2015 has been another great year for 4th Estate. We’ve seen Anthony Doerr’s epic All The Light We Cannot See win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Laline Paull’s extraordinary debut The Bees shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, and Bruce Robinson’s excoriating They All Love Jack longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. We’ve published some fantastic books – Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (surely the most talked-about book of the year), Nigel Slater’s long-awaited third volume of The Kitchen Diaries and Nell Zink’s iconic yellow-boxed double whammy of The Wallcreeper and Mislaid among them. We’ve hosted some stimulating Literary Salons at the Book Club in Shoreditch, and we’ve launched a stylish new video series, RE4DINGS.
We’ve been telling you how brilliant our books are all year, so as it’s Christmas, we thought we’d be charitable and highlight some of books we’ve loved from across the industry. So without further ado, here are our favourite books that we read in 2015…
How to be Both by Ali Smith
Outside of some much-loved books I was lucky enough to publish at Bloomsbury in the first half of 2015 before coming to 4th Estate, my favourite book this year has been Ali Smith’s How to be Both. It’s such an audacious, joyful, surprising novel. It sweeps you up like a mischievous dance partner (leading either from the left or from the right, depending on which version you buy), and whirls you across boundaries of time and gender; around preconceived notions of art and history and love; before depositing you breathless and laughing at the end.
Helen Garnons-Williams, Publishing Director
Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
My best book was unquestionably Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, which I finally got around to reading, having bought a copy years ago. It is a sprawling, hotch potch of a narrative written with a lightness of touch and understatement that belies the darkness of the First World War trench conditions and shocking loss of life he describes. Graves’s voice is so sane compared to the insanity of what he is describing and he paints an England and an stoicism that has totally disappeared. With the centenary of the Somme approaching next year, I recommend this first-hand account and mini masterpiece as the book to read.
Louise Haines, Publishing Director
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
Ostensibly just about Alexander von Humbolt, but his life covered the late 18th and early 19th century when science and exploration took a huge leap forward. A fascinating and brilliantly written biography of the man and his time.
Myles Archibald, Publishing Director, William Collins
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
My book of this year is Paul Murray’s The Mark and the Void, which is essentially a novel about money and art, told through a story about a down-at-heel writer and a mournful banker. It’s as ambitious and original as Skippy Dies, and has a somewhat miraculous knack of finding the soulful in what should be soulless. Like all of Paul Murray’s books, it’s also side-splittingly, joyously funny, despite being also quite sad; there’s a dinner-party set piece that makes me smile just thinking about it.
Anna Kelly, Commissioning Editor
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My boyfriend was on the verge of wiring me up to an ECG for the latter half of this book. I only emerged from it in order to cry out, scream, or sob.
Devastating and compelling, all at once. Which sounds awful, I know.
But you are duly compensated for such emotional investment. This book urged me to be a nicer person, to be better to my friends, to be less judgemental, and offered an alternative model of living outside of marriage or motherhood. It is extraordinary, and without doubt the most affecting book I’ve ever read.
Tara Al-Azzawi, Marketing Manager
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
‘Dizzying, this happiness.’ Dizzying, this book – the only one I have read both last year and this year. The first time I read it, it was an unexpected saviour. Alone, in a soon-to-close French restaurant, cold, not at a Christmas party, and feeling distinctly sorry for myself, I began to read it. Within minutes, my mood shifted. It is a novel that provides wisdom, solace, company and dizzying beauty. I read it again this year and fell in love all over again. I would like to read it every year for the rest of my life.
Lettice Franklin, Assistant Editor
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine
Loved, loved, loved this. I was blown away by Viv Albertine’s raw, visceral, searingly honest memoir this year. Clothes, Music, Boys is, of course, a book about the Slits and about British punk rock, but it’s also an irreverent, vibrant account of 1970s Britain through to the present day. We meet Viv as an ambitious, determined young woman in North London and follow in her footsteps as she faces a series of hurdles, from rowdy bandmates and rampant sexism, to coping with mid-life and the collapse of a marriage. A masterclass in just how dynamic and thought-provoking memoir can be.
Sarah Thickett, Assistant Editor
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
This year the Folio Society brought out a beautifully illustrated version of A Wizard of Earthsea, tempting me back to the shores of Le Guin’s sun-splashed archipelago (a place I hadn’t visited since I was ten or eleven). This summer I flew through the pages of The Earthsea Quartet again, returned to a state of childlike wonder – if I forgot my copy on the way to work, it felt like missing my morning shower. When revisiting other fantasy novels read in childhood, I’ll often be disappointed by their conservatism or simplicity, but my time in Earthsea had quite the opposite effect. Le Guin’s calm, clear prose is as elemental and timeless as the tide, and like the tide, it can stir or soothe in equal measure. Her vision has all the charm and whimsy you’d expect from fantasy, but its philosophical richness ensures that it remains a rewarding read for life.
Tom Killingbeck, Publishing Executive
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
I’ve read many unforgettable books this year: Citizen, by Claudia Rankine and A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara are a couple that stand out. However, two of my colleagues got there first, so I’ll say that the other best book I read this year was Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo. I read it in approximately three hours, and was annoyed by anybody who came near me in that time for making me take my eyes away from the page. Mr Loverman made me laugh, it made me cry, and has been deemed “juicy” by my Jamaican grandmother. What more can you want?
Candice Carty-Williams, Marketing Executive
Maus by Art Spiegelman
I’d never picked up a graphic novel before, so Art Spiegelman’s Maus was a first and it utterly blew me away. He tells the story of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew, and his experiences during the Holocaust by drawing any Jewish characters as mice, Nazis as cats and Americans as dogs. The animalistic associations act as a double-edged sword that renders a terrible and harrowing narrative bearable, but also visually conveys the dehumanizing effect of unequivocally categorising others, and ourselves, according to single attributes like religion or race. As such the narrative becomes as much about the way in which we relate sensitive stories, as it is about Vladek’s experiences. That, in itself, makes it one of the most important books ever produced.
Emilie Chambeyron, Sales Assistant
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Citizen was, in my mind, the most important and timely book of this year. It’s a book that deals with racism in modern America, expanded and re-released in the US just a few weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked mass demonstrations in Baltimore. It’s a hybrid of poetry and prose that thumps you in the ribcage. Rankine’s writing on police brutality is crushing, but it’s her observations on insidious casual racism that have lived with me. It’s a book that changed how I perceive the world, and you can’t ask for a lot more than that.
Jordan Mulligan, Graduate Trainee
Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer
Mailer’s bizarre novel about reincarnation and the journey of the dead, set in a surreal version of Ancient Egypt, is packed full of hyper-sexual gods and mortals on complex allegorical journeys that often overlap. I was desperate to read this after seeing an extremely visceral piece of film by performance artist Matthew Barney, loosely based on events in the book.
Ralph Barker, Graduate Trainee
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