Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Books & Art 2005 - I

Ever so often I pick up a newly authored book (or books; on a deadly whim; in a chain bookstore where the lights are designed to hypnotise you till you hand over the £’s on what seems like a great 3 for 2 offer; HAH!) fully expecting that it will not nearly live up to all the hype surrounding it. Mostly this premise turns out to be true and my hopes of ‘a brilliant read’ are well & truly dashed. Publicists and strategic marketing have won again, given the book a place that it does not truly deserve and e entrapped me into parting with my hard earned cash. I usually put the book down thinking “what was I thinking!?” or “what were they thinking?!”, vowing to listen to my instincts till the next gimmick sucks you in.

In similar strain I have followed the acclaimed Turner prize for art since I got to England in 2002, watching to see how appallingly bad it can get and what it does for the artist who wins it. I went to see the exhibits in the first year but was so shocked by what was on offer (Bubble chamber by Keith Tyson, multi-coloured Perspex ceiling by Liam Gillick, Two films: Flight & Descent by Catherine Yass and wordscapes by Fiona Banner) that I decided to save my money (and buy aforementioned gimmicky books instead). I now follow the Turner addicts (waiting to see when they will STOP this nonsensical prize or shoot the artists) TV option by watching endless programmes alternately loving (nobody does, I’m just being politically correct for that someone out there who loves it/them all) and criticising the artists (for good reason – they’re rubbish), the prize (for good reason – it’s poor show if this is Britains best) and the whole art world. Art wise 2005 did not fare any better than the preceding years. The Turner shortlist continued to look like an effort gone too far down the wrong road and this winning entry is yet another example of why the Turner should be shot in the leg. It’s a reconstituted boatshed for heavens sake. I’m now convinced that beautiful art should not be what other people tell you it is but what you see and enjoy. Good art cannot be contrived.

2005 turned out to be a quite a bit different book-wise (though not for art as the Turner showed - it continues to be a prize for artworks that can most disappoint the public appetite for new, energising and exciting art). For one I ventured into chain bookstores with increasing rarity and always with my darkglasses on. I stayed away from the offers and bought authors who appealed rather than the ones I was told I had to. I increasingly relied on whatever was available in bargain/ basement bookstores and friends bookshelves & tips for things to read. The unpredictability of what was available as a bargain and the tastes of friends made for interesting reading for the most part.

I’ve chosen three of these books, all from different sources, as my top picks in 2005. These weren’t written in 2005, so you may have already read them. For me they were new and excellent. I want to review them post by post. So read on.

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