Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Andy Childs

Andy Childs | 4th January 2019

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends consider the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. As we begin the new year, Andy Childs looks back on 2018:

For me, in 2018, the gathering shadows were global and political rather than personal and any consequential reflection brought frustration, anger and despair. Not emotions I particularly want to experience too often in my rural retreat. So as an antidote to the chaos, deceit and rank stupidity that threatens to engulf the world, I shamelessly indulged in the benefits of escapism, and to that end I immersed myself in books (mostly), films (regularly) and music (when all else fails). My continued involvement in scheduling the films for our local theatre compels me to see as many films as possible and some of the year’s releases were as stimulating and entertaining as any I can recall. I haven’t seen Roma or A Star Is Born yet, and whilst I suspect those two films will hog the upcoming awards season, there was enough quality across a whole range of genres to ensure we had a successful year at The Brewhouse.

Most of the music I listened to over the course of the year was folk-based – for no real reason other than that it seems to speak for our times, and to me, more eloquently than most things I hear. Stick In The Wheel’s Follow Them True and Fathoms – the new album by The Furrow Collective – were particular favourites, along with a host of experimental guitarists (with Toby Hay at the forefront). But books, for me, have been the perfect escape valve, especially books that create or inhabit their own self-contained world. And they don’t necessarily have to be books of fiction; several of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year, such as Kirk Wallace Johnson’s The Feather Thief, Ryan H.Walsh’s book about the Boston music scene in 1968, and Ben Macintyre’s enthralling The Spy & The Traitor succeed in describing worlds that most of us won’t experience and then drawing us in for a front-row seat. Certain shadows, it’s true, I’ve been reluctant to shy away from and two books about man’s relationship with the natural world in particular have affected me deeply. How Richard Powers’ magisterial The Overstory didn’t win the Booker prize is perplexing to say the least, and I was reminded of how long the warning signs about the abuse of our environment have been flashing with William Souder’s biography of the great Rachel Carson. If, as many literary critics moan, most novels are too long, then the renaissance of the short story form should be a source of great pleasure, words I would readily employ to describe the experience of reading Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women and Denis Johnson’s posthumous The Largesse of The Sea Maiden. The second volume in Tim Pear’s historical west country trilogy, The Wanderers, is as well-crafted, expertly researched and finely judged as the first, and Ghost Wall was the novel in 2018 that most haunted me. Lastly, a word for Raynor Winn’s inspirational and heart-wrenching The Salt Path. It was nominated for the 2018 Costa Biography Award and deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it.

My Top 10 Books of the Year
Richard Powers – The Overstory
Tim Pears – The Wanderers
Kirk Wallace Johnson – The Feather Thief
Ryan H.Walsh – Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968
Raynor Winn – The Salt Path
Denis Johnson – The Largesse of The Sea Maiden
William Souder – On A Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
Sarah Moss – Ghost Wall
Ben Macintyre – The Spy & The Traitor
Lucia Berlin – A Manual for Cleaning Women

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Embrace of The Serpent
The Death of Stalin
The Shape of Water
Lean On Pete
First Reformed
Cold War
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Personal Shopper
The Florida Project

The Americans (final season)
The Looming Tower
Patrick Melrose
Sharp Objects
The Handmaid’s Tale
Killing Eve
The Man In The High Castle
(season 3)
The Little Drummer Girl
The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel

Stick In The Wheel – Follow Them True
Nils Frahm – All Melody
Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
Laura Veirs – The Lookout
Toby Hay – The Longest Day
Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun (50th Anniversary re-issue)
The Furrow Collective – Fathoms