As i’m sure many of you know, the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ begins with a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days before Christmas day. Well this year Landscape Surgery (whilst not quite having the budget for various exotic birds and leaping dignitaries) is providing you with twelve books that would make great reads over the holiday period.
Each book has been selected by surgeons in the group, along with a reason why they liked it and why you should read it too!
- The Myth of the Blitz. Angus Calder, 1993. Pimlico.
I’ve chosen this book for two reasons. On one level, it’s a great history that exposes aspects of the Blitz that are often ignored: Churchill and the Royal Family were booed when they appeared in public, while it was direct action by Communists that ensured working class people got air raid shelters. More importantly though, Calder explores the ways the Blitz has been deployed to present Britain as a united island nation, shaping the country’s politics and culture. The mobilisation of these narratives in debates around Brexit means the book is as relevant as ever.
2. Reasons to Stay Alive. Matt Haig, 2015. Canongate Books.
Haig’s book is a refreshingly frank and reassuring look at mental health and wellbeing – it’s short chapters cover good days, bad days, helping yourself and how to help others. It directs you to overcome the negatives and to think more about the positive aspects of life, in a way that is completely relatable and realistic. The book is split into chapters that are only a few pages long, which makes it easy to read alongside leading a busy life (something I’m sure we all know too well!). Covering topics like depression, anxiety and OCD, it also discusses things like imposter syndrome and valuing your own worth – I firmly believe that every person could finish this book feeling like they have found a better way to look at life, finding new approaches to self-care for when things gets hectic!
3. Abolish Restaurants. Prole.info, 2006. PM Press.
A workers critique of the food service industry is a free graphic essay made and published by Prole.info (Yes, I’m yet to decide if that’s a tasteful name or not too). It’s a rundown of the way a restaurant is set-up, run, and functions day-to-day, and how the system is built to keep workers divided and less aware of class difference. So whilst the manager/owner is taking the cake, we are left to fight over the crumbs. A truly beautiful, and accessible read for anyone concerned with class consciousness (which, frankly, everyone should at least consider…)
4. The Dark Object. Katrina Palmer, 2013. Book Works.
A story of a dystopian future art school with only one student, a policy against object making and a rector with a skin irritation and adversity to clutter and mess. Published by Semina and available through Book Works who also commission and publish text works by contemporary artists and theorists. The back of the book, printed black ink on black reads: ‘Dear Professor Zizek, I write to you from the studio in which I reside. God only knows how long I’ve been here, and all this time with the object, I have never made, looking back at me.’
Admittedly not that cheerful! But very funny and often close to the bone.
5. Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice. Janet Malcolm, 2007. Yale University Press.
Which I’ve just finished and really enjoyed! It revolves around the relationship between Gertrude Stein and her long-term partner Alice B. Toklas. It investigates how the two elderly Jewish lesbians, who were living in France during WW2, managed to survive the Nazis. The book is part biography, part investigative journalism, part literary criticism, and it’s also short and reads very easily!
6. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Alice Goffman, 2015. Picador.
This is one of the best book I’ve ever read and I found it frankly unputdownable!! To me it is one of the best examples of an ethnography I’ve ever encountered and really showed me how interesting, immersive, provocative and exhaustive the method can be. Would really really recommend!
7. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus And Modern Historians. Geoffrey Burton Russell, 1991. Praeger.
I love this book because it completely blows one of the most pervasive modern-day myths out of the water. It’s short and well-written, it’s great scholarship, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Burton Russell conclusively shows how the idea that Christians believed in a Flat Earth was a complete fabrication of biased historians of modern times. To begin with Burton Russell surveys geographical literature since antiquity, concluding that the overwhelming majority of writers up to the modern era, religious or not, thought the earth was spherical. Then he demonstrates that, through an aggressively anti-religious agenda and by figuring Columbus as a plucky and heroic explorer who defied an overmighty Catholic Church, nineteenth-century historians and biographers cemented the “Flat Error” in the popular psyche. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this topic which seems to be getting increasingly more airtime of late.
8. Neuromancer. William gibson, 1984. CPI Group.
A Cyberpunk classic. The first writer to coin the term ‘cyberspace’. The book is dedicated to creating the feeling of a transformed reality as the reader is brought into a world of hackers, cyborgs, cybernetic implants and hallucination.
Perhaps one of the best lines in the entire book is Gibson’s description of cyberspace: ‘A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…(Page 59)’
9. Silas Marner. George Elliot, 2005 (1861). Simon Schuster.
This book was one of those that call out to me from time to time when I indulge in one of my favourite distractions – browsing in second-hand bookshops. This one wasn’t so much calling as singing.
I read it at a time when I was able to sit with a book in perfect surroundings: country farmhouse, log fire, snow covering the stunning landscape through the window, calming its rough edges, and softening its sometimes frantic farming and forestry noise in a woolly, blanketing almost silence.
As a story it appeals to me for so many reasons. The figure of an outsider; the art of a weaver, which for me is as magically pagan as a Celtic or a Norse blacksmith; beautiful rhythm with some gently unexpected twists; and a reassuring sense of natural justice. Above all though, in its particular narrative way, it is a story about love between father and daughter, which is and will always be my favourite subject.
10. I Love Dick. Kris Kraus, 2006. Semiotext.
11. A Geography of Digestion. Nick Bauch, 2017. University of California Press.
It might sound like an unusual (if not odd!) topic, but it is such a brilliant and well-written book that it is hard to put it down once you start it (I read it in one go! ) I’d recommend it to any cultural geographer.
If you like science fiction, horror and fantasy then this is the book for you. The first of three books set in the fictional world of Bas-Lag, a place where both magic (referred to as ‘thaumaturgy’) and steampunk technology exist. A slightly heavy read but worth it, as the world and the various exotic creates that Mieville creates are incredibly vivid. The story largely takes place in the violent, oppressive streets of New Crobuzon, a city that draws heavily on images of Victorian London, only more weird and perhaps on steroids…
The plot centres around scientist Isaac der Grimnebulin and his relentless quest to discover the secrets of ‘crisis theory’ by which he hopes to develop a perpetual motion machine. As he gets deeper into his research some very deadly ‘mind drinking moths’ go missing and threaten to devour the whole city. Its weird and at times a bit sprawling, but the book offers a phantasmagoric reading experience you shouldn’t miss.