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The 10 best books of the year for when you’re not listening to stupid music

A reminder of our favourite reads from 2017

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile
by Adelle Stripe

The second killer novel this month is based on the life of Andrea Dunbar, the Bradford playwright best known for the 1987 film adaptation of her play Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Dunbar’s own story, every bit as gritty and startling as that of her characters, is captured expertly here and used as the frame upon which Adelle Stripe can carefully weave her fiction. Time and place are realistically evoked in Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, and Stripe’s fine toothcomb research and genuine love of her subject are in evidence throughout, as is her own stark, sharp and direct voice. This is an extraordinary book made all the more impressive in being the author’s debut novel.

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 
by Lizzy Goodman

At the turn of the millennium, against the backdrop of a New York still reeling from planes being flown into its buildings, rock ‘n’ roll remembered what it was about and got its skinny, dissolute, chain-smoking act together. From over 200 interviews, Meet Me in the Bathroom covers the clubs, bars and late-night shows that brought us bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and The Strokes who managed, for a while, to make it all seem exciting again. Told Please Kill Me style by offering intercut interview excerpts with bands, audience members, industry insiders and perennial outsiders, Lizzy Goodman’s latest book is the definitive account of the most recent chapter of New York’s rich and strange musical history.

Albrecht Durer
by Norbert Wolf

Albrecht Durer was the renaissance man with rock star looks who left behind him a body of work and artistic legacy that would go on to influence Pablo Picasso and others. His famous, dark sixteenth century woodcuts dealt in beauty and horror, angels, devils, life, death and all points in between, but as the wonderfully named Norbert Wolf points out here, there was far more to Durer than is widely known. Wolf’s lovingly curated book shines a light on all the areas that caught the artists’ attention and imagination, as well as highlighting how Durer’s love of self-portraits, mass marketing of his own prints and creation of his own logo can be viewed as a blueprint for the exercise in branding which so much of art has become.

Gallow’s Pole
 by Benjamin Myers

The first of two excellent new novels this month is Benjamin Myers’ northern noir in a creepy-cool cover, Gallow’s Pole. Now six novels in and fully in his stride, Myers has turned his attention to historical true crime in order to tell an astonishing story set in the wild bandit country of pre-industrialised eighteenth century Yorkshire. In the book, counterfeiter David Hartley finds his livelihood threatened when he crosses paths with nemesis William Deighton, the man charged with closing down his illegal coining operation. Gallow’s Pole feels as though it was carved out of the landscape which underpins it. Myers’ prose rumble and skip, and yet again it marks him as one of the most versatile and original writers hitting the keys.  

In the Eighties. Portraits from another Time 
by Derek Ridgers

Derek Ridgers has built a career earning the trust of the counter culture by being invited into the private corners of various small worlds and, once there, fulfilling his role as the outsiders’ photographer in residence. Ridgers’ 1980’s images, here impressively displayed in large format, capture the essence of the age. In the Eighties debunks the much-vaunted, mythical Spandau Ballet, shoulder pads and Cityboy wanker narrative. From punks to B-boys, to proto-goths, all of the tribes associated with the decade’s street culture are present and correct in this glorious tribute to the decade’s forgotten style heroes whose brazen self-expression caused tremors we still feel today.

Art Sex Music by 
Cosey Fanni Tutti

In Art Sex Music, the artist, musician, stripper, member of Cosey and Chris and Throbbing Gristle, Cosey Fanni Tutti, looks back over a career unlike any other. Denied the chance to go to art school as a teenager who grew up in Hull, Tutti made the world her canvas and, along with her fellow travellers, made the most of a society still able to be shocked (so outraged in fact that she and her compadres were once declared ‘wreckers of civilisation’, in Parliament no less). This is an open and honest look at a fascinating life and career. The writing throughout is sincere and engaging and thanks to its reliance on diaries kept at the time, manages to make the story feel intimate, heartfelt and immediate.

Dig If You Will The Picture: Funk, Sex and God in the music of Prince
by Ben Greenman

Funk, Sex and God were the holy triptych of driving forces behind Prince’s forty albums, close to one hundred singles, 2000+ live shows and a slew of pretty decent movies and pop promos, without which the world would be a far duller and much less sexy place. Ben Greenman, who has previously written biographies of Funkadelic, Parliament and Brian Wilson, got his first copy of ‘1999’ in 1982 and makes no apologies here for the fact that he has been a diehard Prince fan ever since. Greenman’s enthusiasm for the Purple One is infectious and his knowledge of the man and his work impressive. The result is a diligently researched tribute. Dig If You Will The Picture is a fitting homage to an earth-shaking talent.

Sound System: The Political Power of Music
by Dave Randall

When Dave Randall first heard the Specials’ song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ he had absolutely no idea who Nelson Mandela was, but by the end of the first chorus he knew he should be free. The moment was an eye-opener for Randall (himself an accomplished musician, playing with the likes of Dido, Faithless and Sinead O’Connor) and kick-started a fascination with the deep, symbiotic and complex relationship between politics and music. Perceptive, witty and engaging, Sound System charts and explores that relationship (and the power of music in action) from its earliest incarnation to the present day with the understanding of an insider and the zeal of a fan.

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994
by David Hepworth

Rock stars used to be magical, mythical, rarefied creatures who lived out lives of glorious dissolution on our behalf whilst creating the soundtrack to our ordinary existence. They were glorified and turned into idols and when they didn’t make it, their deaths added to their legend. Having been writing about music since the ’70s there is little in the world of rock ‘n’ roll David Hepworth has not seen. He watched the world he describes close-up, whether it was bedecked and preening in shimmering finery or depressed and screaming in downbeat flannels and beat-up boots. In Uncommon People he picks forty rock stars from forty years and zeroes in on the moments that defined them, and in turn, us.

Legacy of Spies
by John Le Carre

John Le Carre is our greatest living writer and his permanently worried and slightly myopic George Smiley (played by Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy) is one of the greatest characters ever to grace the pages of fiction. I am more than happy to fight anyone who disagrees with either statement in a car park. Legacy of Spies finds Le Carre on top form and once again, finding a way to look at the world of secret men in a way that says something about all of us – in this case by returning to the incident of cold-war subterfuge that started it all through the eyes of Peter Guillam, Smiley’s man-Fiday. Measured, smart and exquisite, Legacy of Spies, in vintage Le Carre style, tells a huge story by concentrating on a small one.

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