At the close of 2014, we look back to the books from our weird and wonderful backlist that have really stayed with us…
Against Austerity by Richard Seymour
Richard Seymour didn’t know this, but his Against Austerity was the first title I signed as a new (then assistant) commissioning editor at Pluto. So even if the book hadn’t been any good, I probably still would have had a soft spot for it today. But Richard’s book is much more than just a personal milestone for this lowly editor: it is a snotty, brilliant analysis of the mess we’re in, and an unflinching attempt to assess past failures so that we might fight back more effectively in the long years ahead. He also manages to sneak in some decent jokes while he’s at it.
After Queer Theory: The Limits of Sexual Politics by James Penney
‘The Pluto title which most impressed me, in recent years, was James Penney’s After Queer Theory. This was a skilful deconstruction of the dominant narratives within contemporary queer theory aiming at a return to the psychoanalytic approach of Freud and Lacan. Though I didn’t always agree with Penney’s arguments, nor his conclusions, I found the book to be both timely and important. I was also extremely gratified to discover an implicit (and sometimes explicit) critique of Deleuze, whose work I utterly detest.’
Ellen Wilkinson: From Red Suffragist to Government Minister by Paula Bartley
‘I thought Paula Bartley’s biography of the much overlooked Ellen Wilkinson, in the Revolutionary Lives series, was a great insight into a little known figure in British Labour history. Paula begins her book with a telling anecdote. She recalls mentioning to a Manchester taxi driver that she was writing a biography Ellen Wilkinson. The driver exclaimed ‘Ellen Wilkinson? No way! My daughters used to go to the school named after her.’ There was a pause, followed by, ‘Who was she?’ Paula’s book eloquently explains just who Wilkinson was. ‘Red Ellen’ was, in her day, perhaps the most famous, certainly the most outspoken British woman politician. She was a fighter, a socialist and the sort of figure who until now has tended to get overlooked in the history books. She was far more than just a name over a Manchester school. I like to think Paula’s taxi driver might be getting this terrific little book as a stocking filler!’
The Great Reporters by Dave Randall
My favourite Pluto book is David Randall’s The Great Reporters. I read it straight after finishing the 4th edition of his Universal Journalist because what I had enjoyed most in that book was the excerpts from the author’s favourite print journalists. The Great Reporters is dedicated solely to this – without the ‘how to’ aspect of the Universal Journalist. It is a fantastic read. Each chapter is dedicated to a different journalist from the last 150 years. It’s heavy with extracts from their writings, and Randall paints a fascinating biographical picture of each person as well. I have probably bought it for all of my journalist friends at birthdays and Christmases over the years. They all agree that it is an excellent book too.
Red Planets – Marxism and Science Fiction eds. Mark Bould and China Miéville
‘I picked this up in years before I joined Pluto in 2009 – the amalgamation of my two favourite things combined with the fact the volume was edited by the alluring Mr Miéville whose weird fiction I had been consuming for years made the volume impossible to resist.
The chapter that really sticks in my mind to this day was the first, ‘The Anamorphic Estrangements of Science Fiction’ deftly written by Matthew Beaumont. His analysis of Hans Holbein’s spectacular painting ‘The Ambassadors’ led me to check out the painting in the National Gallery where I found myself bending and twisting my body in an attempt to reshape the famous death’s head at the bottom of the canvas. The technical aspect of the famously distorted skull represented to Beaumont ‘a philosophy of false reality, or rather more precisely, a poetics of alternative realities […] the spectator is forced physically to transform, even to debase herself in the face of the death’s head which […] undermines the illusion of solid, three-dimensional reality. Holbein’s skull is metonymic of a domain in which the commodities that advertise the ambassadors’ economic, political and symbolic capital have neither exchange-value nor use-value.’ Spine-tingling stuff!’
Simon Liebesny – Sales Director
‘The book is an elegant but also impassioned riff through the politics of architecture and the architecture of politics, bringing in evidence from Detroit to Jerusalem, encompassing the establishment and the Occupy movement.
Andy does not throw in references for their own sake, everyone has a use – and a target. His book mixes anger and eloquence in a great package. Moreover he quote the great late Gil Scott-Heron: “The Military and the Monetary, get together whenever they think its necessary” which, in my book, seals the deal.’
Anne Beech – Managing Director
Andy Merrifield’s The New Urban Question had me laughing out loud in places at the sheer audacity of his writing, and the ease with which he assembles and presents complex arguments in lucid and compelling prose. Andy’s work has immense energy and a wonderfully ludic quality (check out his earlier work, Magical Marxism, for example) – but despite the surface gaiety, he writes with great passion and conviction. It’s that combination, I think, that I find so arresting.