Scriptorium by Melissa Range - Rachel Piercey, poet and editor
One of my favourite books of 2017 was Melissa Range’s Scriptorium, recommended to me by the brilliant Kathryn Maris. I had a sense of instant connection when I opened it: Range writes about just the kind of subjects I love – home, history, different types of language, very old stories, revelation – in just the kind of voice that gets me in the ear, head and soul – jewel-rich, rapturous, tenderly colloquial, conflicted and devastating. Two big themes are Anglo-Saxon language and literature and the East Tennessee of her childhood – she considers the legacies of both with singing incision. Read the stunning poem ‘Ofermod’ as a taster. Then buy the book!
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan - Richard O'Brien, poet and editor
Tender by Sofia Samatar - Charlotte Geater, production controller and editor
Sofia Samatar's Tender is the best book I read in 2017. Each story contains a whole world. Each object, each tiny thing, has so much metaphorical or symbolic weight, and is also itself. This is a book full of people who love generously, and cruelties which resonate & expose entire structures and ways of being that depend upon them. What else? Potatoes, lassi, American soda, cigarettes made from scraps of written records... Stories that are made up of letters and other documents that question that very materiality, the ethics of writing and recording and excavating. Excavating is not always a kindness. But sometimes it is all that we have.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - Yen-Yen Lu, publicist and editor
I have been talking endlessly about The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas because not only is it the best book that I read in 2017, it's probably one of the most important books I've ever read, and I was very excited to have spotted a new "Waterstones exclusive" edition the other day. It follows Starr, a sixteen year-old black girl who is the sole witness to her friend being fatally shot by a police officer, through the aftermath of this event. The author draws from the Black Lives Matter movement and explores themes of activism and police brutality, but it is also grounded in a teenage world where Starr worries about fitting in as a black student in a predominantly white high school and as an outsider in her neighbourhood, as well as her complicated relationships with her family and friends. This duality felt so important because the characters seemed more authentic and it reflected the lives of young activists in the real world.
Night Flowers: from avant-drag to extreme haute couture by Damien Frost - Julia Bird, poet
I've reached peak book in my flat: no space on any of the shelves to stack anything alphabetically any more. It's therefore really easy to work out what I read last year - it's the books closest to the top of the teetering unshelved piles. Here's one of them - Night Flowers: from avant-drag to extreme haute couture by Damien Frost. Awareness of my overstacked and overdrawn status is never at its most acute in a bookshop, particularly in a gallery bookshop - and this book sang to me very loudly on the way out of the Tate. It's a platform-sole thick collection of photographic portraits of drag queens and kings, club kids, goths, artists, cabaret, burlesque and fetish performers. They're very precise, classical portraits - each bead, feather and prosthesis detailed - and every image is as coded and communicative as an Elizabethan oil painting. London club life isn't my life, but I sometimes catch a flicker it of on my way home after a late (poetry) night - and this book shows me what I'm looking at.
The Islands of Chaldea by Dianne Wynne Jones - Emma Wright, publisher
In 2017 I was mostly re-reading Georgette Heyer books as a comforting break from work. I did finally get round to reading Diana Wynne Jones' The Islands of Chaldea, though. It's her final novel, published posthumously and completed by her sister Ursula. Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors, and The Islands of Chaldea didn't disappoint. I was worried it would be too short, as it's not very thick, but once I started it was all good - I was completely immersed in the world of warring islands and mysterious mists. There are lots of jokes and clues hidden in plain sight, which is part of what makes DWJ books so satisfying - as each new thing is revealed you look back on everything in a different way, and then again and again. I'm about to see the Hamilton matinee, so I can't supply a book selfie but here's one of me in the theatre. Happy World Book Day!