadiq Marxwell, 1917 Reasons to Celebrate (Sinistro)
This timely history of the Russian Revolution, the 101st to mark this year’s anniversary, is proof positive, if any was needed, of the supremacy of Communism and its intrepid fellow travellers. The occasional mass murder aside, the author proclaims from his North London barricade, the Revolution was the people’s act of love, and we must not let any subsequent minor excesses overshadow its achievements.

Owen Booth

Brian Keighley, The Bleak, Grim North (Northern Press)
Paul Brexit, Haddaway and Shite (Soil)
Richard Smythe, A Duck-Pond Year (Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald)
Sharon Gravy, The (Arndale) Centre Will Not Hold (Minus)
Ben Strickland, What a 1970s Folk Horror Carry On! (Kinema)

Bleak Northern landscapes meet bleak Northern violence in Northern writer Brian Keighley’s debut The Bleak, Grim North — a grim, bleak and uncompromisingly Northern tale of forbidden love and horrific vengeance, set on the bleak North Yorkshire pub car park fighting circuit. As a London-based journalist, I found Keighley’s visceral descriptions of life, death and vernacular dialogue among the grim, bleak moorland farmsteads beyond Harrogate thrillingly accurate. The first in a planned quartet.

Equally visceral, Paul Brexit’s challenging Haddaway and Shite reconstructs the grisly sights, sounds and smells of North East England in 435AD — telling the violent story of a dwindling band of hard-drinking, hard-fighting Original Britons, as they wage a guerrilla war to save their authentic culture and Way of Life against invading Picts, Scots, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and the occasional Jute. Written in the author’s own reconstruction of Ancient Cumbric, it’s an uncompromising and gruelling read that held me gripped throughout its 815 pages. ‘Howay, man, and let’s gan up the toon,’ indeed.

Gentler, more lyrical fare was to be experienced in Richard Smythe‘s long neglected but now republished late 1950s classic of Cotswolds-based nature writing, A Duck-Pond Year. A lyrical, healing meditation on the reclusive author’s year-long study of — and eventual relationship with — a local waterfowl, it culminates with a lyrical and moving description of interspecies love. Robert MacFarlane described the book as ‘Lyrical’, and nobody argues with Robert MacFarlane.

Less lyrical, but just as elegiac, Sharon Gravy‘s kickstarter-funded The (Arndale) Centre Will Not Hold: The Death of a Post-War Shopping Consensus celebrates and mourns a radical 1960s social and architectural experiment, its shining lights now almost completely demolished or unsympathetically re-clad. Touring the sites of all twenty-three original Arndale Shopping Centres, including in her home town of Luton, Gravy mixes political manifesto, memoir, travel guide, social history, hard-hitting architectural critique and ruin-porn coffee table book to powerful effect. Jonathan Meades was moved to call the book ‘authentically working class’ (Owen Hatherley was not available to provide a quote).

Finally, Ben Strickley‘s What a 1970s Folk Horror Carry On! was (hopefully) the final word in re-excavating the (by now almost empty) shallow grave of that decade’s oddly over-praised ‘tits-and-flares’ weird rural horror movement. Refreshingly, part-time film-maker Strickley rejects the usual Alan Garner-Children of the Stones-Witchfinder General-Whicker Man-Spooky Public Information Film touchpoints, and instead roots his study in an investigation into the disastrous and long-hushed-up filming of the never-released ‘Carry On Up the Blood on Satan’s Claw’. Essential reading for anyone who hasn’t already grown bored of this sort of thing.

Gavin James Bower

John Bull, Maiden Briton (Octet Books)
It took me a while to get around to it but I couldn’t put down (or putdown) Maiden Briton, published by Octet Books. I think that’s right — I’m not very good with names…

Daniela Cascella

Lena Errante, The Story of the Lost Letters (Campania Editions), translated from the Italian by E. F. Rose
An astonishing turn in the oeuvre of the popular Italian author, one that will surprise many of her devoted readers but will certainly please the linguists, the oulipoists, the typo-ists, the concrete poets, and anyone interested in the bricks-and-mortar of language, in the magic of the alphabet and in the spells of (mis)spelling. By omitting the initial letters from the names of the Neapolitan series’ key protagonists and, indeed, from herself, and by allowing, in a daring speculative move, those very letters to become characters, Errante boldly gestures toward an ultimate reductio of linguistic substratum, as language is stripped away to a bare substance of nothing. The nonsense dialogue of L and L fishing in Ischia, stylistically indebted to the traditional Neapolitan song O’ Guarracino yet skilfully revisited as a compelling critique of the gendered tropes of extra-linguistic utterance in local fishing communities, is only one example of Errante’s bravura.

No-one better than the editor of The Bibliographical Dictionary of Alphabetical Failure, E. F. Rose, to translate this highly singular work of linguistic jouissance. By appropriating the initial letters from the elusive Italian author’s name, a strong case is made for the translator as author, although one whose identity is in constant change, and has no domain proper (‘errante’ in Italian means ‘wandering’). Superb.

Sean-Louis Pennett, Bond (The Wrath of God Editions)
Collecting moments from the life of a retired Scottish actor living in a cottage on the Irish coast in County Connery, Bond is an astonishing debut. The retired actor, who had gained fame by playing a secret service agent with licence to kill, tries on ill-fitting suits, ceaselessly and frantically inspects the rooms in the cottage in search of bugs and microphones hidden behind paintings, underneath the control knobs of a stove, and among rotting fruit, muses on “the savage swarming magic of martinis shaken, not stirred”, finds his language beyond meaning in a communion with nature which is grounded in the everyday as much as in the eccentric, in the pitfalls and pleasures of retired life as he shoots cows and mice and tests malfunctioning mechanical contraptions in the fields, dispassionately embodying the mundane psychosis familiar to anyone who has ever spent too much time in the service of Her Majesty The Queen. “Simmering in the elastic gloom, you only live twice”.

VV.AA., Satan Is My Kickstarter (Inferno Books), with an introduction by I. M. Behemot
Here is the perfect Christmas present for young relatives who have been contemplating raising funds as a cover for family money laundering. Dr. Behemot has brought together a sharp collection of critical reflections by some key players in the field, such as I.M. Beelzebub, I.M. Lucifer, I.M. Baphomet, I.M. The Beast, organised in two sections, Satan Kicked My Art (Theory) and Satan Kicked My Cart (Practice). The chapter on how to sell your soul to the devil and start a literary magazine, Mock My Religion, penned by the editor of the volume, is particularly noteworthy, and spans literature and history from the beginning of Time. Includes a glossary of curses, maledictions and hexes to successfully dispose of competitors.

Thomas Mudd, Death in Venice (Cholera Books)
A retelling of the classic, written from the perspective of the polluted lagoon. Eco-apocalypse with angst. 

Julian Hanna

People are always asking me: What are you reading? Is it any good? Why have you always got your nose in a book? Where’s my mum? What’s for dinner? And so on.

In any case, here are my top picks for adult readers:

Helga Applebee, Childhoods of the Russian Futurists (Nunsuch)
Renowned cloud trouser wearer Vladimir Mayakovsky and fellow travellers throw their dummies out of the pram and beg for more gruel in this onerous compendium. Tintypes of poets and provocateurs at their least developed. Riveting.

Prof. Dr. Anselmo Slytherin Salazar, Heteronominous Bosh? (Bacalhau com Natas)
Prof. Dr. Anselmo’s tireless research in the back alleys of Baixa has uncovered the story of one Lourdes Ludovico, a lost heteronym of the poet Fernando Pessoa, who comes not only with the usual family tree, astrological charts, list of grooming habits, breakfast preferences, and employment history, but also a fully instantiated life-sized doll, lovingly hand sewn and garmented by Pessoa himself. You can even visit the doll on display in Dona Carlota’s Hospital de Bonecas. Utterly beguiling.

For younger readers and children of all ages (which is surely not a compliment), I recommend:

Christabel Smythe, Darwin, Voyage of a Beagle (Seventh Seal)
Classic real life adventure tale takes an anthropomorphic turn. Inclement.

John Banville, Adrian Mole: The Haunting (Viking)
Banville seizes the reins and revisits Adrian’s childhood for the last installment. Harrowing and spotty.

Frobisher Woodsman, Survivalist Saturdays: Prepping with Papa (Black Sun)
A hapless father and his five unruly children attempt to learn a new skill each week (knot tying, fire starting, tea making) in an endearing but ultimately vain and fruitless attempt to fend off the coming darkness. Indispensible.

Andrew Robert Hodgson

Oran Histrian, A British History of the Now (Unicycling Gewalt Press)
This timely historiography of the British present provides an in-depth view into the living space of the British now. Delving into the realities of unstable political leadership, growing social inequality, community estrangement and a worrying cultural turn inwards that have come to typify Britain in 2017, or 1982, or Rivers of 1968, or 1945, or 1938, or 1920, or any British now, really. Histrian’s conclusion that the British are a “nation of shopkeepers” (pp. 856-857) might perhaps sound somehow familiar, perhaps, however the term definitively describes the character of Britain now, whichever now the reader might prefer.

Georges Perec, La Liste d’achats (Éditions Désespérée, 2017)
Following the recent discovery and ensuing publication of Perec’s, termed juvenilia, Le Condottière and L’Attentat de Sarajevo, I had not thought Perec’s oeuvre could so easily be recycled back further, however this astounding discovery brings new light to his better-known texts. A collection of receipts and shopping lists the publisher explains, “was found down the back of Harry Matthew’s sofa”, this collection brings the reader past Perec’s attempts at exhausting the everyday, to his everyday. His preference for Monop’ over Carrefour, and penchant for trout has not gone unnoticed. As the brilliant post-face by Professor Whosit Whatnow explains, “the collection provides a window by which Perec’s writing can be done away with entirely, leaving the reader to finally be able to ponder the dinners behind the veil of fiction”.

Critique Keating, The Pataphysical Invention of Everyone (Éditions Prochain Porcin, 2017)
In this fascinating progression of the on-going case of ‘is Dadaist Julien Torma real?’, Critique Keating puts forward newly discovered material revealing the true identities behind a number of lacunae within literary history. Drawing from a dry-cleaning ticket, an off-tuned piano in the concourse of Gare St. Lazare and a small Yorkshire terrier turned glossolal, Keating begins by finally revealing the true identity behind the Comte de Lautréamont, who was in fact, indeed, invented by none other than Alfred Jarry, who himself was invented by a postal worker in Meudon, who, on his deathbed, revealed his ruse to the attending doctor, Louis-Ferdinand Céline – who, Keating reveals, himself is a figment of Julien Torma’s imagination, dragged into external reality during a particularly violent cycle of REM.

This discourse lays the groundwork for the revelations of Keating’s pre-post-ante-face, in which he revelates that Torma himself is Keating’s own childhood imaginary friend who, having escaped the bathroom despite agreeing “for sure” not to, had now not only inserted himself, but a whole host of entirely unbelievable fictional characters into French Literature courses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Though, as the post-post-face to this fantastic addition to Julien Torma studies relevates, everyone and everything turns on a ballerina’s spindle inside Victor Hugo’s left inner-ear anyway.

Richard Marshall

Roy ‘Coiner’ Greaves, Coiner (Brekkie Press)
‘Ok kitten, I’ll tell you what was great about the seventies. Windows are never clean. Brown was the colour of relationships and death your pissed fast mother. Haircuts settled on the growth, repair, mutation and error connection phase like fast-tracked replication fucks and horny bunny guys and gals fed on zero gales where brawn and carnal flesh linked to bolt machines and sloe grease a million blood and sperm miles north of any ponce gym.’ That’s how the late Roy Greaves starts to tell his story as the last Coiner. Half man, half penny, his kind were the giants in an age of giants. Moving, oppressive, violent and full of hairy sex and ripped ass violence, this is the kind of memoir that lacerates and refuses to heal.

‘Caustic and vital, the North East’s Brekkie Press carries the candle yet again for brave publishing in the face of corporate venture capitalism’s attempt to cut off literature’s cock and tits’ – Stewart Home in the TLS
‘Yes, I agree’ – Will Self

Collin Falla, Meshwork Driving: No Left Turn (MIT Press)
Epistemologist Colin Falla introduces a new way of truck driving for the 21st century, abolishing the prim representational logic of postmodern Top Gear symbolism and metaphors for apocalyptic chaos desire and plastic motion. Falla argues that now is the time for a new discourse of driving performance and material behaviours, behaviours behind the wheel that synthesize heterogeneous elements to catalyse different styles via what he calls ‘autocatalytic looping’. No longer are we to wait for the cameras and the green lights to start before driving like a fascist gimp across linear highways of the cortex-spawned language of roads, streets, highways and the like. Falla insists the new petrolhead will be a wired electrical zombie no longer at the mercy of the billboards and neon signs of a rapidly archaic urban logic. She may never actually drive. What Falla sees is the emergence of non-equilibrium conditions which depend on the energy flows of the chaotic to orchestrate self-organising traffic regulatory processes.
‘The road and the driver’s relationship now is one of breakdown, an interlocking insane meshing of impossible behaviours, each element working at different speeds, moving in different directions, with no one element acting as a container for those that crystalise at a later point.’ A book that stares without blinking into a technological future world of consuming auto-crash that goes beyond gridlock to driverless car crash apocalypse. ‘Of course we’ll all die in this,’ is Falla’s rather downbeat conclusion.

‘Bummer’ – Noam Chomsky, NYROB

Glen Zipe, Pointless Woolie Flesh (Straddle-Me Press)
When the last Woolworth’s finally closed, the sexual playground of a haunted English eroticism was lost forever. Glen Zipe’s urgent little book recalls the misery of the strange pathologies of the grim mauve sadness and holiness of these sacrilegious shopping emporia. Zipe writes badly, and there are moments when it isn’t easy to separate his own state of mind from the worlds he describes. But there is a seedy love here, somewhere between murder and onanism, and we all know that that is the exact territory of our lonely essential significance. A book that can be compared to anything by the Charles Gatewood of Painless Steel and Weird Mardi Gras, the chapters on Swansea’s Woolworth nudist bikers  ‘… in the aisles of biscuits and cupcakes, naked like the ice cold bodies of the Tierra del F, but swankier…’ and Nottingham’s tattoo weekend held in 1994 when 10,000 enthusiasts crowded the Woolies store over the two days, ‘… Psychic TV soundtrack blasting throughout, sizzling flesh and flowing ink, Annie Sprinkle, S/M on the boxes of McVities and Micky Sharpz spazzing to a celtic punk curd, someone screaming they’d lost a genital…’ , nearly redeem this rather sad, loathsome book. There’s something about the lost mundane drabness of shopping at Woolies that overlays all the erotic expenditure. Perhaps this is the book for our times, where a nation had to chose between a future that happens elsewhere and a past of apologies. As Zipe writes: ‘Woolworths was our collective transcendental church. When it closed down, luxury lost its meaning and poetry its commercial backdrop. Who really believes the City can hold us together now.’

‘Reminds us what we lose when cities are brought down to Thatcherite suburban scale. A Larkin for our last decade’ – Owen Hatherley

Chuck Margoolies, Lunch Boxes – The Noughties (Houdini Press)
Over 100 photographs of lunch boxes decorated with scenes from popular jelly dishes of the early 21st century. Updates the classic Lunch Box – The Fifties and Sixties by Scott Bruce. Shows the sad decline of our general culture since then. Trying to substitute Bonanza, Get Smart and The Jetsons with jelly food reveals how far we’ve declined. A subversive and frightening critique of the current crisis in the Humanities.

Val Dobson, Lube Gal (XZ Press)
When Slender Vine loses her job as a manifold sorter at the local dock, she turns to lube groceries to pay her rent. Scumbag landlords of various stripes get their fill of lube as Val turns destitution and ruin to her advantage. Within a decade she is Lube Gal, a femme nightmare dominating the night scum of Darklord City and its myth-dripping power-wizards. Elegant she ain’t. Fast talking, smoking hot and lubed to her brows, she brings underground communism to the immortal city via sex maniacal bilingualism, leaving crooks, priests, businessmen and saps croaking for her waltzing egalitarian pussy. ‘Come on Mr, there’s no one here now but you, me and Karl Marx. This is a city of loss and emptiness, and you’re the bluebottle. I’ve come to fill it up with socialist hope. Now let’s see you do something really tough, like pulling your jeans off while I collapse your bank with my quantum lube tube…’

‘Hard boiled futurism at the interface between porn and sci fi/fantasy. Sleaze has never been so smart’ – China Mievelle

Ray Slim, Farewell Myxomatosis (Bloomsbury)
A reworking of the Peter Rabbit stories, mixing social realism with zombie disease dystopia. After a century of Disneyfication, Slim returns rabbit literature to the adults. A hallucinatory labyrinthine plot revealing for the first time the subterranean and hideous forces grounding ‘Farmer’ McGreggor’s ghoul powers. Cannibalism for the eco-terrorist, deep as a green swamp drowning, written on psilocybin and nerve gas. Dark and primal.

‘Bolano meets Potter in Lovecraft’s potting shed’ – Philip Pullman, London Review of Books

James Triote, Surfing the Polar Bear (Kangaskin)
A reissue of the sensational book that was banned in the UK in the 70s and never resurfaced until now.

‘We’re living through the 6th extinction and not exploiting the possibilities. I’m here to change all that,’ claims explorer, playboy and billionaire socialite James Triote. His book gives his account of the ‘extinction excitement’ that he thinks most of us are avoiding through collective guilt and puritan repression. His advice throughout is for us not to avoid the horrors of the dying natural world. We caused it, have no idea how to stop it so we should co-opt it and turn it into a ‘last days of new Rome’ adventure playground of new sports and wild experiences. New sports he writes about include ‘Surfing the Polar Bear’ — literally surfing using starving polar bears as surf boards, ‘Rhino Horn Jousting’ and ‘Snow Leopard Paw-boules’. After the initial feeling that this was all wrong, I found myself warming to the decadence. The message is clear: overcome disgust by embracing it. Timely.

‘This is the most truthful book I have ever read. Reads like a novel I would have liked to have written. The psychopathology of the late twentieth century written in the hallucinatory prose of De Sade infused with the dream nightmare landscapes out of Dali’ – JG Ballard, New Statesman, June 1978

Susana Medina

Naomi Andersen, The Lake of the Critical Condition (Cult Fictions)
A tour de force, The Lake of the Critical Condition is destined to become a classic. Living during the age of uncertainty, Lily Liliana succumbs to a mysterious illness. Her visits to the lake off the M1 become a meditation on the nightmares that plague our world. From the plight of refugees, to the pervasive inequality which has brought us a homeless epidemic, foodbanks, children suffering from malnourishment and long vanished Victorian illnesses, to tax havens, Brexit and plastic fantastic culture, the pernicious effects of which can be seen on the lake, her thoughts leave no stone unturned, and are poignantly summarised when she begins to make pithy altruist memes which become viral.

As her mysterious illness begins to subside, concrete poetry emerges from the lake as a kind of subtle vapour which then morphs into a swarm of birds which then fly through a few memorable pages in which playful typography disrupts and dissolves current fascist narratives. A labyrinth of echoes of many voices, there is a soft irony as Andersen swims through thriller, adventure, horror and romance genres, while delighting in homage, pastiche, re-mix and appropriation. Referencing The Altruist Meme throughout, wittily recording and expanding on the societal paradigm shift that is taking place, The Lake of the Critical Condition is an enchanting and urgent call to dream a better world, empowering us with an inspiring vision of the future. Naomi Andersen is a compelling innovator. And this is a marvellous book: the last pages are likely to leave you with a lingering smile.

Nicholas Rombes

Tenisha Brambler, Hardballs
The third in a projected series of 14 volumes, Hardballs is basically a reprint of its predecessor, Hardbals, and yet another unfortunate stunt by the publisher. With the blank affect of a Jennifer Egan novel and the outre shenanigans of mid-era Benny Hill, Hardballs’s numerous blank pages, reverse-type layout, and other textual nonsense add up to something decidedly less than zero.

Hubert Homs (misspelled “Homes” on the front jacket), The Jans
Advance reading copies of this novel came packaged, unfortunately, in what smelled like cat-micturated-in boxes. And — in the printing this reviewer received, at least — there were mis-paginated and missing pages. Despite these drawbacks, the book has a certain magnetism and allure, tracing a librarian’s obsessive quest for the perfect JAN due date stamp with regards to kerning, ligature, and alignment.

Jazmine Moor, HSac
HSac (human sacrifice) is the first such novel, we think, to be set in Knoydart, the Highlands. Although it has drawn comparisons to The Wicker Man (1973) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011), Hsac is even yet more restrained, and thus more terrifying. The 25-page flaying scene sits at the centre of the novel, whose spirals are dizzying.

Will Wiles

This year I have been finishing a novel of my own, so I have really caught up on my reading and Minecraft. At last I have been able to get around to Oliver Pierce’s disturbing psychogeographical novel Murder Boards (Panhandler), a non-sequential, stream-of-consciousness exploration of the rippling consequences of a London missing persons investigation, which digresses about halfway into an elegy for closed pubs in the East End. I can’t say I fully understood or finished it, but I will be pretending that I did and recommending it to people for the foreseeable future. Pierce subsequently published the surprise autobiographical bestseller Night Traffic, and then completely disappeared, which is to say, stopped using Twitter.

In non-fiction, I found Hugo Pleasance’s pop-sociology smash hit Will This Do: The Surprising Science of Adequacy (Airside Smiths) to be a smooth, unobjectionable reading experience, containing at least three instances when a thought kind of occurred to me. Pleasance’s thesis is that exceptional performance in any field actually isn’t the norm, when you come to think about it, and that mostly people find acceptable results are more than enough to go along with, given the time, and that’s as far as the thesis goes, but it’s interesting in itself, when you come to think about it. It has sold two million copies, and I bought eight to give as gifts to people I don’t know very well.

But the book that made by far the biggest impression on my year was Jennifer Wimsey-Cannon’s Parp Parp Parp Parp (Noisy Duck). This illustrated tale of a farting elephant who is rejected by his herd but finds acceptance in a brass band is an exercise in Oulipo for the under-eights, consisting only of the repeated word ‘parp’. It has become a firm bedtime favourite in our house, having been requested every night since March. On no account buy this book or accept it as a gift. This Christmas we will be giving our little ones the Dark YouTube Annual 2018 (Deepmind), which looks back over the year’s best inexplicable, disturbing, algorithmically generated, horror-tinged videos for the under-supervised young browser, containing such highlights as Paw Patrol Salo Mastermix and the unforgettable Finger Family Abattoir W0W.

All cover artwork (except Susana Medina and Nicholas Rombes’s entries) by Yanina Spizzirri, a Los Angeles-based artist and experimental prose editor at minor literature[s].

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 20th, 2017.