1. Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair
Sinclair has lived in Hackney for over 30 years and this book is a fascinating take on the history of this neglected London borough and the incredible variety of people who have lived there. The fold out dustjacket doubles as a map of the area.
2. Worlds and Windows by Gilbert and George
The book to accompany their show at Anthony d'Offay Gallery in 1990. Constructed of color picture postcards, these grid-plan structures resemble a new kind of secular altarpiece. "Worlds" is 15 postcards high by 15 postcards wide and "Windows" follows a different pattern & orientation consisting 21 postcards high by 11 postcards wide. The book itself has a lovely old library feel about it.
3. Koba the Dread by Martin Amis
This is a book about Stalin and the past and present culpability of intellectuals, as well as a personal memoir. It's personal to Amis because his father Kingsley became a Communist in 1941 and remained so for 15 years: along with the majority of intellectuals everywhere he chose the big Stalinist lie over the truth. The book is littered with incredible and devastating facts about the man and his regime, knitted together with Amis' cutting, singular insights. The only reasonable excuse for believing the Stalinist story is perhaps that "the real story--the truth--was entirely unbelievable".
4. A Road Trip Journal by Stephen Shore
Shore recorded every detail of his road trip across America (in 1973) in this journal which features his own photographs along side lists of information including where he stayed, what he ate, what he watched on the television, how many photographs he took, as well as ephemera such as receipts and postcards. (Signed limited edition with a slip-case.)
5. Psychogeography by Will Self and Ralph Steadman
This book links with Iain Sinclair's Hackney in its approach, unearthing largely personal, previously hidden insights into places. Will Self on walking, "I have to concede that the 4/4 rhythm, the sense I have on long walks--both urban and rural--of being rather disembodied: a head floating above the ground; the meditational aspect, whereby I allow my mind to 'slip its gears'--all of these are akin to the kind of altered experience I sought in drugs."
6. Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov
It is estimated that some three million people died in the Soviet forced-labour camps of Kolyma, in the northeastern area of Siberia. Shalamov himself spent seventeen years there, and in these stories he vividly captures the lives of ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances. He manages to convey the sorrow and amazing depravity of this time without preaching or complaining. By far the most lyrical and moving work we have read on the subject.
7. Hackney Wick by Stephen Gill
Stephen Gill purchased a Bakelite camera at Hackney Wick market for 50p and used it to document the Wick's strangely self-sufficient world and the frenetic activity of the people who occupy it. A plastic camera with a plastic case and lens, the camera has no focus or exposure controls. Its no-frills technology mirrors the functionality of the market itself and Gill's resulting photographs exploit the spontaneous effects of the camera to reflect the energy and chaos.
8. Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
This encyclopedic volume is the most comprehensive on the subject. Covering the development of the Soviet concentration camps, from Lenin to Gorbachev, it is based on archives, interviews, new research and recently published memoirs. The sources are brilliantly combined by Applebaum to explain the role that the camps played in the Soviet political and economic system and describes daily life in the camps. (Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-Fiction.)
9. Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall by Spike Milligan
In the first volume of his World War Two memoirs, Spike puts his own unique spin on his experiences in World War Two starting from training at Bexhill-on-Sea to his posting in North Africa. The underlying tragedy of mass killing comes through in a story which is finely balanced between pathos and humor. This book is a terrific window into early period of the war, and a defining moment in the life of one of its greatest comedians.
10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
How do you control a youth that lives for “ultra-violence” and converses in a mixture of Russian and cockney slang “Nadsat”? Burgess applies his trademark intellectualism to produce a piece of English ‘science-fiction’ whose themes still seem as relevant today as they did when they were written. Yes, the film is good, but the book, with its in the first-person narrative gives us an unforgettable glimpse into Alex’s mind.