As the year draws to a close, newspapers have been asking the great and the good which books have most impressed them in 2011. Here we have collected the Verso books that were featured.
In the New Statesman, Guardian and Observer Books of the Year round ups, Hari Kunzru selected two Verso books as standing out from other books published this year. He explained the appeal of the titles to the New Statesman:
With the Occupy movement gaining ground throughout the world, McKenzie Wark's smart overview of the situationist movement, The Beach Beneath the Street: the Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, feels particularly timely. For years, Laura Oldfield Ford, who is very influenced by situationism, has produced a fanzine, based on her derives around London, with words and beautiful, confrontational line drawings of the city's forgotten people and neglected places. Now, Savage Messiah has been collected in book form. It is a wake-up call to anyone who can only see modern cities through the lens of gentrification.
In the Guardian feature on the Best Books of 2011, a number of Verso titles were selected by those asked.
Among the 2011 books that came my way I particularly welcomed Owen Jones's Chavs, a passionate and well-documented denunciation of the upper-class contempt for the proles that has recently become so visible in the British class system.
I loved two very different books of criticism...[one was] Owen Hatherley's furiously pro-Modernist A Guide to the New Ruins of Britain
Liberalism: A Counter-History by Domenico Losurdo stimulatingly uncovers the contradictions of an ideology that is much too self-righteously invoked.
I'm reading Chris Harman's A People's History of the World. It's really helpful to zoom out from time to time when you're living massive events at very close quarters.
Trailblazing socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham has been announced as the first ever Writer in Residence at the British Library's Eccles Centre for American Studies, alongside author Naomi Wood. In this role, both writers will work to raise awareness of the British Library's North American collections and also make use of them for their next projects with the generous support from the Eccles Centre.
Rowbotham was selected due to her "innovative ideas" and the uniqueness of her proposed use of the Library's collections in researching her forthcoming book with Verso, Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers and Radicals in the US and Britain 1880 to 1910. The book will trace a small network of British and American radicals during the turn of the century.
Melissa Benn, author of the acclaimed School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education, has written an article for the Guardian tackling Michael Gove's obsession with using the American charter schools movement as a model for his breakneck paced reform of the British education system, as following a "dangerous template".
The main problem in adopting charter schools as a guide, for Benn, is that while people have heard of the American charter schools, they actually know little about their operational context and the impact they have on state schools. She unveils the true context of charter schools:
The model goes something like this: a set of new schools, apparently dedicated to radically improved education of the poor, is set up in competition to existing public provision. Heavily backed by corporate or philanthropic interests, with some working on a "for profit" basis, they are reliant on high-stakes results, strict discipline, a punitive approach to teachers and unions, and tend to have more control over their admissions, higher rates of exclusion, and to take fewer students with special needs or those for whom English is not their first language.
Meanwhile, public (state) schools, many suffering toxic spending cuts, drowning in often unjustified public and political criticism, must continue to educate anyone who comes through their gates, making the alternative new model look shinier still. Yet many still provide an outstanding education, particularly in deprived areas. Sound familiar?"
Pauline Masurel of The Short Review has reviewed I'm With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, royalties from the sale of which will go to 350.org, an international grassroots movement working to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Bill McKibben has written the introduction to the collection and Masurel used his arrest while protesting against the tar sands pipeline to highlight the controversial issues raised by the stories in the collection. She opened her review by quoting him writing about the tar sands battle:
This is really, really important. Jim Hansen, the world's most important climatologist, has said that if we burn these tar sands in a big way it will be "essentially game over for the climate." That's worth reading again. The oil companies and the Koch Bros are willing to take a few years of big profits in return for cratering the planet's climate system.
In a warm and in-depth review, Masurel noted that the book "aims to show that fiction can speak as persuasively as fact in making the point about the wounds we are inflicting upon our own planet" and does so with "an impressive array of internationally-acclaimed authors". While wary of finding the content preachy, Masurel happily found "a lot of variety in tone and subject matter and the authors' approach to the topic."
On the tone of the stories, she went on to say that many of them have "a tinge of sadness despite the jokey style". Praising the humor of Toby Litt and Nathaniel Rich's contributions, Masurel commended the high impact of the stories by Helen Simpson and David Mitchell:
Helen Simpson's contribution is a diary account and possibly the most terrifying vision of societal breakdown to go with climate destruction. David Mitchell's The Siphoners is also a scarey vision of the future, featuring a story within a story, reminiscent of the complexity of his novel Cloud Atlas. But it also involves a sobering reflection upon the possibilities and implications of population control.
I'm With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, in which world-class novelists envision the terrors of impending climate change, has been widely reviewed in the press. The contributors to the volume, such as Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, aim to shape an emotional response to mankind's unwitting creation of a tough new planet. While issue based fiction will by its very nature divide opinion, the collection has received a largely positive response. The New Internationalist summed up their review with a resounding endorsement: "10 authors at the top of their game, tackling the most pressing issue of our generation".
Michael Marshall, reviewing for the New Scientist, had mixed feelings about the anthology, appreciating some contributions more than others as he felt was inevitable when reading a collection. He praised the writing of Mitchell and Helen Simpson but saved highest commendation for Paolo Bacigalupi:
Short story collections are always a mixed bag, and this set of 10 pieces inspired by global warming is no different...The high point for me was Paolo Bacigalupi's The Tamarisk Hunter, a near future story of a farmer struggling to make a living on a drought-ridden Colorado river, issues such as water rights, which can be rather (excuse the pun)dry, come to life because Bacigalupi makes them part of the plot and shows how they affect his characters...More than any other story in the collection, it makes climate change feel real.