1 | Stoner, by John Williams (Random House)
Picked by Colum McCann
Sometimes a novel comes along – something so good, so pure, so vibrant – that it doesn't matter when it was written: it's still going to be the book of the year. I've been banging on about Stoner for a decade now, though the book is actually 48 years old – the same age as me but destined to live a lot longer. It's a beautiful novel with the most unlikely premise and nothing at all to do with the contemporary idea of what a "stoner" is. John Stoner grows up in on a dusty grey farm in Missouri in the 1920s, but is stunned awake to the possibilites of life, love, literature when he goes to university. He spends his career in academia, falls into a loveless marriage, has a tragic affair and lets love drop from his fingers. But in the best literature plot often takes second place. Stoner is beautifully cadenced and understated in the most profound way. Over the years I have bought hundreds of copies to give out to friends. This is one for the ages and is increasingly acknowledged as one of the great American classics.
Transatlantic by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury) is out now
2 | All That Is by James Salter (Pan Macmillan)
Picked by Alex Bilmes
James Salter's All That Is would be astonishing enough for the mere fact of its existence; that it is also a terrific novel is what makes it my book of the year. Salter is now 88. Until this year, he hadn't published a novel since 1979. Most people, even relatively literate people, have not heard of him. He has lived an extraordinary life, one of struggle and disappointments, and also great triumphs and pleasures. Along the way he acquired a reputation as a writer of wonderful talent and ability without ever winning commercial success or widespread acclaim. In March of this year I went to Colorado to meet him for Esquire, and he was everything I'd hoped he might be: wise and generous, funny and clever, gentle and tough. All That Is covers half a century in the life of an American man. Years in the making, it was spurred on by a comment of Christopher Hitchens: “No life is complete that hasn’t seen war, poverty and love.” All That Is has those, plus sex, food, death, work, books, betrayal, friendship, children, life in the city and in the country. Mostly, though: love. It is a book about a man's romantic life, written by a true master. We should be grateful for it.
Buy All That Is
Alex Bilmes is Editor of Esquire
3 | Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe (Penguin)
Picked by Andrew O’Hagan
You've got to applaud when the servants bite back. A few years ago, when I was putting together a collection of tributes to a friend, I telephoned Nina Stibbe, who had, once upon a time in the 1980s, been nanny to the friend's two children. I asked Nina to write down some memories. She did better than that: she sent me some letters she had written to her sister back then, when Nina was a fresh-faced troublemaker down from Leicester hanging out with literary types in North London. This year, Stibbe went one better again, and published a book of those letters, Love, Nina, which Nick Hornby and other wise souls say is a comic masterpiece. It really is biting, entertaining and very funny: two clever boys and their elegant mother (and Alan Bennett round for tea), with Stibbe on the constant lookout for misunderstanding and absurdity.
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Andrew O’Hagan is a Booker nominated author and Contributing Editor to Esquire
4 | Red Or Dead by David Peace (Faber)
Picked by Bob Stanley
The book that really stood out for me was David Peace's book about Bill Shankly's time at Liverpool, Red or Dead. I'd enjoyed Peace's earlier novels, the Red Riding Quartet and The Damned United, but Red or Dead was an amazing achievement. He really refined and exaggerated the style of writing. As a result it's a divisive book, with its critics saying it's too repetitive, but for me that's the whole point of it. Anyone I know who has read and enjoyed it wants to live their life like Bill Shankly. In that sense Red or Dead is a philosophy book. I couldn't read the last few pages, though; I didn't want to read about Shankly in decline.
Buy Red Or Dead
Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Book of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley (Faber) is out now
5 | Autobiography by Morrissey (Penguin Classic)
Picked by Mark Billingham
A Penguin Classic? Hubris or a rather nice joke? The subject of much rumour and speculation before it eventually appeared, the world according to Moz was every bit as infuriating and absorbing as his slavering fans had imagined. Yes, it was over-written, under-edited and laugh-out-loud funny in places where that was surely not the intention. Yes, there was too much about the court case, not enough about the music and far too much time was spent settling scores, but he can still turn a phrase to take your breath away. Vicious, occasionally deluded, melodramatic, but never less than compelling. All this and a ghost who leaves his underpants behind. Why did we ever expect anything else?
The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown) is out now
6 | The Society Of The Spectacle by Guy Debord (Bread and Circuses)
Picked by Will Self
Republished by Notting Hill Editions – an imprint that specialises in the essay form – Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (together with a sparkling new introduction by moi) was the stand-out book of the year, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conformist papery throng. Debord's coinage of the 'the spectacle' as a way of describing modern capitalist/consumer societies' abiding narcissism (always looking at themselves in mirrors and screens), has mutated and morphed and memed into contemporary discourse, becoming shorthand for globalisation, commoditisation, the matrix/web of digital communication and much else. But Debord is no Johnny-Rotten-come-lately; he was there on the Parisian streets in '68, chucking Molotov cocktails at the flics with one hand while anatomising the rotten corpse of consumerism with the other. Essential reading for armchair revolutionaries (and revolutionary armchairs).
Buy The Society Of The Spectacle
Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury) is out now
7 | The Circle by Dave Eggers (Penguin)
Picked by Giles Coren
This is not the most towering literary achievement of the year (that would be The Son by Philipp Meyer), but it may turn out to be the most important novel in the long run. It is a dystopian vision of a very near future in which reality risks being entirely subverted by social media. It is a Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four for this moment right now in our history. It is also a gripping and horrific tale, and slim enough (at fewer than 200 pages) that the short-attention span motherfuckers who are destroying our culture with their 'like', 'poke', 'retweet' bullshit might even be able to get their tiny shitbag heads round it.
Buy The Circle
Giles Coren is Esquire’s Editor at Large
8 | The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Harvill Secker)
Picked by Ned Beauman
For a while last spring it seemed like every single person I knew in New York was reading The Flamethrowers, which is normally enough to put me off a book, but in this case I did read it and found that its ubiquity was more than justified. Then in September I happened to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where one of its most memorable set-pieces takes place, and I wanted to read it all over again. If I say it captures a young woman's experience of the downtown art world in the 1970s, I'm going to make it sound boring, but in fact it's superbly enjoyable.
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The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Hodder & Stoughton) is out now
9 | A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson (Inside The Dog Press)
Picked by John Niven
A Bright Moon For Fools managed at once to be funny, and sad, and shocking. The style is kind of hallucinatory in a way, and the story really sticks with you. The basic plot is about a feckless, middle aged alcoholic on the run in South America. The character, called Harry Christmas, is a con man, basically, but what he's running away from is actually quite sad and tragic. I think this was Jasper Gibson's first and only novel so far – I really did love it.
Buy A Bright Moon
Straight White Male by John Niven (Random House) is out now
10 | I Know You're Going To Be Happy by Rupert Christiansen (Short Books)
Picked by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
When Rupert Christiansen was four years old, his father booked a photographer to take pictures of the family. Rupert, his sister and parents posed on the rug. Mother poured tea. Then Father left, never to return. Years later, Christiansen struggled to find the right words for the wreath he sent for his father’s funeral. Love Rupert? Not really. His witty, judicious memoir, I Know You’re Going To Be Happy, leaves the puzzle of his father’s desertion unsolved, but it conjures up a poignantly nuanced picture of Fifties suburban life, when a divorcée was a scarlet woman, and appearances were everything.
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The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (Doubleday) is out now