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The I.B.Tauris 2017 Review

IBT WINTER 2017

Feature image: Snow Patches, Boston Corners by David Milne [1917; detail]

As 2017 draws to a close, the I.B.Tauris staff have again taken the chance to reflect on their favourite books, from our own (strong) stable – and from further afield. As usual, there’s a wonderfully eclectic range, so dive in!

 

Madeleine Hamey-Thomas; Visual Culture Editor

China's Forgotten People

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

China’s Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State by Nick Holdstock (2015)

Nick Holdstock’s book about the Chinese province of Xinjiang was an eye-opener. Detailing the history of the Uyghur community in the region, he also reveals the ethnic tensions and violence between this Muslim minority group and China’s Han majority. Having lived in the province, Holdstock’s writing is investigative, balanced and insightful, bringing the opacity of events and the misconceptions surrounding ‘terrorist’ acts to the foreground. Ultimately though, what seems incontestable is the Chinese government’s brutal oppression of religious expression and practice by Uyghurs and the inequality experienced by this people in the face of incompetent policy, neglect and prejudice.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti (2016; Dey Street Books)

I lent this memoir to my mother for cross-generational debate about the sexualised (mis)treatment of women and how this affects our self-perception and self-worth. It felt very healing to do so. Valenti’s account of her life – as woman, as journalist – disturbed, placated and engrossed me in equal measure. An unusual book where the accumulated trauma of womanhood is placed centre stage and allowed to just be expressed and acknowledged. It made me remember how important it is to see victimhood as a psychologically necessary phase of recovery – and that feminism must allow for this. Really quite powerful and unforgettable reading.

Looking forward to reading in 2018…

I have to pick two.

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne (2010; Faber & Faber)

I’ve been putting this off because I’m too excited to read it with concentration and also because I want to read it in tandem (sorry!) with finally adopting the London cycling lifestyle. It’s a travel book in motion, with musings from the genius muso himself as he winds around the streets of Buenos Aires, Manila, Detroit, Istanbul and other locations, presumably whilst touring with the-best-band-ever-in-the-world Talking Heads.

On Anxiety: An Anthology by VARIOUS.  (Forthcoming 2017; 3 of Cups Press)

This is the first collection by 3 of Cups Press, who are a micro-publisher valiantly championing marginalised voices. I don’t know what to expect, but I am completely enamoured by this press’s political will and radical ideals. Publishing is known for being an incredibly white and middle-class industry, so we sorely need ventures like these. I like the idea of a literary anthology on mental health too, as often the creative mind can make much better sense of our dark clouded worries than the GP’s prosaic pamphlet.

Check out 3 of Cups here: https://www.3ofcups.co.uk/

 

James Beedle; Publicity Executive

All the battles

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

All the Battles by Maan Abu Taleb (2017; Hoopoe)

While this is a sports novel about boxing, it explores many more themes, particularly masculinity, a sense of being lost in the world, trying to do more with your life. It has a real philosophical undertone that I loved. The pace in the book works well, along with the different chapters, one set in the office another in the gym, really shows the double life the protagonist lives.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

 A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk (2016; Faber)

The protagonist in the book, Mevlut, is so endearing and honest, a real ‘everyman’ who is always working hard to provide for his family, while in the back of the mind he holds his dreams and goals in life. While he is a vendor walking the streets of Istanbul he ruminates about life and its complexities. Istanbul as a city is wonderful, and in this book you see Mevlut and the city grow. It is a really brilliant story. One of the best books I’ve read in a while!

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1996; Vintage)

This really struck a note with me. War is so far away from us, historically and geographically, and it is hard to imagine what living through a war would be like. Reading this was haunting, vivid, and terrible, and the strength of this is the first person view of the 20 year old ‘unnamed’ soldier in the trenches trying to understand the war with his friends, many of whom he loses. A book everyone should read.

“We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.” 

 

Tom Clayton; Marketing Executive

Kingdom of Women

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

Choo Waihong’s The Kingdom of Women (2017) is simply the right book at the right moment. TIME magazine’s recognition of the brave women speaking out against powerful men in their respective industries was the culmination of a seismically important year, not only for the debate around men’s interactions with women, but about how power is exploited to nullify others. It was a year in which any sensible man shut up, listened, sympathised and reflected – and Waihong’s fascinating evocation of one of the world’s few matriarchal societies felt like a key text. Charting six years spent with the Mosuo tribe in Tibet, whose women have rights and decision-making powers over money, property and land, this quietly revelatory account hinted at some ways we might really achieve a ‘kinder, gentler politics’.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

Michael Longley’s latest collection of poems, Angel Hill (Cape; 2017), opens with a quote from John Clare, and it is Clare’s deep engagement with nature and the passing of time that most powerfully informs this deft and frequently moving set. Dividing his time between Belfast, his ‘soul-landscape’ of Carrigskeewaun (a recurrent location in nearly all of his writing) and, recently, his daughter’s home in the Western Highlands, Angel Hill finds Longley – now approaching eighty – at the peak of his considerable powers. Helen Dunmore compares his poems to driftwood, ‘seasoned and made beautiful by an ocean of experience’, and I agree completely: these are poems to be lifted up, examined, and then left to the land. In a turbulent year, I often looked to Longley’s tranquility for both balance and solace.

 

Clare Kathleen Bogen; Head of Marketing & Publicity, US

Rage, The

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

The Rage by Julia Ebner (2017)

While I didn’t enjoy reading about the rise of far-right and Islamic extremism, I do think this is one of the most important titles IBT has ever published. Donald Trump’s recent retweet of Britain First is an insight into the direction the United States is going, and as polarisation deepens there, and across Europe, we should take a deeper look into the groups that are radicalising young men on both sides. Ebner is a sympathetic voice and this book is very readable. It has good insight into who’s who in these extremist groups as well as the methods by which young men are radicalised on the far-right and in Islamist circles. Finally Ebner is incredibly brave, interviewing some very scary people. The Rage is both chilling and crucial.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (2017; Vintage)

There were quite a few contenders for this one, including Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Bleaker House by Nell Stevens, but Maggie Nelson blew me away. I am, not-so-secretly, a fan of murder and true crime and The Red Parts is both a beautiful retelling of one family as they have to sit through the trial of the man who murdered the author’s aunt thirty-five years later and a thrilling insight into a famous unsolved case. The Michigan Murders will sound familiar to some: a series of young college women were murdered violently and yet, one victim’s murder remained unsolved, that of Nelson’s aunt Jane. Nelson is a poet and even though some of the grisly details of the crime are discussed, this is a wonderful portrait of her own family, trying to get through the most difficult event of their lives. She blends the events of the trial in with her recollection of her own father’s death to create a compelling memoir about, sorry to be a downer, death.

Looking forward to reading in 2018…

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (2018; Hamish Hamilton) and Ponti by Sharlene Teo (Picador; 2018). Apologies for the double recommendation, but they both promise to be beautifully-written fiction about one of my favourite narrative tropes: three women in difficult situations. The Water Cure is the story of three women in a post-apocalyptic world and Ponti is told from the perspective of the three main characters, set in Singapore. Both are debut novels due out Summer 2018, so keep your eyes peeled!

 

Alex Wright; Executive Editor

Short History of the Hundred Years War

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

A Short History of the Hundred Years War by Michael Prestwich (2017)

This was the year we saw the longed-for Shangri-La of the Brexiteers revealed as precisely that: a fantastical never-never land with pots of gold to be found at the end of the rainbow. It was the year that those who held on to an alternative, Eurocentric, vision for the country continued to be labelled Remoaners, fainthearts and mutineers. As a staunch Remourner, married to a continental European, I have struggled throughout 2017 with feelings of disbelief and dismay as I have seen the Great Britain I was proud of turn inwards, away from a Europe where – despite its own self-perception – it both enjoyed considerable influence and attracted a good deal of admiration. In such a masochistic, scorched-earth setting we perhaps needed a book to remind us that the English – chief drivers of Brexit – have historically been seen as curmudgeonly. In his incisive A Short History of the Hundred Years War Michael Prestwich does precisely that. While offering what Jonathan Sumption rightly calls ‘a masterpiece of compression by one of our leading military historians’, and laser-beaming 120 years of brutal conflict into a mere 225 pages, Prestwich also quotes a fifteenth-century Spanish commentator who remarks that if foreigners come to England ‘the English try to seek some way of dishonouring them, or of offering them an affront.’ They are, this writer says, ‘very different from all other nations.’ Alas, he may be right. The savagery inflicted by the English on France during the fourteenth century should make sobering reading for all of us, whether we voted Leave or Remain.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

Emperor by Colin Thubron (2002; Vintage)

Colin Thubron is still perhaps best known for his travel writing, but I’ve always thought his novels superior even to his hugely impressive non-fiction. I am still drawn to read all over again the brilliant Falling and Turning Back the Sun. But recently I revisited Thubron’s still earlier novel Emperor, which traces the march of Constantine towards Rome in 312 AD to wrest the imperial city from sadistic rival Maxentius. The book is terrific on what motivates us as human beings, as well as on friendship, love and belief. While it offers a completely satisfying rendering of Constantine’s famous vision and conversion, it’s marvellous too on the horrors of war. It contains a battle description which is as atmospheric and involving as the opening scene in Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator. The writer’s evocation of ‘a fat-faced enemy trooper’ jostling over a standard with its bearer who ‘was growling under his leopardskin headdress as if pretending to be a real leopard in the dark’ is the kind of detail that stays long in the mind’s eye. Likewise of the antagonists tugging ‘in the middle of death, like two bad-tempered children’. Thubron is the master of observation, but compassionate too and humane.

 

Sinéad Tully; Rights Manager

Talleyrand in London

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

Talleyrand in London by Linda Kelly (2017)

I saw a French documentary on Talleyrand (aka, the Lame Devil) a few years ago and have been fascinated by this unique historical character ever since. I knew quite a lot about his life and career in France but his years in London were a bit of a mystery – well not anymore! Linda Kelly’s book is full of intriguing anecdotes, Talleyrand’s witty comments and a well-written account of his participation in major 19th century British, French and European events

Non-IBT book of the Year:

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (2003; Sphere)

I am a huge Mitch Albom fan ever since I read For One More Day 10 years ago & this one had been on my list for a while. It’s an incredibly sad book but full of love and life – Morrie’s “lessons” will definitely get you thinking about your perspective on life and death.

 

David Stonestreet; Editor, Geography & Social Sciences

Treasures from the Oxus

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

Treasures from the Oxus by Massimo Vidale (2017)

Great scholarship and outstanding images.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

Many, but would mention Barry Cunliffe’s Steppe, Dessert and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia (2015; OUP). Marshals a wealth of information superbly and presents it in a highly readable text. In fiction I would mention Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012; Europa), which was engaging and insightful.

 

Katherine Osborne; Accounts Assistant

Chinese Wallpaper

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland (2017; Philip Wilson Publishers)

I have been hovering over and admiring Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland from the first moment it first appeared in the IBT office. I honestly couldn’t say which I admired more: the vivd imagination demonstrated or the exquisite execution… I would even argue that the images are therapeutic, offering refuge from office desks or kitchen sinks. Examples ranging from an entire room at Weston Park to a tiny doll’s house at Nostell Priory give the reader a broad view into a world of sophisticated, yet fantastical art, realised in intimate settings.

Non-IBT Book of the Year:

Wise Virgin by A. N. Wilson (1984; Penguin)

Wilson’s deeply sympathetic portrait of an academic whose life has gone off the rails is beautifully written, full of heart-felt sentiment and (in my opinion) boasting thumb-nail portraits to rival even Jane Austen. I have turned to this book intermittently since first discovering it, but as someone who finished studying in 2017, the hopefulness and humour in this little book reminded me that losing the path can be a good thing.

 

Tomasz Hoskins; Editor, History

Reagan American Icon

I.B.Tauris Book of the Year:

Reagan: American Icon by Iwan Morgan (2016)

Reagan came out last year but I’ve only just managed to begin it – and how wonderfully the early years of Reagan are mapped out – with feeling and character and sharp, balanced historical judgement. I was also immensely proud to see Stephen Bourne’s Fighting Proud capture so many people’s imagination – revealing the stories of those who have been suppressed in our history is one of the most valuable things we publishers can do and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

 Non-IBT Book of the Year:

The book which gave me the greatest pause for thought this year was Antony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, first published in 1875. It is a lacerating satire, but also a warm and truly perceptive novel, and its themes of gross societal inequality, financial misdemeanours and stock market raids, together with rapid change and the painful tearing up of the social fabric resonate today for obvious reasons. Above all Trollope shows us how easily the norms and manners which are hailed as the bedrock of English society can collapse – or rather show themselves to be hallucinations. Rarely have I read something which spoke to me so powerfully about London today. I also enjoyed three debut novels: Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends (Faber; 2017), Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating (Granta; 2017) and Daisy Johnson’s Fen (Vintage; 2017) – for me these represent the incredibly exciting woman-fronted vanguard of modern fiction.

 

All featured books are available to order now from the I.B.Tauris website

Compiled and edited by Tom Clayton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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