Monday, 28 November 2016

Book Club 2016

Here we go again. Christmas is coming, and the papers are full of "books of the year" lists. Those lists can be very strange, especially in the heavyweights like the TLS, where the choices are often not so much recommendations as competitive confessions of irredeemable bookishness. Although the Le CarrĂ© and Springsteen autobiographies do get quite a few mentions this year – times have changed. Maybe that Dylan Nobel has been having an effect, or maybe it's the main symptom of the changes.

I've been trying to resist book-buying this year, which means I've still probably bought rather more than a normal person buys in a decade. In the interests of relieving pressure on shelf-space, though, I've tried to restrict myself to small books wherever possible (and Kindle books are really small). I've never really enjoyed BIG books, anyway, and can't understand the hunger for them (I think I've mentioned before how Richard Misrach's Chronologies, too big to fit on any shelf, just hangs around waiting to trip someone up).

So, for what it's worth, here are a few of my recommendations:

1. Tom Phillips has produced what he is declaring the Final Edition of his magnum opus, the "treated Victorian novel" known as A Humument. If you don't know this book in its previous editions (including a superb app for the iPad) you have been missing one of the most brilliant, sustained, amusing, and inventive acts of disruptive imagination ever committed. You simply have to buy several copies, one for yourself and a couple to give as presents. It's currently only out in hardback, I think, but very well-priced from Thames & Hudson (ISBN 978-0-5005190-3-5).

2. For something totally gorgeous at a ridiculously reasonable price, you can't beat Nick Turpin's On The Night Bus, from Hoxton Mini Press (ISBN 978-1-910566-16-9). Buy direct from the publisher: their packaging is quite something. If you've ever felt the magic of a night bus ride through a city, and that odd, dreamlike state you sometimes enter when surrounded by strangers, then this book will speak to you.

3. & 4. I very much enjoyed two books of "altered" photography from small landscape photography publisher Triplekite, Valda Bailey's Fragile (ISBN 978-0-9932589-4-7) and Chris Friel's Framed (ISBN 978-0-9932589-0-9). Both are destined to be classics, I think. You can buy them direct from Triplekite. Small, square, inexpensive, unusual, and beautiful; perfect.

5. Amusingly, given my comment about Chronologies above, one of the most interesting, innovative and smallest books I've come across this year is Baptiste Lignel's lengthy interview with Richard Misrach, published as Richard Misrach in the "Photographers References" series (ISBN 978-2-9543839-27). It's quite hard to describe the novelty of the approach in this series, so have a look at the video here. I bought my copy direct from the publisher, and had the surprise bonus of Misrach's signature on the title page. I'm not sure if this is a standard feature!

6. Once again, let me persuade you to buy, read, and inwardly digest Luigi Ghirri's The Complete Essays 1973-1991 from MACK (ISBN 978-1-91016-414-3) – inspirational writings from a truly great photographer. I don't recommend their Luigi Ghirri Postcards, however; it's an odd selection of images, not terribly well reproduced.

7. Finally, for something a little bit special (if you can find a copy, which may be difficult now, as there were only 800 printed): Japanese photographer Kou Inose's Complete Works was brought out in a really fine volume by Getsuyosha (ISBN 978-4-86503-024-2). If your taste runs to the Dark Side (and the Japanese really do Dark like no-one else) then look no further. Monochrome studies of autopsies, and gnarly landscapes that look like autopsies? Josef Koudelka-style panoramas of abandoned industrial and domestic clutter? It's all here, beautifully printed and bound. Be warned, though: it is very dark in places, and one of those books that you need to take a deep, calming breath before opening.

By the way, if you want to keep on top of all the new photo-book releases, and be in with a chance of scoring a copy of soon-to-be-scarce items like the Kou Inose, my two main book-pushers are Beyond Words and Photobookstore, both of which are small, committed enterprises worthy of your support, with a regular email-distributed newsletter you can sign up for. Only if you can withstand temptation, that is, and can afford the habit.

Of course, if you want something really special, you could direct your attention to the My Blurb Bookstore section over there on the top right corner... But be aware that Blurb's Christmas delivery deadlines are getting close (standard December 9th, express December 13th, priority December 14th).


Mike in San Diego said...

Thanks for the book suggestions. I ordered "On the Night Bus." Looks interesting.

Mike C. said...


It is a great book, beautifully produced (and small!). If you've ordered one you should get a special promotion mail, with some real Xmas offers, including your choice of three of their "special" editions (clamshell box, numbered and signed, plus print) for £100 -- that's a real bargain.