Books in brief: Comedy is no joke in a puritanical age

The thrust of Andrew Hankinson’s book changed after the Louis CK controversy

Comedian Artie Lange. Photograph: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty

Comedian Artie Lange. Photograph: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty

 

Don’t Applaud. Either Laugh or Don’t

By Andrew Hankinson

Scribe, £14.99

Hankinson started writing a history of the Comedy Cellar, an influential small club in New York City known for its no-limits stand-up and many now-famous names that worked out of there. One of those names is Louis CK, so when scandal surfaced around him in 2017 the thrust of the book changed. It became more about how comedy “works” in an age of no-platforming and reactionary calls for censorship, social media pile-ons, and our modern sense of political correctness. Credit to Hankinson for tackling these broad, important ideas – what speech is acceptable, what’s forbidden – and trying to understand them through the prism of a specific environment. The book’s format, 204 chapters (really), and selective interview transcripts makes it feel like scratching the surface, though. NJ McGarrigle

Index Cards

By Moyra Davey

Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99

Fifteen essays written in 17 years by the artist, writer, photographer and film-maker Moyra Davey sit smartly between the signature Fitzcarraldo powder-white French flaps to woo and charm anyone with a penchant towards literature or film. This collection is not for the dabbling reader. At times Davey writes with a ruthless honesty – many essays include diary entries – and always with an erudite flair. What a lark to have a writer with such a shrewd and multifaceted imagination be themselves the subject of inquisition. This sinewy collection is for ardent fans of Davey and newcomers alike. I was the latter. Now, I am the former. Start with her old-but-marvellous penultimate essay in the collection, The Problem of Reading, originally published in 2003. Mia Colleran

The Most Fun We Ever Had

By Claire Lombardo

W&N, £8.99 

It took me a while to get into this book, but thankfully by the end of the more than 500 pages, I was engrossed in the lives of the four Sorenson sisters and their love-drunk parents. Lombardo’s debut novel, set in contemporary Chicago, discloses the story of a privileged white family, as rich with secrets as money. Within, the tangled lives of vapid Wendy, perfectionist Violet and her “illegitimate” child, forgotten Liza and babied Grace wove themselves into my psyche. Despite myself, I empathised with the girls as I journeyed with them from conception to adulthood, watching them fight and make up, fall in and out of love, deal with the cruelties of life, all in the shadow of their parents painfully successful marriage. This easy and engrossing read was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Brigid O’Dea

Antlers of Water

Edited by Kathleen Jamie

Canongate, £20

When the UK voted to leave the EU, Kathleen Jamie wrote in The Clearing: “I wonder what to do … as an angry … writer who can’t see.” This essential collection is anger turned into action. Scotland has a long history of nature and landscape writing but Jamie has edited the first contemporary collection. With fine contributions from a variety of diverse writers and artists, this is more than a celebration of the natural world; it is a call to action. From placenames to field notes, creatures to flora; bodies of water to stretches of land – this is a raw, exquisite reckoning, free from blinkers, full of love and loss. To protect something, we must see it. These contributors show us our world, one still so full of hope. Kerri ní Dochartaigh

Holiday Heart

By Margarita García Robayo, translated by Charlotte Coombe

Charco Press, 160pp, £9.99

“The really bizarre thing is to look at the other person and wonder who they are, what they’re doing there next to you.” These thoughts, expressed by Lucía, the central character of Holiday Heart, don’t auger well for the future of her marriage to Pablo, a teacher with much to learn. But then dissatisfaction is a constant in Lucía’s life, and her disdain for people is both specific and general. Her prejudices have not gone unnoticed by her son, Tomás, who is quick to loudly declare his dislike of whole races as part of a wish to win his mother’s affection. Tomás has a twin sister, Rosa, who, in contrast to her brother, is already turning away from her mother. Lucía’s ambiguous feelings about motherhood are convincingly explored as part of her ever-present sense of ennui, the source of which is explored throughout the novel, with its switches of time and scene. At times it is Pablo who is to the fore in the narrative as he too ensures that life can always be made worse than it already is. It’s all cunningly well achieved, however disquieting it is to see two callous people “oozing indifference towards one another”. Declan O’Driscoll

Broadwater: Short Stories Grounded in Tottenham

By Jac Shreeves-Lee

Fairlight Books, £10.99

“Belonging is about people, not places,” says Gladys, a white, retired teacher in her late 50s; she is having an affair with Michelle, a young black woman trying to make ends meet. Michelle is conflicted about keeping the money that Gladys leaves for her after love-making, bringing up questions of power, race, desire and class. This story speaks to the whole collection, which examines what people will do out of necessity or conditioning, but also how they can be transformed: as Gladys puts is, “love is a conversion”. The stories, set in Broadwater housing estate in London, are as eclectic as the differing voices and perspectives, in language that is often lyrical, sometimes sharp and always engaging. Conveying a deep sense of the connections between people, this is a volume that palpitates with colour and life. Ruth McKee

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