So this post is just me compiling a list of books I’d like to get around my birthday out loud. And you might like some of these too?
The Illustrated Dust Jacket (1920 -1970) – Martin Salisbury (Thames & Hudson):
The middle decades of the twentieth century saw an extraordinary flourishing of the illustrated, pictorial dust jacket. From the 1920s, as the potential for the book’s protective wrapping to be used for promotion and enticement became clear, artists and illustrators on both sides of the Atlantic applied their talents to this particular art form. Rising to the wide-ranging challenges posed by format and subject matter, leading artists and illustrators, including John Piper, Edward Bawden and John Minton in the UK and Ben Shahn, Edward Gorey and George Salter in the USA, brought their unique personal vision to bear on the world of books. Many of their designs reflect the changing visual styles and motifs of the period, including Bloomsbury, Art Deco, Modernism, postwar neo-romanticism and the Kitchen Sink School.
The Evenings – Gerard Reve (Pushkin Press):
Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.
This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.
Darkly funny and mesmerising, The Evenings takes the tiny, quotidian triumphs and heartbreaks of our everyday lives and turns them into a work of brilliant wit and profound beauty.
A Lover Sings: Selected Lyrics – Billy Bragg (Faber):
Billy Bragg is one of Britain’s most distinctive and accomplished songwriters, whose work has articulated the passions, both personal and political, of Britain during the past five decades. A Lover Sings contains over seventy of his best-known lyrics, selected and annotated by the author.
‘Sexuality’, ‘A New England’, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ – these are unadorned, poetic songs that skilfully interweave everyday observation with much broader concerns: of fairness and outrage, of generosity and love.
A Lover Sings reveals a unique sensibility: principled and proudly of the Left, funny, forthright and tender. It is a remarkable collection.
4th Estate Matchbook Classics:
Bad Blood – Lorna Sage
Stuart – Alexander Masters
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
The period is evoked through a wickedly funny and deeply intelligent account: from the 1940s, dominated for Lorna by her dissolute but charismatic vicar grandfather, through the 1950s, where the invention of fish fingers revolutionised the lives of housewives like Lorna’s mother, to the brink of the 1960s, where Lorna’s pregnancy at 16 outraged those around her, an event her grandmother blamed on ‘the fiendish invention of sex’.
Bad Blood vividly and wittily explores a vanished time and place, and illuminate the lives of three generations of women.
Stuart: A Life Backwards expanded the possibilities of what a biography could be: the stories it could tell, and how it could tell them. It is about a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer (‘a middle-class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander’), and Stuart Shorter, a thief, hostage-taker, psycho and street raconteur.
Told backwards – Stuart’s idea – it starts with a deeply troubled thirty-two-year-old stepping out in front of the 11.15 train from London to King’s Lynn, and ends with a ‘happy-go-lucky little boy’ of twelve. Compelling, humane and funny, it is as extraordinary and unexpected as the life it describes.
In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French Elle and the father of two young children, suffered a massive stroke and found himself paralysed and speechless. But his mind remained as active and alert as it had ever been.
Using his only functioning muscle – his left eyelid – he was determined to tell his remarkable story, painstakingly spelling it out letter by letter.
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly records Bauby’s lonely existence but also the ability to invent a life for oneself in the most appalling of circumstances. It one of the most extraordinary books about the triumph of the human spirit ever written.
Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts?
Over and Out,