Monday, 3 December 2012

The pick of the creme of the best of the....

While reading this weekend what seemed like the fifty-fourth round-up of the year's best books (and discovering, sarcasm aside, some enticing unknown titles to pursue), I thought I'd present a few of my favourites, opting for a range of genres and styles.

I hope you agree.


Sebastien Flyteworth

Hurrah for the tiny Abstruse Press.  Their new parallel-text translation of Zolgy Floxen's medieval Hungarian Epic, 'The Not Inconsiderable nor Dissimilar Journeys of  Napkirálycuts like an ancient but still formidable scythe through the vapid floss of 'Christmas' publishing to remind us that the dark and mysterious sap of great literature still courses vigorously through the tree of human culture. To many modern readers this repeated description of the mighty sun god - as he drives his steed from East to West each day, again, and again - may seem lacking in those relatively novel and tawdry effects on which the modern palate has come to rely for literary stimulation: character, plot, style and so on. To anyone with even the faintest smattering of 12th-century Hungarian, however, the subtle, one might almost say microscopic variations across the two thousand pages, gamely realised by Abstruse's translator, are a delight in themselves.  Lest ye doubt, I can bring no more formidable persuasive power to bear than by quoting this section from the nineteenth canto:

 'For lo, full Westward he travelled
 Neither was it true that Eastward lay his goal
 (And that of his horse),
 For the West it was that constituted his destination,
 I fail to speak untruth in this regard.'


Tobi Smecel

Just at the point when our weary, disillusioned heads had slumped onto the gleaming worktops of our Colosseo Oro kitchens, and we despaired of ever again encountering a genuinely new and exciting culinary trend, this book came as our redeemer.  The ear-lobes of a select few had been set twitching by vague rumours that Alessandro di Corta had developed an entirely new cooking system, but none of us were prepared for the full and devastating impact that the resulting book, 'Alliterativo', has had on the entire culinary world.  Creating dishes using only ingredients that begin with the same letter is one of those ideas that, once expressed, seems so simple and obvious, but it often takes true genius to see the precious jewel gleaming in plain sight.  Without this radical yet childlike approach, we would have been deprived of - for example, the sublime dish of Ricotta and Radish Risotto, nor would our palates have been transported to nirvana by his intoxicating range of Yam Yoghurts.  Di Corta lays out his recipes with admirable clarity, and is always, even from his lonely pinnacle of gastronomic eminence, fully aware of the possible practical obstacles his less well-resourced readers may encounter.  Hence his frequent suggestions for alternative ingredients, and his indispensable notes on sourcing (the latter especially useful for those ambitious enough to tackle his Zebra and Zucchini stir-fry).  Buy and give this book abundantly - the results will be indescribable.


Sandra Samson

Thank goodness we no longer have to apologise for young adult novels which recognise and face up to the less fluffy aspects of contemporary reality.  We have moved on, at last, from when the merest mention of illness or accident would cause the Daily Mail nation to fling up their hands in collective despair and bemoan the passing of some mythical golden age, when readers of eighteen or under were fed a stream of bland, optimistic scenarios in which every character possessed two fiercely heterosexual parents (married, naturally) and in which swearing was unknown and suffering more so.  Dixon Malachi's incredible new teen novella, 'The Blacker Blackness of Stephen McDonald' treads boldly into this hard-won territory of honesty and relevance.  Without revealing too much of the extraordinary plot, suffice to say that the titular 'hero' (such concepts are interrogated to impotence by the sheer, persistent malevolence exhibited by the universe in this work) struggles against emotional and physical odds that would render most adults - let alone teenagers - helpless. His trials include include his parents apparently going missing, a sinister and possibly mystical entity that haunts his house and a burgeoning bisexuality which makes him an easy target for school bullies and damages his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, who herself has profound gender identity issues.  Winnie the Pooh this isn't, but as a compelling and necessary road map to the fraught mental landscape of today's youth, it cannot be bettered.


Sara Frobisher de Beaufort-Smythe

I simply don't know what my dad would say about me choosing my sister Clara's delightful romp 'All's Mayfair in Love and War' as my book of the year.  Not, mind you, that he has any time to say anything in between his author signings for his absolutely riveting memoir, 'The Accidental Ambassador' as recently reviewed in this paper by my third cousin.  'Mayfair' is simply stuffed with delightful and hilarious incidents and characters, as Fate leads the inhabitants of a particular mews on a merry dance of romance and adventure, but the book doesn't shy away from the more sombre aspects of life, such as the frightful complexity of property taxes on third homes.  Do pop down to my nephew's bookshop and buy a copy.

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