The fourth and final part of our round-up of cultural highlights from the year about to finish. We’ve had a diverse selection so far, and this final instalment is no less interesting.
“In books, Donald Sturrock’s biography of Roald Dahl, The Storyteller, was wonderful and shattering in equal measure: the hero of my childhood emerges as made up of charm, spite, sexiness and some impressively unabashed dishonesty.
Diaghilev and the Golden Age of Ballet Russes at the V&A pulled together a collection the beauty of which will not be rivalled for some time. There are cases of T. S. Eliot’s edited manuscripts next to Picasso’s costume designs; and I have never coveted anything as much as I did Léon Bakst’s watercolour of Nijinsky’s Faun. I skulked outside for half an hour to watch people leaving the exhibition: and they stood straighter inside their winter coats, and pointed their toes down the steps to the pavement.”
– We’re thrilled to be publishing Katherine Rundell’s debut novel, The Girl Savage, in January. Brilliant escapism for younger readers.
“Relieved that Down The Line transferred successfully to TV as the rather wonderful Bellamy’s People (oh yes it did! stop moaning you wireless purists).
Grizzly Bear at Glastonbury. The best melting in a hot field in Somerset moment since Arthur Lee performed Forever Changes in 2003.
The Picasso Peace and Freedom Exhibition at the Tate Liverpool. Up the reds.
Listening to WFMU - the best radio station in the world. Forget 6 Music. WFMU is Peel’s legacy.
The music of American chill-wave group Candy Claws. Like Pet Sounds put through a blender. In a good way.”
– Published earlier this year, Rob Chapman’s Syd Barrett is the first definitive biography of the original creative force behind Pink Floyd.
“Traces by Les 7 Doigts de la Main: an exhilarating compound of acrobatics, dance, music and theatre that made me laugh out loud with disbelief at physical skill so extraordinary that I felt like a different species. The time I spent living in Revolutionary France thanks to Hilary Mantel’s stunning A Place of Greater Safety. Not only did Robbie rejoin Take That, but there was an avalanche of new music from Robyn – perfect, funny, heartbreaking pop. And one still to come: 4 Blue’s performance of Cinderella Rockafeller at Ashmount Primary – it’ll be hard to top last term’s The Destruction of Pompeii, but if anyone can, they can.”
“James Turrell’s Bindu Shards was the highlight of a lifetime. On a gurney, inside a bastard hybrid of the Vostok space capsule and THX 1138, and (believe me) gripping the panic button for dear life, the visitor yielded to a deluxe art migraine which precipitated directly within the visual cortex, behind the eye and beyond any lobe of brain that could sensibly describe the experience afterwards. This much is certain: nobody will dare call a Flash website ‘immersive’ again.
Meanwhile, in the slipstream of Mater Suspiria Vision, home-zombieing was resurrecting music. Long-dead Phil Collins tracks shambled in numberless legions across the social networks, hungry for brains, perfectly exemplifying both poles of the remix culture debate at once. Bedroom bokors (and this can be you, this afternoon) invoked the endlessly fun open source Paulstretch software, conjuring chop and screw record collection voodoo. Slowed to a crawl, the unlikeliest music smeared into panoramas of unsuspected beauty and scraps of once-disposable vocal acquired a new, mournful poetry. Who said creativity always has to align with difficulty?
Oh, and there was one more thing.”
R. N. Morris
“First night of the Proms, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. (No, I’m not a Mahler 8 nut, or even a classical music buff; I’d never heard the piece, in full, before this). Mahler’s Eighth is also known as the Symphony of a Thousand, because of the number of singers taking part. I don’t know exactly how many were gathered in the Albert Hal
l that day in July. Let’s say it was a thousand. To hear a thousand voices joined together with perfect control and breathtaking power is a truly transcendent experience. The universe sings. All the more special because one of those thousand voices was my wife’s.”
– R. N. Morris is the author of the acclaimed Porfiry Petrovich thrillers, the most recent of which, A Razor Wrapped in Silk, was published earlier in 2010.
“I loved Sean Coombs and Pharrell Williams mocking themselves in Get Him To The Greek, Teen Dream – the 3rd album by Beach House, Cher Lloyd’s version of The Clapping Song, Wunmi Mosaku in I Am Slave on C4, the Walking Dead on AMC, Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Russell Kane’s, um, award winning show and fellow comic and Faber author Stewart Lee’s book How I Escaped My Certain Fate … I’m embarrassed to admit that I like One Day as well …” [ed. Don't be - you're not the only one!]
– Stephen Armstrong writes for a number of publications including the Guardian, the Sunday Times, GQ and Elle, and is the author of War Plc.
“My cultural highlight for 2010 was the launch of Visual Editions. In a year preoccupied by the impact of digital, Visual Editions launched with the simple aim of producing beautiful books. The founders are interested in how to enhance the experience of reading by bringing more interactive and visual components into everything. So far they’ve published a re-imagined edition of Tristram Shandy, with an introduction by Will Self, and Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer, taking what he calls his favourite book (The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz) and literally cutting into it, sculpting his own story.”
– Sophie Rochester is the editor of The Literary Platform, which has emerged this year as the must-read website on all things books & digital.
“Music from this year I keep returning to is Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden‘s Jasmine on the ECM label. These are all standards, so nothing new there, but the interplay between the two jazz veterans is so gorgeous and intuitive that it feels like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Easily the best book I read this year is nearly two decades old, Robert A. Caro’s Means of Ascent, volume two of his epic biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. Relentless drama and top class writing on every single page here, with twentieth-century politics and power forensically examined and laid bare.”
– Alan Glynn is the author of Winterland and The Dark Fields, which is reissued in 2011 as Limitless, to tie-in with the major film starring Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. Take a look at the first teaser trailer for the movie here.
“In another busy year for me of talks at book/literary and science festivals around the country, I continue to be amazed and impressed at the genuine interest of the book-buying public in engaging with ideas and authors. More power to the behind-the-scenes organisers who continue to put these events on and give everyone so much pleasure.”