Crackle + Hiss, £8.99
To be young in the early 1980s largely meant having one’s life soundtracked by brash, aspirational synth-pop. But outside the mainstream, small huddles of outsiders questioned the values of contemporary pop culture and provided a genuine alternative. Here, PR consultant Tim Blanchard looks at the era through the lens of five landmark albums: the debuts by Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Go-Betweens, The Smiths and The Blue Nile. Long before “indie” had become a defined genre, they challenged a beery, macho popular culture with a romantic, poetic intelligence. Arguing that they were the products of a very specific, unrepeatable time, Blanchard revisits the culture from which they emerged, examining the artists and their relationships with their own roots and the roots of pop. Suffused with his own memories of being a 1980s teenager, this highly readable book combines astute analysis and fannish enthusiasm without succumbing to pretension or mawkishness.
A slim novella from an author more associated with weighty tomes, The Silence follows five characters after electricity fails and TV screens and phones go dark. Surviving the crash-landing of their plane, Jim and Teresa make it to their original destination: the NYC apartment of Max and Diane, where they had planned to watch the Superbowl together, along with Diane’s Einstein-quoting former student, Martin. Is this power outage a glitch or the start of a new dark age? With no diversions, and no link to the outside world, all that’s left for them to do is talk. Lacking a resolution or explanation, the book’s meaning is to be found in the characters’ stilted, awkward attempts to communicate with each other, and in DeLillo’s arid, blank prose, essentially an authorial absence. It’s ultimately unsatisfying, but remains a prophetic exploration of how reliant we’ve become on our screens and what’s left of us when they’re taken away.
A SECOND DOSE OF SANDY’S DAILY DIARIES
Sandy Thomson, £9.99
When lockdown descended, a retired school administrator living outside Dingwall began to write a diary emphasising the lighter side of social distancing. The first 101 days were published in book form, and this second book covers the next 101, in which Thomson relates, with healthy amusement, his attempts to continue life as normal under “Nicola’s rules”, Zooming his family, watching his weight and struggling with crosswords. Under other circumstances, a series of gently amusing anecdotes of a Highland pensioner’s days might make a column in his local newspaper. But fear of Covid is something we’re all coping with in our various ways, and it’s easy to see how Thomson’s wry entries would be, if not a lifeline, at least comforting and relatable. Additionally, being a record of domestic life during a global crisis, it’s reminiscent of the wartime diaries commissioned by the Mass Observation Project – with dad-jokes.