Books of the Year 2021By Burley Fisher Books
Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year… the time when Burley Fisher nerd out about our favourite titles! Enjoy personal recommendations from our amazing crew: Ant, Dan, Enya, Pema, Sam & So. Have a bookish Xmas with these faves.
Brontez Purnell£9.99 £9.49
Sam says: "This breakout and runaway hit from the hottest new indie on the block, Cipher Press, is a rolicking and rutting collection of stories about gay desire. Purnell’s characters seduce their colleagues’ partners and solicit sex on their lunch breaks. It is a filthy, foulmouthed and absolutely hilarious celebration of gay sex in all its forms (the story about the Satanist Warlock encounter is particularly memorable). At times unexpectedly abrupt and brutal, as characters fight self-sabotaging tendencies, these stories are just as often unexpectedly tender."
Raymond Antrobus£10.99 £10.44
Sam says: "In this follow-up collection to the Folio award-winning The Perseverance, Antrobus continues to explore the themes that threaded his first collection – sound and language, place and loss – but does so in a register that feels less raw and somehow more reconciled. He wrestles with the limits of love over distance and time (both his parents’ and his own) and gives the relationship of his partial deafness to his work a greater sense of embeddedness, dotting the collection with ‘caption poems’. Having dispensed with some of his anger, he has lost none of his compassion. All The Names Given is a mature and lyrically complex second collection from one of British poetry’s greatest talents."
Sam says: "In her second novel, Olivia Sudjic grapples with the effects of childhood and intergenerational trauma. Anja is a refugee, a survivor of the siege of Sarajevo. It’s an experience that haunts the novel, never directly described, but traced through its effects on Anya’s relationship with her fiance. The novel takes us from London, to Provence, to Cornwall, and eventually back to Sarajevo, where Anya’s mother is suffering from dementia and believes the siege is still underway. In her airless relationship with Luke, there is no escape for the part of Anja that has remained with her mother in this endless siege, and this failure is the beginning of a psychological disintegration which powers the climax of the novel. Wise and exact, Asylum Road is unsparing and unmissable."
Louise Gluck£8.99 £8.54
Ant says: "In ‘Averno’, Louise Glück examines the gradual weathering of her life lived in love, loss and regret. These poems are a deep insight into the impossibility of understanding and often feel suspended in their own vacuum of space and time, to be plucked, read and given back to the fragility from whence they came. The emotion always lingers with quiet brutality. The title is taken from the name of a volcanic crater lake near Naples (‘Avernus’ in The Aeneid) that the Romans believed was a portal into the underworld. It is here that Glück peers into the void with the myth of Persephone as a touchstone throughout. A collection of devastating beauty and deep poetic wisdom. ‘Averno’ stays with you and will draw you back to its darkness time and again."
Marian Engel£9.99 £9.49
Pema says: "It might feel wrong but I’m here to compel you, you must, must read the sexy bear book. It’s so good, wow, I sat down and read it in two hours. Faster, my fingers turned the pages until I found myself somehow at the end, left with questions, slightly dazed, uncertain about what it all meant. I’m still not sure, there’s a lot to it. More importantly – what does it mean about me? Did I love this book for the same reason I’m into watching YouTube videos about people who move to the woods and build cabins? Is it the smell of the older and more dangerous folk tales that draws me in? Is it because it speaks to the guilt I feel about my love for stinky old books written by louche, velvet-garbed moustachioed creeps? Dunno. I think Patricia Lockwood’s essay about it in the LRB is an interesting companion read tho. Oh! This is a great book to read upstairs in your old bedroom while at Christmas with fam. Afterwards you can stumble down to dinner glassy-eyed and unnerved, unable to relate to the people around you because you’ve just gulped down a book about a librarian who has a transformative sexual relationship with a BEAR."
Olga Tokarczuk£20.00 £19.00
So says: "Nearly 900 pages, numbered in reverse, counting down to the Messiah. This utterly magnificent novel abounds with things not usually found in contemporary European fiction: Kabbalistic significance, edible spells, interventionist angels, portentous co-incidences, erotic prayers and divine insight (where God is occasionally an oyster) – intertwined with violent anti-semitism, feudal brutality and a palpable sense of growing threat and historical dread. Only Olga Tokarczuk could have written this visionary epic of the C18th Polish borderlands, a War and Peace where the war is within the human soul, and there’s no peace in its searching, driven, angry, bitterly satirical and melancholically beautiful account of the oppression of the various, mobile, canny, factional and very much alive Jewish communities of Poland, Moldova and the Ottoman Empire. Hats off as well to Jennifer Croft for superb handling of a dazzling array of voices – from pretentious bishops through crafty survivors to undead grandmas – that range through obscure Church vocabularies, vibrant vernaculars and mystical secrets."
Reza Negarestani and Keith Tilford£17.99 £17.09
Joelle Taylor£10.99 £10.44
So says: "Sexy, furious, loving, dancing, wild, hankie-coded butch poems from genius Joelle Taylor – read the book, get ready for the live musical. Cunto is a social history of underground queer nights and riots, resounding with the words and wounds of working-class dykes. It’s a love song to a whole community, a shimmering, leather-clad, Zippo-flicking absolute paean. One to whisper, sing and shout in the sheets – and in the streets."
Enya says: "Detransition, Baby! by Torrey Peters is a story that sucks you in and doesn’t let up. Dark and funny, it’s outlandishness never seems far-fetched and more so focuses on allowing the characters to be flawed and loveable. The story is about Reese (a trans woman), Ames (Reese’s ex and detransitioned from being Amy), Katrina (a Jewish Chinese cis woman) and an unexpected pregnancy. It draws parallels between trans woman and divorced cis women (the books dedication being to divorced women) and their struggles to reestablish their personhood. Refreshingly, the story never tries to equate any struggle with another, only to thread together compassion. Everything is terrible and everything is beautiful. Add it to your summer reading list and enjoy the ride!"
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein£22.00 £20.90
So says: "Mindblowing in multiple directions – awesome explorations of quantum physics combined with a devastating exposé of the racist and sexist frameworks in which science continues to operate, and to perpetuate. This is the science (and history) education I wish I’d had in school – inspiring and inviting, rigorous and nuanced, and always conscious of context as well as the cosmos."
Nino Haratischvili£12.99 £12.34
Ant says: "‘The Eighth Life’ tells the story of a Georgian family’s history that spans the ‘red century’ with romance, grace and immense power. The reader follows the characters through ballrooms, war zones and the hills of Georgia as they orbit and collide with one another’s lives. Haratischvili sets up generation-defining moments with poetic language and deft storytelling that never loses pace. A remarkable read, order one to your door and hunker down!"
Doireann Ni Ghriofa£12.99 £12.34
Ant says: "A Ghost in the Throat melds the forms of essay, auto-fiction and scholarly research in poetic prose to create a truly unique book. Doireann Ní Ghríofa makes it her mission to shed light on the life and work of the poet Eibhlín Dubh who has been silenced at the hands of writers, translators and scholars throughout history. In forgotten ruins, drowned forests, libraries and through the challenges of motherhood the author hunts for Eibhlín Dubh’s true voice. In doing so she also finds her own."
Arthur Machen£7.99 £7.59
Brian Catling£17.99 £17.09
Tice Cin£11.99 £11.39
Ant says: "Tice Cin’s ‘Keeping the House’ explores the frenetic undercurrents of North London’s neighbourhoods Tottenham and Green Lanes. Somewhere between Portrait of a Turkish Family by Ifran Olga and Caleb Femi’s POOR, Cin’s natural poetry and the unique rhythm of her storytelling weave a spellbinding narrative through several generations of Turkish Cypriot family. Cin reveals the secrets of her native Cypriot language and its culture to the reader as they explore the family homes, parks, fruit stores and back streets of one of London’s most vibrant and fascinating communities — a captivating read from a powerful new voice!"
Jade LB£12.99 £12.34
Sam says: "Published in book form for the first time, Keisha The Sket is a text that started life as a text shared by bluetooth and over email, a viral phenomenon from the MSN age and a time capsule of the txt language that defined the time. It follows Keisha, a young teen, through her first sexual experiences, and encounters with violence in her ends. It is explosive, funny, lurid and at times disturbing (as any snapshot from the mind of a 13-year old would be), but it is a sheer joy to read because of this filterlessness. It is given here in its original form, and in a modernised English version, alongside an introduction from the author about her changing relationship (shame and eventual reconciliation) to Keisha. There are also excellent contextualising essays from Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi, Aniefiok Ekpoudom and Enny on how formative Keisha was to their own writing, and how important it has remained as a document of young, black, female sexuality. If you pick this book up, you won’t put it down til it's done. And when it’s done, you won’t forget it."
Steve Hollyman£9.99 £9.49
Enya says: "Lairies is a story told from multiple perspectives, some narrators more trustworthy than others, in the midst of a reckless vigilante pursuit. Some take it upon themselves to punish those they deem worthy of a knock in the jaw or kick in the ribs while others are pulled into the sh*tstorm. I don’t know if I should describe a book like this as “fun” but I had a lot of fun reading it. It’s dark and real in the most earnest way. It’s almost like you can smell copper and stale beer. It’s brilliant!"
Enya says: "‘A Little Devil in America’ is an important and just purely amazing book about black performance in America. It contrasts Abdurraqib’s personal perspective with historical accounts, featuring the dust bowl dance marathons, black magicians and Arthena Franklin’s documentary of a performance in the 70s. Abdurraqib is a voice of our time, having already shown he is an incredible writer with his book ‘They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us’ he has somehow outdone himself with this book. History cannot be left behind, it echoes into the future and Abdurraqib is the writer to show it."
Sophy Roberts£10.99 £10.44
Ant says: "In her travelogue ‘The Lost Pianos of Siberia’ Sophy Roberts sets out on a journey to find a piano for her friend the Mongolian pianist Odgerel Sampilnorov. On her quest Roberts traces these lost pianos from 1930s jazz jams in Harbin, to prison orchestras touring gulags, identifies the piano in the final home of the Romanovs and is led to the Kuril Islands at the edge of the Siberian provinces. What is so striking about this book is the depth of physical research in one of the most remote places on earth. Roberts’ prose is fully absorbing and her determination unwavering in the face of brutal weather conditions, Russian police interrogation and the depth of family stories that revolve around an instrument that transformed Russia, giving us some of the world's greatest composers and pieces of music."
Silvia Moreno-Garcia£9.99 £9.49
Pema says: "Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a spooky pageturner about the Doyles, a vampiric colonising dynasty, and their attempts to bring their disturbing ways into the latter half of the 20th century. Elegant and accomplished Noemí Taboada receives a note from her desperate cousin Catalina, who has married into the Doyle family. Struck by the real emotion in Catalina’s letter, Noemi leaves her life of controlled artifice and decadence to interrogate the trouble her cousin has found herself in. She finds herself somewhere she didn’t expect - a horror story rooted in settler-colonialist greed."
Kim Stanley Robinson£10.99 £10.44
Sam says: "Kim Stanley Robinson has a reputation for being the great utopian of American science fiction. The vivid and shocking sequence that opens his new book, Ministry For The Future, would seem to suggest that he has lost some hope. A horrific heat wave scorches India, killing many millions. The book follows one of the survivors, a young American, as well as the head of a new climate organisation (named in the title) set up by the UN in response and whole host of other scientists, engineers and activists, as they confront the next few decades of accelerating climate change. It is a book absolutely stuffed with ideas – of how things could go further wrong, and how they might be set right. Stanley Robinson has still got the eye of the needle in sight, and the thread between his teeth. Read this, and take up the slack!"
Umberto Eco£10.99 £10.44
Andrew Solomon£16.99 £16.14
Pema says: "Gotta be honest and say that I have not yet finished this massive book by Andrew Solomon about his relationship and personal history with depression. I think it’s really good though. Andrew is an incredibly confident writer and I’m so impressed with the way he’ll take you on a very big tangent that seems completely irrelevant to the topic and then bring you back 20 minutes later with a big ‘oh!’, because suddenly you understand. Many of the lines I’ve read have really stuck in my head. For example, Solomon says that while taking his antidepressants each morning he has the sense that he is ‘swallowing his own funeral’ – I thought this was really funny. He also says that the reason people write memoirs about depression is because depressed people know that the statistics and metrics scientists and doctors attempt to impose on the illness never make any sense or explain the condition in a real way. Solomon says that with depression ‘the hard numbers are the ones that lie’. This idea keeps bouncing around my head, and I can’t wait to finally finish the book, five years from now, probably."
Rebecca (Y) Solnit£16.99
Sam says: "There have been a hundred George Orwell biographies, as Solnit readily admits at the start. But this isn’t really a book about Orwell, at least not the Orwell that we know. It starts as a quest to find two fruit trees that Orwell planted in the 30s, and diverges from there to topics that have pervaded the writings of both the author and her subject: ecology and the economy, community and the domestic, geological and ancestral time. In Solnit’s rendering we find an Orwell that we don’t recognise, but perhaps feel closer to for being cast in the light of Solnit’s own preoccupations. Her digressions don’t always come off, but they are always a pleasure to read. One to curl up with this winter, once the roses have gone over."
Calla Henkel£14.99 £14.24
Enya says: "Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel follows Zoe after the unsolved murder of her best friend Ivy, a ballet dancer with blonde hair and always leading the way. Fed up with art school in New York, she decides Berlin is the place to take a year exchange along with the mysterious and controlling Hailey, a redhead with a passion for tabloids and the Amanda Knox Trial. Zoe struggles with the grief of losing her best friend, readjusting to Berlin and the paranoia that their author landlord is spying on them. Raves, collages, tabloids, cheap booze and expat blues. A story of finding identity in others and creating one's own narrative."
Susanna Clarke£8.99 £8.54
Pema says: "Pensive Piranesi lives practically alone in a big Escher’s castle, tending to it with loving care. He’s a scientist, measuring realities and discovering empirical truths, always from a place of deep curiosity. This book moves very slowly and methodically until the end when everything happens very fast. I don’t want to say anymore, but I just really urge you to read it because it’s definitely my best book of the year and everybody I’ve recc’d it to has loved it also. And I want to point to Susanna Clarke’s acceptance speech for Women’s Prize for Fiction, where Clarke said never thought she’d be well enough to write the book and wanted to share hope with those ‘incapacitated by long illness’ (Clarke has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I found that very poignant and personally affecting, so thank you Susanna <3"
Frankie Miren£9.99 £9.49
Ant says: "In ‘A Shock’, Ridway’s characters are stitched together in a collective subconscious that is mapped through the walls of shared flats, the shrubbery of front gardens, cycled commutes and mumbled conversations in the musty pubs of a south London neighbourhood. Ridgway returns to themes of surveillance and disappearance, social anxiety, suspicion of the other and the plight of loneliness in an urban existence. He maintains a sharp and witty style that always keeps an eye on wider social issues of race, class and workers’ rights, the balance of which is what makes this novel such a joy. ’A Shock’ is nail on in its analysis of the coping mechanisms a person can be forced to adopt in order to exist in this city, yet it alludes towards the surreal through its skill and imagination. Highly recommended!"
Nina Mingya Powles£14.99 £14.24
Enya says: "Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles (writer of the poetry book Magnolia), would be considered a memoir but instead of a chronicle of events it is a series of observations. The time-line goes back and forth, up and down. One moment cycling through the rain in Shanghai to swimming in Hampstead Heath Women’s pond. Powles is connected to herself not through landmass but through bodies of water, language and nature. Spotting a Kōwhai tree on the streets of London, a tree she thought only grew in New Zealand. Learning to write her name in Mandarin. A warm meal alone in a new city."
Isabel Waidner£9.99 £9.49
Oli Freke£20.00 £19.00
Alison Rumfitt£9.99 £9.49
So says: "A haunted house novel that makes the very excellent point that hello, Britain is a haunted house, and that the final girl has become the pin-up for misogynist and transphobic fantasies. Also the excellent point that Morrissey is a fucking monster. Tell Me I’m Worthless shows up white supremacy, ‘gender-critical’ feminism, anti-semitism, imperialism, capitalism and other deeply British fascist values as the funhouse mirrors that they are, distorting our relationships to ourselves, each other and histories – and it does it through a cracking, edge-of-your-seat chiller and a compelling love(hate)(love) story. Beware: Rumfitt pulls no punches when it comes to how fascism tortures. This is high-wire writing and a unique reading experience."
Agustin Fernandez Mallo£14.99 £14.24
Sam says: "This is a book of traces. A novel that probes at how, in the 21st century, the field is flooded by the interconnected remnants of our lives and those who came before us. It takes the form of three novellas, each of which tells a story which is haunted by, but not directly implicated in, one of the major wars of the last century: the Spanish Civil War, WW2 and the Vietnam War. I could try and summarize what happens, but that would miss the point of why I loved this book. Like Bolaño, or DeLillo in the 80s, Fernandez Mallo dissects the causal links which form the basis of the assumptions under which we live our lives. It's a long time since I read something that so thoroughly rearranged the furniture of my brain. Buyer beware!"
Juliet Jacques£9.99 £9.49
So says: "Variations is pretty various: short stories, yes, but thematically linked by trans lives in Britain, told in chronological order from the mid-1850s to the present; fiction, but drawing on archival research, with each story presented as a different kind of (invented) document, from letters to diaries to film scripts to academic presentations; and a little bit of the variety show, with stories that highlight marginal performance spaces, from the freak show to the punk and performance art undergrounds via arthouse cinema and – yes – an amazing drag bar, as spaces where trans and queer people could increasingly thrive (and sometimes disagree) together. Leaning towards humour rather than trauma, Jacques’ mordant, sometimes mischievous stories rewrite the twentieth century as an unfolding of gender complexity and trans community, one made by people telling their stories at every scale: intimately to each other; in letters to the press, over megaphones at protests, via blogs, and in creative works. It turns the short story collection into a collective, and it’s a joy to feel part of it as you read."
Barbara Comyns£9.99 £9.49
Sam says: "I was totally gripped and utterly charmed by this parable of bucolic village life gone awry. Set during the 30s (and first published in the 50s) we follow the genteel, but down at heel Willoweed family, as they prance around their eccentric estate. But when the miller goes mad and drowns himself, and then – the following day – the butcher slits his throat, their parochial life slides into disorder. One of the greatest bullying matriarchs in fiction, as well as one of the most memorable opening scenes (ducks floating in the drawing room) make this beguilingly strange and wickedly funny tale of country life the perfect escape from February drabness. I read it in two sittings and am now a confirmed Comyns convert."
Tara June Winch£9.99 £9.49
So says: "A dictionary, a history, an elegy, an exorcism, a manual for recovery from abuse, both individual and ecological: The Yield can be read over and over for all its many layers. It’s the story of one woman’s homecoming that lays bare all the complex meanings and memories of home, especially for a First Nations woman in a settler state. Documenting the intimacies of colonial violation, it replies by rebuilding body, family, language and love through an auntie-led car trip, a feast, a protest, and a haunting reconnection. This is a book of ghosts asking you to listen."
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