26 Members recommend – January 2010


Emily Bronte

Penguin, £6.99 or £4.21 on Amazon

This may seem like a ridiculous recommendation, but what the hell, indulge me, it’s Christmas, for I’m giving a maniacal recommendation for Wuthering Heights. Having just re-read it to support our 18 year-old’s A levels, I’m chastened by the reminder of how supremely transcendent the truly great works of literature are. Utterly majestic. Go on, put aside those Booker Prize runners-up and reach out for the greats this yuletide… Martin Lee

Buy on Amazon: Wuthering Heights


Bob Dylan
Columbia £8.98 on Amazon

A work of reverence, love and good cheer in the same old-school spirit as his Theme Time Radio Hour. Dylan’s voice alternately brings to mind an old priest belting it out as he leads the congregation, a misty-eyed tramp outside the church singing along, or a magical cross between Louis Armstrong and Shane MacGowan (can you think of a better thing?). Set against the backdrop of beautifully realised musical arrangements (with a lightness of touch that has become a forgotten art form in most of the music business), the contrast is perfect.

The cynical reaction this has received from some corners of the press (chuckling on the Today Programme, and sneers from, erm, Jeremy Clarkson) shows what a strange musical climate we live in. In a world where mediocrity is routinely celebrated as genius, this is a reminder of what music is meant to be about – a communal gift that connects us all to a greater tradition. Forget it’s Dylan and put it on while you’re passing round the port – you’ll love it. Nick Asbury

Buy on Amazon: Christmas In The Heart

Encounters At the End of the World ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

I wanted to recommend something traditionally Christmassy – something with snow, ice and existentialism – and you can’t beat Werner Herzog’s absorbing documentary for that. The film spends time with some of the 1,000 people who work on Antarctica; a crew of red-anorak’d scientists, divers, pilots, survival experts, cooks and industrial workers, each of whom has a cute sideline in something unexpected (philosophy, poetry, bad rock guitar, Aztec royalty). Nothing quite prepares you for the underwater dive scenes, where the ice becomes a sky and seals provide a Moogy soundtrack like out-takes from an early Eno album. There’s a sense that many of the talented misfits working here have slowly wandered to the end of a global cul-de-sac, as if it were a refuge from metropolitan civilisation. Herzog’s subjects perform quietly peculiar scenes, like the taciturn penguinologist who struggles to respond to the film maker’s curiosity about animal mental health. Or the vulcanologist who, perched on the rim of the caldera, briefs Herzog on the counter intuitive safety dance he must do when (not if) the volcano spits up a lava bomb. Walking down the volcano, they decide to explore a fumarole, a complex ice cave formed by venting steam. Each subterranean ice cathedral they find hints at an epiphany never to be fully grasped. Very seasonal. Tim Rich

Feed your mind - a great British miscellany. Royal Mail Special Stamps 2009 FEED YOUR MIND – A GREAT BRITISH MISCELLANY. ROYAL MAIL SPECIAL STAMPS 2009

Jim Davies
Royal Mail, £65. From larger Post Offices or www.royalmail.com

Well, if I don’t tell you about it, no one else will. I spent a large proportion of 2009 working on the Royal Mail Yearbook. It’s a handsome, limited-edition, slip-cased book which comes out towards the end of every November and contains all the stamps published during the course of the year. I was charged with telling the stories behind the stamps, which meant researching everything from Charles Darwin to Mythical Creatures, the Tudors to the Fire & Rescue Service. Oddly enough, this is the 26th Yearbook – and the fifth I’ve written. The usual format is long, running essays, but this year the designers, hat-trick, decided to ring the changes with a more lateral, ‘bite-sized’ approach, which meant dipping into obscure nooks and crannies around the central subject. It was a huge effort, but it’s paid off handsomely – it’s quirky, dippable and interesting. Kind of like QI in print. You can get hold of a copy here. If you’re baulking at the price, remember the stamps inside are worth nearly £50. Jim Davies

Important Artifacts and Personal Property From The Collection of Lenore Doolan And Harold Morris, including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry IMPORTANT ARTIFACTS AND PERSONAL PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LENORE DOOLAN AND HAROLD MORRIS, INCLUDING BOOKS, STREET FASHION AND JEWELRY

Leanne Shapton
Bloomsbury, £12.99 or £7.06 on Amazon

So yes it’s an auction catalogue. But it’s not just an auction catalogue. It’s a litany of what were’s, what might have beens, what should have beens, memories, days, nights, the past, the future. And a meditation on how objects filled with dreams and hopes can turn out to disappoint you in the end. Sounds like a novel right? Don’t forget, it’s just an auction catalogue… Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Important Artifacts

Legend of a Suicide LEGEND OF A SUICIDE

David Vann
Penguin, £7.99 or £4.79 on Amazon

This fascinating book explores what happens when a man unilaterally decides that he and his 13 year old son need to live in a wooden hut on an island in the wilds of Alaska for a year. In real life, David Vann’s father killed himself, and in this book, he fictionalises the story, splintered through various points of view. They fish, they hike, they store food for the winter, and in the background there’s a sense of impending tragedy as the father gradually loses his mind. It’s cleverly written and Annie Proulx fans will love the sparse language and harsh environment. Fiona Thompson

Buy on Amazon: Legend of a Suicide

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives POSTSECRET: EXTRAORDINARY CONFESSIONS FROM ORDINARY LIVES

Frank Warren
Orion, £9.99 or £6.32 on Amazon

Not the boxing promoter. An amazing book in which anonymous volunteers share personal secrets by way of homemade postcards. Intense, confessional, voyeuristic, enthralling and at time heartbreaking. Practically every postcard is a potential screenplay. Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: PostSecret


Whitechapel Gallery until 3 January 2010

This exquisitely spiteful exhibit of words, images and movies is served up with lashings of REVENGE! It premieres the English language version of Prenez soin de vous (Take Care of Yourself), a highlight of the 2007 Venice Biennale. Sophie invited 107 women (including a sexologist, a cartoonist, a proofreader, a romance writer, a screenwriter, a chess player…) to use their professional skills to interpret an ‘IT’S OVER’ email from her partner. The show is an incisive post mortem on The Death of the Relationship, and the saccharine language that reveals deeply submerged poisons. I went with a chum who had just spilt up with her boyfriend, and we cringed at the phraseology of irreconcilability knowing that similar drivel had come out of our mouths. The book of the show is a glorious dollop of graphic design with inserts, documents, original texts, copy corrections, DVDs and mesmerizing portraits of the women who contributed. The perfect Christmas gift for your loved one? Tom Lynham

The Best Technology Writing 2009 THE BEST TECHNOLOGY WRITING 2009

Steven Johnson (Ed)
Yale, £14.00 or £11.02 on Amazon

An American traditional that hasn’t yet made it’s way over the water is the one where a number of literary eminences are invited to select their favourite pieces of writing of the year gone by, to be anthologised, both as a record of important pieces, and a nudge towards things you might have missed. Johnson, author of The Invention of Air, has made a fine selection of essays from publications both on- and offline, which fulfil those first two criteria, as well as providing a snapshot of various debates in and around the technology community – and how it is impacting upon wider society. No doubt you’ll have read some of these already. But the book is a good way to get up to speed with some topics that will become ever-more important next year. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Best Technology Writing


Richard Sennett
Penguin £9.99 or £5.98 on Amazon

Richard’s philosophical toolbox of arguments around craftsmanship explores the distinctions between craftsman and artist, maker and user, technique and expression, practice and theory. In an age of carnivorous competition, he suggests that survival of the fittest leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the resounding values of craft. Writing is a formidable mixture of craft and intellect. We not only interrogate the content of a sentence to justify its existence, but then tweak the living daylights out of it to make the reader purr with pleasure. Richard analyses an incredibly diverse range of subjects – from the National Health Service to Stradivarius to Diderot to Elizabeth David to Linux, and explores our fundamental relationship between eye, hand, emotion and ambition, and that relentless obsession to create. Tom Lynham

Buy on Amazon: The Craftsman

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