Books of the Year 2022
Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year - Burley Fisher's Book(s) of the Year list is live! This year we've been loving translations, hallucinatory great writing, occulted histories and new perspectives on London. Dive in!
Look out for our stocking stuffers part 2, featuring new poetry, small books and zines, coming soon.
But first, a drumroll for our...
Book of the Year!
Journeys Across Breath: Poems 1975-2005, Stephen Watts
For the last 40 years, Stephen Watts has been a fixture of the landscape and the language of East London. Whether that be in his own poetry, or in the many translations he has produced, his influence, while not always obvious, has left indelible traces.
Just after we opened the shop, Stephen’s book Republic of Birds/Republic of Dogs was published - a beautifully fragmentary account of Stephen’s transplantation from the outer Hebrides to the Isle of Dogs in the 80s. Having been lost in a drawer for over 30 years it became a central text for our new bookshop. So I am delighted that collected here, for the first time, is three decades of his poetry - a real treasury
Bird-flight is music, language is freedom, breath is laughter
from ‘Journeys Across Breath’
It’s hard to find a poet that speaks as timelessly about east London as Stephen Watts. A quality that Watts’ poetry has is the ability to encompass all perspectives at once; the reader feels as if it isn’t a person speaking to them, but rather the place itself. The rhythms of the street move through every line, the images are at once familiar yet otherworldly. Journeys Across Breath is a joy to read as a whole anthology as various images arise and reoccur, spinning the reader into a heady atmosphere where time dissolves:
Windows candled to Friday night,
Would know this street is a seamless cloth, this
City, this people…
Windows of crushed coffee bleating
In the deep blue of Aldgate night
(from ‘Fieldgate Streets’)
The feeling of the collection is best found in the title poem ‘Journeys Across Breath’ where Watts addresses his grandfather whose steps he can hear descending a mountain road in Italy. The poem moves from these mountains to Soho where Watts looks at his mother across a cafe in Frith Street in 1912. Watts explains to his grandfather that his ‘university’ was three years spent on a remote island in north Uist, beyond Skye. It was here Watts learnt about sound by testing his mother-tongue against silence. Stories such as this amass on Watts’ journey and pour from each poem in this collection. A magical read.
Bolla, Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston
Pajtim Statovci returns with BOLLA, the story of Arsim and Miloš, a relationship born in secrecy and torn apart by the horrors of the Kosovo War. In a struggle to rebuild their lives after their separation, the two men commit atrocities both in their family lives and, in bitter self-loathing, to themselves and one another. As in his previous novel 'Crossing', Statovci masterfully conveys the human struggle in balance with a greater myth, in this case the Bolla serpent that breathes destruction into the plot. Statovci brings the reader closer to his characters than any other writer — BOLLA is a tale of great tragedy but is written with such depth that its humanity always prevails. An absolute blinder.
Hernan Diaz is officially two for two. His first book IN THE DISTANCE from Daunt Books Publishing was a revelation. TRUST sees Diaz continuing his written exploration of the foundations of America with similar aplomb and originality… Diaz leads the reader through a sequence of mirages made up of various versions of the life of Andrew Bevel, a New York business tycoon who rises to glory in the wake of the 1929 crash. The novel’s genius lies in its gradual revealing of Bevel’s wife Mildred who has been forced into the shadows of her husband’s success. By bringing Mildred to the fore, Diaz forces the reader to reassess the accounts of Bevel’s life that they’ve been told, and fallen for, throughout the book.
Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell
In this sprawling epic of weird fiction and dark fantasy Mariana Enriquez steps away from the distilled excellence of her short stories (What We Lost in the Fire, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed) to tell the story of Juan and Gaspar, a father and son on the run in Argentina from an organization called the Order. The novel shows how the Argentinian population has lived in fear at the hand of the ruling dicatorship’s cruelty and torture, the Order has fed off this fear to snatch and torture victims to feed the Darkness, a force only its members can tap into and control. Juan is desperate for his son to escape the Order’s clutches and be relieved of their dangerous powers before he dies from a heart condition. Between the forests, caves and cities of Argentina, to acid-fuelled psychedelic 60s London and into other worlds beyond ours, Our Share of Night blends folklore, politics and fantasy to follow father and son on their quest to be free from the clutches of evil by any means necessary.
Maud Martha is the only novel by the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and it’s just been re-issued in a handsome volume by Faber. It’s an absolute gem, a series of vignettes in the life of the eponymous main character, from her childhood to life in an apartment building on the South Side of Chicago. It’s basically a high literary version of the meme: expectation vs reality. It’s a real pleasure to read (the rhythms of the prose really let you know that you’re in the hands of a poet), while also being structurally slyly subversive. It stays with you!
When I Sing, Mountains Dance, Irene Sola, translated by Mara Faye Lethem
This book is a singing, dancing, grunting, barking joy – a song to the mountains and a cry against the Anthropocene. It takes place in a small community in the Catalan Pyrenees, following the misadventures of a family who live there, and the lives (human, non-human, and spirit) that intersect with them. With one section described by the lightning, and another by a deer, this novel delights and surprises at every turn!
The Books of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
Or possibly the book of the millennium! If you’re feeling a bit it’s-the-end-of-the-world and/or want to know more about Ukrainian borders and/or love a mind-bending historical novel with an angel’s eye view, or just looking for a book that will keep you going through the whole holiday season, look no further. Tokarczuk doesn’t just write this history, she lives it, with pitch-perfect epistolary chapters, rip-roaring adventures, and deep dives into characters’ lives that mingle psychological realism with metaphysical acuity. In short, this book has a bit of everything, including the reason that God is like an oyster. The Books of Jacob is a magnum opus by a Nobel winner, and an incredibly absorbing read that does politics, belief, history, and sex, in an unstoppable flow.
Deceit, Yuri Felsen, translated by Bryan Karetnyk
One of the pleasures of being a bookseller is being able to be a small part of a fantastic, unlikely story. This year it was my pleasure to support the sterling work of translator and archivist Bryan Karetnyk in his resurrection of a forgotten, marginal figure from the post-revolutionary Russian diaspora. Yuri Felsen was a writer of rare talent, whose legacy (and life) was obliterated by the grotesque National Socialist Machine. At the time, many (not without cause) likened Felsen to the great Proust. Owing to his tragic fate, Felsen was largely forgotten until his resurrection through the efforts of Bryan and the fantastic Prototype.
Deceit is a gentle, funny work about a listless romantic obsession. It has a dreamlike, almost timeless quality. It is a work that we should not be reading, but we are. What a joy.
The Absolute, Daniel Guebel, translated by Jessica Sequeira
I love Argentine fiction so much because of its particular suffusion of the mundane with gravitas, the injection of magic and the surreal into the everyday, tempered by a heavy dose of intellectual irony. The best examples of this work: Borges, Macedonio Fernandez, send your head swimming and prise open what is possible. In Daniel Guebel, these writers have found a worthy successor. The Absolute is in some ways a classic intergenerational tale, only one that follows a clan of artists - the Deliuskin-Scriabins - whose artistic obsessions border on the occult. In gorgeous prose (lushly translated by Jessica Sequeira), we see members of this family invent experimental noise music, create protective sound barriers around Grigori Rasputin at the height of the pre-revolutionary era of intrigue. This is a tale of modernity, of art’s relationship to the dark forces of the twentieth century. This is a must.
The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, Paterson Joseph
A rollicking read that’s also an eye-opener on English history and a new view on the palaces and alleyways of Georgian London, traversed by the unique figure of Charles Ignatius Sancho, actor, composer, musician, freedman, husband, father, and self-made man. This fabulous novel has all the dynamic power and full-bodied excellence of Paterson Joseph’s incredible work as an actor: Sancho leaps off the page, vivid in his self-confidence and self-delusion, his deep love and determination. If you’re in or visiting London, you’ll be incredibly tempted to set off for an Ignatius Sancho walk or walks, with Joseph’s/Sancho’s voice in your ear, bringing the city to life in all its complexities, from a dancehall to slavers to markets to grand theatre, as Sancho traverses spaces and classes, all the while acutely observing the coloniser. It really does feel like reading a secret diary (*full* of gossip), sprung fresh from the archive to redress the exclusion of Black Britons from literary history. An absolute treat.
Liberation Day, George Saunders
George Saunders loves Big Feelings. Not just in the sense of feelings that are strongly felt, but also affect that has a wide effect. He is the poet of Workplaces and Nations, and the climates of feelings which shape and define them. In Liberation Day, his most recent collection and his first since winning the Booker, everything is turned up to 11 - he has perfected all of the quirks that make his writing so singular and powerful, and turned the dial on all of them. This has the strange effect of producing some of both his best and worst stories. The title story is among the former, a Hegelian nightmare of historical re-enactment using human robots in the front room of Near Future America. It is a piano wire of story that resonates with righteous fury. It’s so good, that on the strength of it alone, this book is pretty unmissable. At Christmas, we all need a designated driver, and whether you’re an old fan or new to his work, you know you’re always in safe hands with ol’ George.
“People liked the life I showed them. The Stepford Wife, that's how they knew me. And my brand really did say it all, who I was - housewifery was my rebellion.”
Waiting for Ted is written from the perspective of an Instagram tradwife, exiled from her upper class family home after moving in with her working class partner, Ted. Rosalind waits for Ted to come home, readying herself with essential oils, lotions, powders and scents for his return. Cracks in the relationship and cracks in dried foundation deepen throughout the book, as episodic reflections illuminate fractures within the British class system, postmodern feminism and suburban living. This first person account of a broken relationship becomes increasingly unhinged, fluctuating between paranoia, egotism, delusion, denial and acceptance.
“... by their seventh autumn, Bell and Sigh rarely used the spray oil because they were no longer able to hear the smallest noises made by the aging house: the scheduled cracks, the nocturnal clinking of pipes, the whisper of the refilling cistern, the chatter of the loose gutter. The house’s smallest noises seemed to take place inside their bodies, then. Each one was as quiet and as manifest as the pop of a joint; the grumble of a stomach, the glug of a sinus.”
Seven Steeples celebrates the simple matter of time passing. The reader does not encounter any drama, jeopardy or action; there is hardly even a plot. What we are instead offered is a life shared by two people who move from the city to an isolated house in the Irish countryside. The landscape changes and then changes back. Clothes are worn through, fixed, and worn again. The dogs grow old; the house grows old, but our characters exist in a state of suspension, having separated themselves from family, community, the labour economy and all concepts of progress and productivity that go with those things. ‘Seven Steeples’ is the opposite of an epic but the feeling of its poetry is a combination of quietness and rapture. Nominated for the Goldsmiths Prize 2022.
Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain, Matthew Green
Step into the darkness of Britain’s Shadowlands with Dr Matthew Green as your guide. Weaving tales of abandoned villages, drowned Medieval port towns, the echoing hymns of forgotten communities and the haunted ruins of ‘ghost outposts’, Shadowlands is both a restless eulogy and prescient reminder of civilisation’s inevitable decay. From the far-flung island of St. Kilda, to the ‘Medieval Manhattan’ of New Winchelsea, each chapter is an open pool of poetic analysis and storytelling. Green is a fireball of knowledge and wit, drawing the reader further into his kingdom of loss. Shadowlands is a kryptonite gem that will live long in the reader’s memory. See also Matt’s brilliant tours of London at: http://unrealcityaudio.co.uk/
Landscapes of Silence: From Childhood to the Arctic, Hugh Brody
Take a moment’s pause within Hugh Brody’s tapestries of silence. Brody draws on close experience living with silence. From the Inuit communities in Sanikiluaq, Arctic Quebec where he uncovers Inuit traditions but also disturbing evidence of abuse and the effects of colonialism, to the hills of England and his experience growing up in a Jewish family in Sheffield where the silence of the unsaid haunted his childhood. Brody shows that silence is an underrated experience in life and an often negatively portrayed quality in people. Landscapes of Silence explores what it means to be silent, and how that translates back into our lived experience. It is not only beautifully written, it is an increasingly necessary book to read in our current world.
Front Lines: Trans Journalism 2007-2021, Juliet Jacques
Grouped into sections titled Politics, Media and Arts, Front Lines is a book that - like its author - repeatedly crosses all lines between them, including a brilliant intro that lays out the journalism and publishing landscape, and the economics of writing over the last 15 years. You’ve probably read some of the pieces in here, because over a decade and a half, Jacques has written for an astonishing variety of publications on a dazzling array of subjects. Reading them all together, though, is a total rush: a vivid document of an intense era in which the ‘trans tipping point’ and fascist transphobia are concurrent, and the interweaving thoughts of an original thinker. From football to Detransition, Baby: get you a writer who can do both.
This new book on writing, by novelist Amina Cain, has a dawn-like quality, illuminated by that associative clarity that you feel just after you wake, and which haunts you for the rest of the day. In a series of short chapters which read like exploded diary entries, she unearths gems from the writers who have informed her art and her life, and holds them up to the light. Questing, curious and partial, this is the perfect Christmas read for anyone in your life who needs permission to spend a bit more time in pursuit of beauty.
All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks
“When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist.”
Our 2022 bestseller, a testament to how visionary bell hooks’ “new visions” remain in tackling the central question of “what is love?” - and what we also need to unlearn to love fully. Arguing for love as a transformative political dynamic, bell hooks lays out a necessarily expansive vision that moves away from the myth of the closed romantic dyad as a heteropatriarchal colonial con and towards a beautiful embrace of deep friendship and companionship and chosen family. This is a book that feels like a much-needed hug from a beloved (and much-missed) auntie. Whether the holiday season is joyful or difficult for you, it's one to carry with you and carry you through.
The Dusty Knuckle, Max Tobias, Rebecca Oliver and Daisy Terry
When it comes to sandwiches, these guys have changed the game (booksellers eat a lot of sandwiches, so I should know). What makes them stand out, though, is their delicious bread. Potato sourdough. Fluffy focaccia. And now, they’ve put all their secrets in this book that you can buy for only £20. Fools!
Aside from their excellent recipes, they are also a social enterprise and have helped loads of people in Hackney and Haringey back into work. So: buy their book, bake their bread - nourish and be nourished!
Shaped by her Italian, Mexican and Brazilian upbringing, Ixta Belfrage’s cookbook is a joyful fusion of familiar flavours, given fresh life by bringing them into unfamiliar contexts and combinations. Playful (crumpet croutons!), flavoursome (Chicken with Pineapple and Ndjua) and accessible (tasty, tasty, fried bread), you’ll find yourself turning over the corner of every page. Perfect opportunity to bring some sunshine into your kitchen this winter.
Tyger, SF Said, illustrated by Dave McKean
TYGER is the new opus by beloved children’s author SF Said. We absolutely love this one – Said has achieved something so difficult in a children’s book: the gentle portrayal of complicated, challenging themes in a way that loses none of their moral urgency.
The book is set in a parallel, arrested 21st century London, in the midst of an oppressive lingering of the British Empire. We follow Adam and Zadie, two children whose fates are tied together with the eponymous Tyger – an interdimensional, Blakean avatar who is being hunted by the villainous Maldehyde.
But it’s not all intense foreboding! It’s also a rip-roaring half-term read. Said is a master of adventure, and Tyger is a worthy successor to the Varjak series.
There is something in this for everyone. The book’s genius is how it shines a light upon our own world: both the grim tyrannies which pepper our every day, and of the humble power of resistance. A remarkable tale of fantastic London.
A delicious addition to the world of picture books: a celebration of markets, cooking, and fresh food that combines a sweet and sensory short story of going to the Sunday market (look out for Claude the dog!) with cool and colourful facts to share about food and flowers. An energetic entry into a love of food and cooking, and a warm reminder to be conscious of where our food comes from and all the people who make it possible for us to eat, wrapped up in a bright string bag of a book.