My Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017

I cannot remember the last time I read more than a handful of books in a year, but apparently Goodreads’ challenge proved irresistible and I managed a little over 20 in 2017.

This was actually the third target I’d set, as I breezed past 10 and 15 a little over halfway through the year.

Obviously we’re not talking especially weighty tomes here, in fact more than a few were graphic novels, but I’m very happy with reading so much this year.

It’s a shame that my progress came to a blistering halt in mid-September, as I tried in vain to tackle a 500+ page historical account of the Cold War. It started out very dry and academic, and made it difficult to get into. As has been the case before, I’ve put it down and intended to crack it eventually, without just skipping it and moving onto another book for the time being. But until a quick couple of additions this past two weeks, I didn’t actually read a proper book since.

But that’s fine. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve enjoyed reading most in 2017.

bookcase

The Transmetropolitan series (Ellis/Robertson)

A horribly prescient and thrillingly entertaining comic series from Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan follows drug-addled journalist Spider Jerusalem, as he dives headfirst into political and civil unrest in a futuristic big-city setting in search of the Truth. I’d got about halfway through the series a couple of years ago before picking up the rest this year, and can’t believe I’d left it that long to finish off. Without wishing to get too much into a comparison to current events, the way that the authorities in the comic show such disdain for facts and information in their dealings is a chilling parallel to how we’ve seen the real world operate in the past couple of years. It’s a highly recommended read if you’re in search of your own way of dealing with it.

Wiggaz With Attitude: My Life as a Failed White Rapper (Andrew Emery)

Some of my favourite memoirs aren’t afraid of choosing places to admit defeat rather than tout success. Unlike the Alan Partridge autobiogaphy – in which the author chooses to end an awful lot of his anecdotes with the phrase ‘needless to say, I had the last laugh’ – here in the title alone the writer has humanised his life in pursuit of success and acceptance in the hip-hop world. In Wiggaz With Attitude, Andrew Emery tells of his early life spent pursuing success in hip hop, and provides an eye-opening account of the geographical and cultural barriers which made life growing up in suburban England during the 1980s such a far cry from the epicentre of rap music across the pond. And if said 1980s middle-England references are your thing, as they are mine, you’ll get a kick out of reading this even if you don’t know your Wu Tang from your Wham.

Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town (Thomas Jerome Seabrook)

A very engaging account of David Bowie’s life during the time he recorded his famous Berlin trilogy – Low, Heroes and Lodger. The book begins with Bowie at his manic, coke-crazed high – locking himself away in a California home, paranoid and stricken by doubt. Although settling on Berlin to reinvent himself, his mood plays out beautifully on Low, before regrouping and delivering two more important albums, alongside stints as producer on other musicians’ albums and touring. Bowie in Berlin is a great write-up of this vital period in Bowie’s life.

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (Victor Sebestyen)

Having been partly inspired by Bowie’s story to visit Berlin earlier this year, another reason I wanted to see the city was to get a sense of the events which transformed Europe across the 1980s. This book by Victor Sebestyen was another brilliant contributor, dealing with the fall of Communism in Poland, Hungary and East Germany among others from the very beginning of the Cold War right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. There’s a great mix of day-to-day anecdotes and overarching historical presentations, depicting the conflict between the inspirational figures who sought change, and the iron will of those in charge to keep things the way they were. Reading this book solidified my passion as a Cold War nerd, and it’s something I’m hoping to read a lot more of in 2018.

Dave Bowie, from t’ Dave Bowie Band

I’ve had three Bowie albums in my Amazon basket for over a week now. Even though they’re physically out of stock, they’re still hovering in the ether, waiting to be bought.

David Bowie died, and made a hole in the B section of the Rock & Pop shelves at HMV.

David Bowie Low album cover

He had his own section at the front of the store. I thought the grief-vultures had already moved to maximise their profits but then I remembered Bowie had a new album out anyway, so it was probably already there – along with a couple of 90s efforts that they just wanted shifting.

Bowie made music while he knew he was dying – probably because he knew he was dying. Nothing like teetering on the edge of forever to get you feeling creative. It’s bound to add some sense of perspective.

Everybody had something to say about him, even those who have wasted 140 characters of their life on Twitter to say that they have nothing to say about him. Maybe they just didn’t want to feel left out.

I’ve been trying to work out how best to say it myself. A brilliant talented man gone, having touched so many of the people in my life:

 

David Bowie Heroes album cover

My dad, a fellow cancer victim, absolutely loved him. His vinyl collection is in the corner of this very room; there’s definitely some Bowie in there.

My older brother who, like me, grew up liking all the same stuff our dad inflicted on us. We don’t normally text each other with ‘OMG did you hear’ texts, but this time it felt more than necessary.

My fiancée, who was charmed and frightened in equal measure as a little girl by seeing Labyrinth so many times. When we first met, ‘Bowie and his massive package’ was the subject of more than one drunken discussion with friends. The inclusion of ‘Magic Dance’ in our wedding ceremony was and is up for debate, even before he died.

There’s been more than a bit of hand-wringing for each ‘national treasure’  that we’ve lost since, in what’s been an absolutely horrible run of it. But for all the usual outbursts of ‘aww, not that guy, he was cool’, Bowie’s death actually turned me silent, contemplative, inwardly reflective.

That quiet reflection was best summed up today, which is why I wanted to write about it. It’s a nice bookend to the whole thing.

David Bowie Lodger album cover

My local independent record shop; 1.30pm, Saturday afternoon. I decide that I don’t want to wait and see if those Bowie CDs are in stock at Amazon before I order them and have to wait some more.

There’s a Bowie section in here, too – but again, there always was. Right next to The Rolling Stones.

That’s an especially poignant placement because as I approach the shelves, I realise what’s playing in the shop – his cover of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ from Aladdin Sane.

These shelves have been well ransacked too; no copies of Station to Station or Young Americans. Not even Ziggy. Even HMV had a couple of copies of Ziggy left.

Only a few left in here, including the exact three I wanted: Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Multiple copies left of each.

I approach the counter. The bloke looks up and takes my CDs off me.

Let’s Spend gives way to Suffragette City; there’s a weird feeling in the air as I go for my wallet, buying Bowie CDs in an otherwise empty record shop that’s playing Bowie.

He only tells me the price. I only tell him thanks. No more needed to be said, really.

——

With him gone, there’s fewer people around who can so effectively suck up all that creative energy out of the air and turn it into something beautiful. This evening I’ll be listening to the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ and trying to figure out how I can hoover up my fair share of it.