Poems from the Edge of Extinction by Chris McCabe is a small cross-section of world poetry with a difference; every poem in this collection is written in a language that is endangered, at risk of extinction. It began with the idea to collect poetry written in the world’s dying languages and became an exhibition at the National Poetry Library in 2017, The Endangered Languages Project.
The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold won the Baille-Gifford prize for non-fiction in November. And what an incredible book this is, despite its miserable subject matter. Thankfully, there’s no revelling in the gruesome murders at all, in fact, this book is all about humanising the victims who’ve been so despicably treated by history. I was glued to the page from the start, impressed by the incredible research Rubenhold has undertaken and moved by the terrible plight of poor women in Victorian times. Highly recommended.
Here’s one to set off a fiery debate around the dinner table. Now that the first storm around #MeToo has settled, This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill takes a step back and looks at the fallout. Quin, a successful, charming publisher, has been a huge flirt his entire adult life. While never explicitly abusing his power, Quin has always operated at the very edge of acceptable behaviour (sometimes overstepping it). It has now come back to haunt him. Many of us have had a Quin in our lives. What do we think of this one?
Bookstoker Young Readers
To say that Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, last year’s Nobel Prize winner (awarded this year) is a murder mystery would be misleading, but there’s definitely murder – several, in fact, – of both people and animals. Our charming, eccentric, (slightly mad?) heroine Janina Duszejko is caught up in the middle. I adored the warm humanity of this novel and the Nobel Prize worthy writing – there’s a quotable sentence on every page. Expect no hair-raising thriller, but a tender book that will stay with you for a long time.
Do you need to impress someone with a thoughtful gift that looks like you’ve spent ages choosing? There’s still time for a last minute dash to the bookshop to pick out a gorgeously bound book by an underestimated female author. Persephone Books is located in London’s Bloomsbury, and publishes titles mainly by women writers from the 20th century, many of whom are less known or entirely forgotten. Visit their incredibly stylish, cosy bookshop and talk to the staff who are very happy to recommend an excellent read.
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell is a 12-volume sequence of novels that has been lauded as one of the greatest works of 20th century English literature. The books start in the late 1920s and take us up to the 1960s, feature a huge cast of characters and offer a remarkable vision of changing social history, a deftly sustained narrative, some wonderfully memorable characters and a stark vision of the impact that time wreaks on our lives.
I can’t think of a better year to turn to plastic-free, (relatively) low carbon footprint Christmas gifts like books. They generate hours and hours of pleasure, can be enjoyed over and over again, can be given away and are recyclable. We have thought long and hard about which books we think will make good gifts and here is our selection for Christmas 2019. Spread the love!
Lucy Ellmann is the most recent winner of the Goldsmith’s Prize, which rewards ‘fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form’. One of this year’s judges, New Statesman culture editor Anna Leszkiewicz, was in conversation with Ellmann at the 2019 Winter Cambridge Literary Festival.