Of those books I did read, the one I enjoyed the most was A Passion for Poison by Carol Ann Lee. Originally a biographer of Anne Frank and her family, Lee shifted into true crime with One of Your Own, her mesmerising 2010 biography of Myra Hindley which I've written about before and has approached a number of other subjects with the same care, detail, research and control. While not quite as bracing as that book, A Passion for Poison, which concerns Graham Young, the Teacup Poisoner, does a great job of bringing into sharp relief what an incredible and terrible story his life contained. At the moment the book has gone unreviewed in any of the usual places - a faintly absurd situation. Lee is such a fantastic writer I'm surprised her reputation hasn't exploded beyond the true crime genre.
I also very much enjoyed Sam Mills' Fragments of My Father, her memoir-essay about being her dad's carer. It surprised me to think how scant caring features in literature - this is a wonderful examination of the topic, all of which is centred around Mills's own experiences of her father's catatonic schizophrenia. This memoir actually came out last year. Since then Mills has produced two a subsequent books, an essay titled Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo, and The Castle, a horror novella published under Dead Ink's Eden Book Society project (with which I was also involved). As all of this no doubt suggests, Mills is an author who brings a signature intelligence to diligent and varied output. I've not yet read those two subsequent books but plan to in the new year. I also really like This Must Be Earth, a short story published in a standalone chapbook by the great Nightjar Press - I've only encountered a scant handful of stories by its author, Melissa Wan, but each has haunted me long after I've finished reading, and this was no different.
I think 2021 has been a very good year for music.I've certainly listened to more music than most other recent years, and a wider variety.
If I had to choose an all-out top album, it's Low's HEY WHAT. I've loved Low for nearly 20 years now and with the release of this, their 13th album - both the record and its reception - feels like a culmination of their distinct creativity. As with the past couple of Low albums, the sound feels as though it's on the outer edge of what its possible to do with music, as though it couldn't possibly be pushed any further, but there's a fascination knowing that that's not actually the case and there will - or at least one hopes - be more Low albums. There's some links to some of the other music I've enjoyed this year.
2021 has also been a year in which I listened to Public Image Ltd a great deal, something which was a hangover from 2020 when I frankly listened to little else. All of this led me to my year's most surreal moment - sitting in my car very early in 2021, so my kids wouldn't interrupt me, shivering with the cold while I phoned John Lydon at his home in LA as part of my research for a piece on the 40th anniversary of The Flowers of Romance. Despite all the terrible attention-seeking of late, I can't help but be fascinated by Lydon, both as a performer and a persona, if those two things can be unknotted, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece. And despite listening to Flowers more than is healthy I still enjoy the album.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the people I pitched to were interested in this baroque piece which went unwritten. Indeed, the 30th anniversary of Stars went largely un-commemorated, beyond my own personal tribute in the form of a year of listening. Which is a shame. For most people, Simply Red remain the embodiment of naffness but they are keenly due a reappraisal. Yes, their music is smooth pop, the ultimate cringe, but at its strongest Simply Red's songs are powered by an edge of desperate energy. A good example is the title track from Picture Book.
Here's some other music I liked...