One of the best things about the holidays (apart from mountains of food, seeing family and presents) is some free time to curl up with a book. And when you get to January – skint, hungover and with firm resolutions to stop eating mince pies for breakfast – reading is a fantastic way of escaping the wintry weather and spending any Christmas gift vouchers. When we asked people for some great books from 2012, a few of them said Fremont or Ramshackle. Just leaving that out there for anyone who still has Christmas shopping to do… For the more organised (not including me!), we thought that some friends of ours could offer some excellent suggestions for your shopped-out minds. They’re not necessarily first published in 2012, but that’s when the readers below enjoyed them. Given that The Lighthouse has received three votes, it’s leapt to the top of my to-read list, but I’ll have most of these on my 2013 book pile.
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck. Erpenbeck’s third, thin novel builds itself up from the ground and into the shape of houses by a lake and is about the successive families that live here, before, through and after the atrocities of war. The language is simple, almost of folklore, and it took one of my classes 45 minutes and a very very long piece of paper to sketch the timeline of events with any confidence. That said, it’s an amazing book and the first read is an act of making yourself lost, each read after is about becoming more and more found.
Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story by Kapka Kassabova. Memoir, essay and all close-dancing in a book about Argentinian tango. The subject is fascinating and the writing superb. It definitely made me want to put on some closed-toed shoes and give it a try.
Nox by Anne Carson. An eulogy, a translation and a work of art. Like all her work, this can’t quite be defined, but it’s something visceral that cuts through our need to understand and simply becomes experience. She’s not to everyone’s taste, but for me she represent a fearless writer who communicates the deeply problematic, the inexpressible.
Since I view most reading as entertainment and inspiration (to read more, to write more, to make more), if you’ll indulge me I’d like to recommend a film. I recommend seeing Pina, the Wim Wender film about the dancer, choreographer, genius Pina Bausch. If you’re down, if you’re happy, if you’re stuck, if everything is flowing, it reminds us of bodies and art and daring. How to fall and trust and oh, that dive. That dive is incredible.
SUSIE MAGUIRE, author of the short story collections The Short Hello and Furthermore, and editor of four anthologies of short fiction, including Little Black Dress. She lives in Edinburgh. You can find her on Twitter as @WrathOfGod.
At EIBF this August, Morag Joss read from and discussed her 7th novel, Across The Bridge (now in paperback, Alma, £7.99, in the US, this title is Among The Missing, Random House), and it was fascinating. Her work is always strong and subtle, she has great instinct for story, and this one, about the meeting of three lost souls struggling with tragic circumstances – aka Fate – is truly mythic.
Diana Hendry has written several books for children, but her new novel, The Seeing, (The Bodley Head, £10.99) is one I think adults will also enjoy. Set in 1953, it features three children, one of whom has ‘second sight’, and Hendry’s poetic eye brings their relationships and dilemmas beautifully to life.
I’m also cherishing a copy of Cynthia Rogerson’s new novel If I Touched The Earth (Black & White, £7.99) like an unopened present, to be read at Christmas time.
DOROTHY ALEXANDER, poet and teacher
A book that I enjoyed this year focused on the father/child relationship. A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Author), Don Bartlett (Translator), Harvill Secker; I found it brave, writerly, surprising and deeply satisfying.
VICKI JARRETT, author of Nothing is Heavy
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year, this is my most recent read of 2012. I tore through it in a day. Gripping, bleak and tinged with a deep sense of melancholy and irredeemable loss. Moore’s writing style is sparse and taut but full of echoes and reflections that make the story both dreamlike and all too real. A stunning debut.
Tales from the Mall by Ewan Morrison
This isn’t a novel, and it isn’t a collection of short stories, as such. It’s a hybrid mutation of fact, fiction, social history, anti-consumerist polemic and reportage. I’ve always found shopping centres to be alienating and slightly scary places. Turns out I’m not the only one and that my response is perfectly rational, given the facts. This book is better for you than ‘shopping therapy’ any day.
This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
A collection of short stories from the author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even The Dogs. Jon McGregor indulges his more experimental side here with some fascinating and challenging short works. By turns exhilarating and perplexing, there is some truly beautiful writing here shot through with a pervading air of menace that lingers.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This odd little cross-over book is suitable for any reasonably literate child (or adult), aged nine and up. It follows the trials of 10-year-old Auggie who suffers from a severe facial deformity and is starting school for the first time. Adults may find it sugary in places, and the conclusion is so upbeat it deserves its own brass band. However, I can certainly recommend it as a good cross-generational reading experience for the whole family.
EM STRANG, poet
David Troupes, The Simple Men (Two Ravens Press). Vivid, spacious, tightly honed poems about the human and nonhuman animal, and the relationship between the two.
Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press). One of the best texts I’ve read on thinking through nature, questioning embedded and embodied ideologies and trying to define the strange intimacy of ecological interrelationship.
LINDA CRACKNELL, author of Life Drawing, The Searching Glance and A Wilder Vein
World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, Christian McEwen, Bauhan Publishing (in the UK, copies can be ordered through Eurospan)
In this study of the relationship between slowness, living simply and being creative, Christian McEwen advocates walking, talking, reading, telling stories, dreaming and being alert as a route to happiness. It’s a playful book with a wise undertow, drawing on the author’s own experience, dipping widely into other writings, and offering the reader ‘tactics’ to try at the end of each chapter. A ‘manual’ and inspiration I will want to revisit regularly.
In Another World: Among Europe’s Dying Villages, Tom Pow, Polygon
A marvellously unclassifiable book, this is as much about journeys and the road as it is about home, places, people, stones and change. It crosses genres – poetry, essays, short stories – as well as crossing the continent – Spain, France, Russia. What glitters through it is the writer’s compassionate and warm engagement with the people he meets and gives voice to, who are on the cusp of losing ways of life and inventing new futures.
The Lighthouse, Alison Moore, Salt
As a keen walker myself it was the walking tour in Germany providing a circular narrative that initially drew me to this novel. However middle-aged Futh was soon suffering from blisters and sunburn, was getting lost and forgetting to take any food. (I at least would have taken a map and some Compeed.) Even without reflections on the end of his marriage, and the reliving of a painful previous holiday with his father, it all seemed rather bleak and pathetic. Despite this, I found The Lighthouse a compelling one-sitting read which accelerates the reader’s discomfort at a growing menace simultaneously with Futh’s apparent ease with himself as he draws towards the closure of his circular journey.
HELEN SEDGWICK, writer and editor. Find her on Twitter @helensedgwick.
My Mother Was An Upright Piano is a new collection of short short fiction from Tania Hershman. Published by Tangent Books in 2012, these off-beat stories are quirky and addictive; most only a page or two long, they combine Hershman’s love of science with her understanding of humanity. Perfect for dipping into between presents and turkey, the collection is small but perfectly formed.
If you want a creepy Christmas this year, Louise Welsh’s The Girl On The Stairs is one to read in front of the fire. Welsh’s characteristic claustrophobia doesn’t disappoint, and with uncertainties about motherhood, isolation in a foreign city, and shadowy figures passing in the dark, there’s enough going on here to keep you gripped through the holidays.