Queen of crime
I love discovering writers when they’ve got a bit of a backlist that I can explore. My autumn find this year has been Lou Berney. The Long and Faraway Gone is a tense, psychologically complex narrative that explores the tricks memory plays on us. Berney writes with real empathy about violence and its reverberations down the years. The story
works so well because we care so much about the characters; the fact that there are some great plot twists and turns along the way feels like a bonus. Oh, and it’s beautifully written. I gulped it down in a oner and went straight on to The November Road, which made me cry.
Broken Ground by Val McDermid is out now (Little, Brown, £18.99)
My book is All Together Now? One Man’s Walk in Search of His Father and a Lost England by Mike Carter. It’s beautifully written, compassionate and urgent.
I loved The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. It is utterly brilliant. It is fucking awesome. Jenni Fagan was also brought up in care. When you read the story of the central character, Anais, she is just so fierce. She has got a bit of Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in there, she has got bits of Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in her. But she is just a kid navigating through the care system. She climbs the gargoyles of the children’s home, it’s so gothic, and there is the most beautiful love scene. Two teenage girls have run away and one says, I wanna marry you, and they go through a marriage ceremony. Just beautiful. The National Theatre of Scotland are doing it soon.
Lemn Sissay’s documentary Superkids: Breaking Away from Care is available
on All 4
King of birds
Catching Thunder: The True Story of the World’s Longest Sea Chase by Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Saeter is a rip-roaring tale of piracy which charts an extraordinary chase and highlights an invisible crime against conservation. It defines page-turner or a book you can’t put down – and it’s all true. It came close to making me run away to sea to join the fight. The ultimate denouement is gripping.
Chris And Michaela Under The Christmas Sky is on BBC Two this Christmas
Maybe because Trump’s made reality too unpleasant, I’ve tried to escape in thrillers. John le Carré is mesmerising, and proves you don’t need car chases or a birdbath that turns into a helicopter to tell an exciting story.
I’m now on crime novels, and have come very late but very gratefully to the Laidlaw series by William McIlvanney. Set in Glasgow, they’re tense, but also rather funny. Each paragraph has a line like, ‘Intermittently, he found himself doing penance for being him’ and they’re addictive. I’m ending the year back in the real world though, reading the most fabulously written history of the USA called These Truths by Jill Lepore. She’s devastating on the role played by Britain’s enthusiasm for slavery in the founding of the land of ‘liberty’.
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BBC news star
Among the books I have enjoyed this year is The Islamic World: A History in Objects, published by Thames & Hudson to coincide with the opening of a new gallery at the British Museum. I didn’t expect the chronicle to come right up to the present day and include contemporary work but it is all the richer for doing so.
Elsewhere, Sarah Langford’s In Your Defence is eye-opening on the barrister’s world and Sarah Rainsford’s Our Woman in Havana paints a picture of Cuba. Jonathan Coe’s Middle England is brilliantly insightful on the times we are living in.
The new edition of Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book, A Toolkit for Working Women, with a gorgeous festive gold cover, would make a great stocking filler. And for children The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius and the younger readers’ edition of Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads. I am reading this with my boys at the moment and it’s enhancing my understanding of the threads of world history as well as theirs.
Mage of the natural world
It’s been a wonderful year of reading, it seems to me, and from it here are three books that will stay long with me; Kim Scott’s troubling, brilliant novel Taboo about how landscapes might remember, or even forgive, the dark human acts for which they have been the setting; Elizabeth Rush’s innovative, brave Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, about the changing coastlines of America in a time of climate breakdown, and part of a growing wave of what might be called Anthropocene non-fiction, seeking to find a form for the challenges of our epoch; and Richard Powers’ Man Booker-shortlisted novel The Overstory, a glorious redwood- grove of a book, at once grand and subtle. What a trio they make, these books!
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris, is out now (Penguin, £20)
Leading cultural analyst/dude
Annie Ernaux’s The Years (translated by Alison L Strayer) is memoir as exploration of memory and makes the reader feel like a single neuron in an ideal brain. Who knew God was a Frenchwoman? Heavy by Kiese Laymon is a formally more conventional work than Ernaux’s, but in the story of his growing and shrinking black body, of the tendrils linking institutional racism and personal compulsion, he stakes everything on the idea of truth-telling as a healing and empowering act, collectively and individually. A beautiful, heartbreaking book and an exercise in sustained bravery.
Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (in 36 Pieces) by Will Ashon
is out now (Granta, £14.99)
Not just Ross from Friends
The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani. There you are. Because it is absolutely reflecting what is happening at least in my country and probably beyond. If you haven’t read it, you really should.
LOVE is available on iPlayer
Arlene Foster MLA
DUP leader, government puppet master
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times by Michael Burleigh is a wide look at the geopolitical landscape of the world today. For those of us involved in politics locally it is important to look beyond our immediate boundaries to what is happening across the world and how it impacts upon politics at home.
The book looks at China and the policies of President Xi, moves across to Russia and the ruthlessness of Putin and then the complex jigsaw which is the Middle East. The chapter on the rise of Erdogan, the Turkish leader, is an important one as it links the east and west with all of the tensions laid bare.
At this time especially, Burleigh’s chapter on Europe and the power play in Brussels is essential reading, and of course Burleigh also examines the phenomenon which is Donald Trump.
This is a hugely interesting read, if a little heavy at times, but for anyone wanting to gain an insight into what is really behind what is happening in the world today it’s a go-to text.
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Actress du jour
I loved Big Bones. It’s actually a Young Adult book by Laura Dockrill, who I think is amazing. The central character is a young woman called Bluebelle and it is all about being body positive. I think it is brilliant and funny and delicious. She talks about food loads, and I am such a foodie. I loved it.
Cleaning Up airs on ITV in January
Man of Dignity
I’m currently hugely enjoying Richard Frazer’s memoir of his Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, Travels With A Stick, which includes some honest, moving reflections on his own faith. On a similar theme the remarkable, almost haphazard, journey of Guy Stagg’s walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem, The Crossway, is a painfully honest read. Robert Macfarlane wrote The Old Ways about pilgrim paths a few years ago and his beautiful book The Lost Words, with gorgeous illustrations by Jackie Morris, was a cherished gift.
The book I most wanted to pass on is Waiting for The Last Bus by my old friend Richard Holloway. The most prescient book of the year is Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six Minutes in May.
Believers by Deacon Blue out now. iPlayer for Ross’s radio shows
Actually I’ve only read good books this year as I never bother finishing bad ones. Of ALL the great books I’ve been lucky enough to read in 2018, I would, without hesitation, recommend The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos. Though best known these days for his work on TV shows such as The Wire and The Deuce he is first and foremost the author of hardboiled and literate mystery novels. Tight, masterfully crafted and peopled with compelling, morally ambiguous characters, his latest is, above all, a novel about the transformative power of books themselves.
The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham is out now (Sphere, £18.99)
BAFTA winner in-waiting
I am still going through the classics and deciding my tastes that way. An all-time favourite would be The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which is an incredible book that will just pry open your brain and pour in ideas and imagination and possibilities. It is a warped history, it’s everything I like. Beautiful language, farcical, zany and never a dull moment. During filming for The Informer I was mainly reading poetry on set. I didn’t want to get sucked into another story during the shoot. So I had Gil Scott-Heron’s anthology of poems [Now and Then]. It was amazing to turn to for five minutes of quick inspiration. You can always call on him.
The Informer is available on iPlayer
Fast-talking movie man
My book of the year is Phaidon’s Atlas of
Brutalist Architecture. It’s a global tour of unpretty, often working class, concrete, statist, modernist, sometimes unloved housing estates, monuments, museums and factories. With over 1,000 black and white photos and pithy texts, it’s an engrossing love letter to the kind of places in which I feel most at home. Aristocratic and decorative buildings scream of privilege and – often – exploitation.
The Eyes of Orson Welles was released earlier this year
Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman is my book of the year. It’s the first book about politics I have actually read from cover to cover. The book’s ability to be completely accessible and a deeply accurate description of what drives politicians is rare. It isn’t cynical and it isn’t fawning. In a time of huge political crisis and the rise of division and vitriol, it is stark in how reasonable it is. If I had a wish in modern times it would be for the return to reasonable, tempered political discourse. Alas I fear I may not get my wish.
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Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth is out now (Windmill Books, £8.99)
TV and radio man
My book is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – it’s Memento merged with Murder on the Orient Express.A creepy opening sees our protagonist, struck by amnesia, standing sodden and cold beneath a canopy of trees. A voice whispers the word “East” and drops a compass in his pocket. Upon discovering a dilapidated country pile, he finds himself trapped and attempting to solve a murder in a race not only against time but also a horrifying adversary named The Footman. The narrator meets a host of unsettling characters, none more sinister than The Plague Doctor – even writing the name gives me chills!
Dave Berry hosts the Absolute Radio Breakfast Show
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
Cooks up a storm
My book is Pig by Helen Browning. This is the porcine equivalent of last year’s best-seller The Secret Life of Cows. Helen has lovingly, humourouslyand seriously followed a group of her organic piglets, cherished from birth to (for some) the abattoir. It’s a must-read for everyone who is interested in what sustainable farming means — or who just enjoys a bacon sarnie.
Prue Leith’s first cookbook in 25 years, Prue: My All-time Favourite Recipes, is out now (Bluebird, £25)