Announcing, for the first time ever, in an idea quite shamelessly stolen from the wonderful FictionFan, the extremely prestigious and exclusive…
That’s right – dust off your ballgowns/tuxes/other preferred evening wear, because I’m having an awards ceremony! I’ve read so many great books this year that I cannot possibly or reasonably be expected to pick five favourites from them as I have in previous years. (What a great problem to have, honestly). Also, the problem with announcing my favourites just before Christmas, as I used to do, is that on many occasions I’ve read something during my Christmas holiday that becomes a favourite but doesn’t make the list. My awards year is therefore running from December 2021 – November 2022. This year, the categories will be as follows:
Book of the Year
To be eligible for inclusion, I must have read the book in the period above, and preferably reviewed it here. I don’t limit entries to the ones that I gave 5 stars on Goodreads, because there are many books that grow on me over the weeks after I finish them, or that I keep thinking about over the course of the year – but I only include books on the list that either received five stars at the time, or that I’m still thinking about (or both). Clear as mud? Well, never mind; let’s continue.
Categorisation is hard – is The Name of the Rose a classic, a crime novel, or historical fiction? What about The Betrothed? In the end, I’ve put books wherever I think they will make the best showing. After all, this is not a democratic process, and I have all the votes! Winners of each category, of course, will get praise, acclaim, and the promise that I will read another of their books. Are you all ready? Dressed to the nines? Then let’s go!
Since I’ve just finished Nonfiction November, I’m starting off with nonfiction, and the contenders for Best Nonfiction are:
Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom, and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade
Whenever someone asks me where I’d go if I had a time machine, one of my answers is always that I would like to go and spend time with early female students of the University of London, and later at the first women’s colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. (Assuming, of course, that I could take a few vials of penicillin and streptomycin with me – an important requirement for any sort of time travel). They were already women with tremendous advantages, of course – working-class men and women didn’t get to university in any great number until the social changes brought about by the fifties and sixties, and even now Oxbridge is hardly overwhelmed with students from council estates. In many ways, though, those women were tough as nails, and they were very committed to their scholarly pursuits. I felt like this book was the closest I am likely to come to actually getting to eavesdrop on those conversations and walk among those women, and so I enjoyed it tremendously. Click through to read the rest of the review.
Municipal Dreams: The rise and fall of council housing by John Boughton
Municipal Dreams, as the subtitle suggests, provides a potted history of both the logistics and the shifting ideals of council housing, beginning with individual council schemes in the late 1800s, and ending in the context of the Grenfell Tower fire. Like most of the people I know who either grew up in council estates, or have spent substantial time living in them as adults, Grenfell Tower felt personal and horrifying to me in a way that such disasters rarely do. In addition to the 72 deaths and hundreds of people traumatised and left homeless, Grenfell Tower felt like a symbol of successive governments’ disdain for and lack of interest in council tenants. The book isn’t about Grenfell (Boughton’s blog of the same name was running for years before the disaster), but it’s chronological, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the closing chapters lead inexorably into tragedy. But let’s start with something positive, at least, which is the celebration of the idealism that originally led to the development of council estates in the first place. Click through to read the rest of the review.
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
An African in Greenland, by Tété-Michel Kpomassie (1981, trans. James Kirkup), is really a book that does what it says on the tin. While growing up in Togo in the 50s, Kpomassie had an unfortunate encounter with a snake. He was taken to the local snake cult to be reconciled to the revered local pythons while he was very ill; once he recovered, the priestess suggested that he be initiated as a priest himself. This was a mark of high honour for the family, so his father was delighted – but Kpomassie really did not want to return to the forest where he had had such an unpleasant experience. Quite unexpectedly, he came across the solution in a book in the local missionary bookshop – a children’s book about Greenland. The idea of an entire country too cold for either snakes or forests appealed immensely, and once he was able to do so, he ran away to an aunt’s house in neighbouring Ghana. His idea was to slowly make his way north until eventually he reached Greenland – and, as you will guess from the title, he succeeded. The first quarter of the book is about his adolescence in Togo and his slow journey through West Africa and Europe, but the bulk of it takes place in Greenland itself. Click through to read the rest of the review.
Tunnel 29: The true story of an extraordinary escape beneath the Berlin Wall by Helena Merriman
Tunnel 29: The True Story of an Extraordinary Escape Beneath the Berlin Wall is one of those books that conveniently encapsulates its main story in its title, thus saving the reviewer the job of summing it up. It evolved out of a BBC podcast of the same name hosted by the author, investigative journalist Helena Merriman. It’s very well-written and doesn’t have a “podcast book” feel at all, except that the chapters are very short. Because I was listening to this, it was rather annoying to have the pause and chapter title every ten minutes; I imagine that with a physical book I would quickly have got into the habit of skimming over the titles so it wouldn’t have interrupted my reading. At the centre of the story is Joachim Rudolph, a former East Berliner who escaped to West Berlin as a young man shortly after the Berlin Wall went up. After a few months living in West Germany, he became involved in an attempt to dig a tunnel from West to East Berlin in order to help people leave. As an engineering student, he had expertise in structural integrity, managing leaks, and other essential qualities, along with being one of the primary diggers. This book is in part about why – having risked everything to escape East Germany – he then risked being recaptured in order to help other people escape. Click through to read the rest of the review.
So those are the nominees. After much deliberation, I am happy to announce that the Louloureads Nonfiction Award of 2022 goes to…
Municipal Dreams by John Boughton
I have honestly been thinking about this book on and off since I read it back in May. Firstly, I think it’s impressive to make any wonkish and nerdy policy book this compelling to read, but I also think it works as a potted history of the British working class in the 20th and early 21st century – certainly for the periods that I remember, but it also accords to what I’ve heard from my mum and from people in my grandparents’ generation about their experiences. This was also one of my favourite posts of the year, because it generated such an interesting discussion in the comments – it was very interesting to hear about how many of you have also lived in council housing/the equivalent and how it works in different countries across the world. A fascinating if somewhat depressing book – very much recommended if you like this type of thing!
Ooh, hurrah! Another chance to wear my ballgown! I shall polish up my tiara and glass slippers, and tell the coachman to get ready! 😀 💃
An interesting batch for your first category. I remember your review of the winner and it did sound good – I always like when an author can take a subject that maybe doesn’t seem all that appealing and make something so readable out of it. Looking forward to your other categories – but please don’t tempt me too much! My willpower is a fragile thing and can’t withstand awards ceremonies…
Ah, but surely if you wanted to avoid the temptation of too many awards ceremonies, you shouldn’t have made them look like so much fun on your own blog 😉 Jokes aside, I am finding this a very enjoyable way to look back over my reading year – thanks for the idea!
I do remember your post about council housing because you grew up in such a place. I always connect council housing to the Trainspotting books, which go back in time and place all the characters in council housing during a time when men could not find work and were protesting, and their children, the main characters, were getting into hard drugs.
I wonder if council housing is the same as “the projects” in the States.
I think council housing is similar to “the projects”, though my impression from outside the US is that the housing projects were always intended to be lived in by people on very low incomes? Council housing in the UK was originally intended to be for a cross-section of society, with housing a universal service like health or education. There are definitely estates that have ended up being ghettoised (when they haven’t been sold off), but originally the plan was for council housing to be used by everyone who wanted it. I think that’s the key difference. In the final chapter of the book, Boughton looks at the differences between the UK, elsewhere in western Europe, and the US. (As is typical, the UK has tried to do a mix of Western European and US things, and has ended up with something that has the problems of both and the advantages of neither).
Yes, I do believe “the projects” were meant to be for low-income people, especially people of color who live in cities. I know we have Section 8 housing now, which is aimed at low-income people. The rent is based on income.
The best red carpet costume I could come up with Lou was a rugby jumper with a slit up the side. Very alluring!
Good choice I think. After years of not building, “relying on the private sector”, and selling off the existing housing stock, Australia might at last be beginning to think again about the government (state governments) building cheap, reliable rental stock.
Melbourne – other cities I don’t know – had/has tower blocks built on the site of ‘slum clearance’ in the inner suburbs but I lived in the more typical ‘housing commission’ stock – 3 bedroom weatherboards both as a child and as a young married
Just recently our government was going to announce new targets for numbers of houses built per year and reduce the amount of steps to get planning permission, which was a step in the right direction, but rather depressingly those plans have just been dropped because of opposition from a few backbenchers. Difficult at present to believe either of our main parties is going to increase the number of houses built!
Square Haunting and Municipal Dreams are both ones that stuck in my memory from your reviews. They both sound so good! I tend to start my best-of list with my 5 star reads and then move on to including 4 star reads that have grown on me. I do sometimes consider whether I should go back and update ratings as I process a book, but I always decide that sounds like too much work!