Thursday, December 07, 2017

Favourite Books of 2017: Noir, Music and Poetry

Favourite Noir (or Noir-related) Fiction of 2017

-Dance of the Infidels by Wesley Brown (Concord ePress). Excellent  and evocative collection of stories about jazz, set mostly in the 1940s, and those who love it. See my review.

-Never Say No to a Killer by Clifton Adams (Stark House Press). Fatal attraction in a roadside filling station/motel. In the tradition of Cain and Thompson. Did crime and western pulpster Adams ever pen a bad novel?

-Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith (No Exit). More southern noir from another great Mississippi writer.  Reminiscent of Larry Brown at his best.

-Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson (Blue Rider Press). An  antidote to our current nightmare, as Erickson's protagonists ride America's back roads, findf the Twin Towers in the middle of nowhere, while listening to old-school playlists. See my review.

-Winter Warning by Jerome Charyn (Pegasus). All I can says is he who tires of Isaac Sidel tires of noir fiction.

-Crimes of Winter by Philippe Georget (Europa). For me, anything set in Perpignan- with its cultural mix- has to be interesting, and Georget, with local cop Inspector Sebag,  is equal to the task. Makes me pine for one of my favourite cities.

-The Long Drop by Denise Mina (Harvill). As dark as any of Mina's books. Based on an actual crime. Read it and immerse yourself in 1950s Glasgow.

-Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine (Open Letter, Jeffrey Zuckerman trans). Recalls Tarkovsky's films in a post-Soviet Union/post-nuclear, Beckett-like landscape. Part sci-fi, part magic realism, part futurist noir...

-The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve (Pushkin Press, Sam Garrett trans). This odd, darkly humorous  Dutch classic- early slacker-lit- is a half century old but as interesting as ever. See my review.

-A Legacy of Spies by John LeCarré (Viking). Back on form with an addendum to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

-Suburra by Carlo Bonini, Giancarlo De Cataldo (Europa, Antony Shugaar trans). Haven't seen TV adaptation, but this is a novel that presents contemporary Italy in all its corrupt glory.

-Tragic Shores: A Memoir of Dark Travel byThomas H. Cook (Quercus). Cook visits an assortment of dark sites of genocide, murder, massacre and mayhem. Not as depressing as the title indicates. For anyone loves Cook's fiction.

-Chester Himes: a Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson (Norton). For Himes obsessives, meticulously researched and well-written, depicting Himes as he has never before. Particularly interesting when it comes to his politics.

-Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals by Rick Ollerman (Stark House), a collection of his excellent and informative introductions, essays, reviews, etc..

-Getting Carter, Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir by Nick Triplow (No Exit). One might argue the subtitle's claim, but there's no denying Lewis's importance. Particularly enlightening is the early section on life in and around Hull.

-Krazy: George Herriman- a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand (Harper). For anyone who loves Krazy Kat. Well-researched and constantly revealing.

-To Laugh That We May Not Weep: The Life and Times of Art Young  by Glen Bray, Frank Young (Fantagraphics). Not really noir, but not far off.  Masses cartoonist Art Young is a legend and a genuine American radical. Informative, instructive and beautifully presented.

-To Have and To Hold by Graham Chaffee (Fantagraphics). A noir graphic novel up there with Darwyn Cooke's extraordinary adaptations of Westlake's Parker novels. See my review.

-Going Down Slow by John Harvey (Five Leaves). Excellent jazz-tinged stories from the creator of Resnick and Jack Kiley. Read them and then go back to Harvey's novels.

-My Favourite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics). No doubt everyone's graphic novel of the year. And for me, Ferris sets a new standard. Graphic fiction at its best. Beautifully drawn, scary and soulful.

Favourite two books on Film Noir, neither published in 2017:

-Jean Pierre Melville An American in Paris by Ginette Vincendeau (BFI). Published in 2003. Pretty much everything you wanted to know about Melville, plus an analysis of his films.

-In Lonely Place- Film Noir Beyond the City by Imogen Sara Smith  (McFarland). With her Criterion and Noir City essays, Smith is fast becoming one of my favourite writers on film noir. Published in 2011, but reads like it could have been written yesterday.

Favourite music books of 2017:

-The Art of the Blues by Bill Dahl (University of Chicago). The ultimate blues coffee table book. Lovingly done. Though should have been titled The Art of the Blues and Early Jazz. See my review.

-Blues Unlimited by Bill Greensmith, Mark Cararigg, Mike Rowe (University of Illinois). For fans of the British magazine, and for those who missed it. See same review as above.

-Free Jazz, Harmolodics and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush (Routledge). If you love Ornette's music but want to know what his harmolodics was about, then read this fascinating book to find out. Or, at any rate, that's the idea.

-Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music by Ben Ratliff (Penguin). A proactive book that spans numerous genres by critic and author of excellent books on jazz, including one on John Coltrane.

-Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise- James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners. Baldwin and music: about time someone wrote about the connection.

Ten Favourite Poetry (and Poetry-related) Books of 2017

Ghosts by Sean Bonney (Materials). My poetry book of the year. Politically radical. Poetically dangerous. Bonney rips apart any notion of poetry as a middle-class pursuit.

 In Darkest Capital by Drew Milne (Carcanet). Marxist lichenite. Full of Raworthian possibility.

Clark Coolidge, Selected Poems, 1962-1985 (Station Hill). Coolidge,  a jazzman, has an inscrutable ear. I'd read anything by him. Likewise, his compadre Michael Gizzi whose book came out a couple years ago, but which, like basement tapes Dylan crossed with Coolidge, show no sign of becoming any less relevant.

Calligraphy Typewriters by Larry Eigner  (University of Alabama). A large dose of selected poetry from someone who was not only incredibly prolific but rich in his vision of the world.

Gravity as a Consequence of Fate by Allan Fisher (Reality Street). Fisher continues his Olsonian investigation of the local as it moves from substructure outwards.

Barry McSweeney and the Politics of Post-War British Poetry by Luke Roberts (Palgrave). McSweeney, for me a major British poet, certainly merits a book that delves into his work. And Luke Roberts is up to the task.

Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo and Pacific Coast Culture by Andrew Schelling (Counterpoint). A poet's take on the poet/ethnographer and mythic Bay area personality of the 1940s and 50s Jaime de Angulo.

Late Modernism and The English Intelligencer by Alex Latter  (Bloomsbury Academic). Documents one of the most important periods of British poetry, the very short-lived English Intelligencer, and a essential companion to Pattison, Pattison and Roberts's Certain Prose of a few years aback.

Love, H. by Hettie Jones, Helene Dorn (Duke University). Two women connected to two formidable poets- LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn exchange letters over the years which demonstrate the richness of their lives with and without their ex-husbands.

Letters- Prynne/Olson by J.H. Prynne and Charles Olson  (University of New Mexico). Not easy reading but essential for anyone interested in cross-Atlantic poetry currents of the 20th century.