The Bedside Guardian 2017 review – 12 months that shook the world

From Trump to tragedy, Wonder Woman to The Maybot … a compelling roundup from an eye-opening year

This has hardly been a year for sweet dreams, and the latest edition of The Bedside Guardian is not in the business of pretending otherwise. In the 67 pieces selected here from the newspaper’s annual output – including everything from reportage and reviews to obituaries and analysis – we are plunged back into the 12 months that shook the world. Starting with Trump’s shock win in November 2016 (The Bedside Guardian runs from autumn to autumn) and ending with the row in which a transgender model was sacked by L’Oréal for claiming that all white people are racist, this was the year that didn’t so much shake things up as take a wrecking ball to them.

In his introduction, editor Gary Younge explains his decision to reprint an extract from the Guardian’s liveblog on the night of Trump’s election victory. Blog prose is necessarily terse and unadorned, at times little more than telegraphese. But the story that this transcript tells as it moves from relaxed and hopeful preliminaries at midnight to the aghast “this was not how the night was supposed to go” at 3.56am is all the more vivid because it feels as if we are watching certainty unravel in real time.

It takes several hours before the distress has receded far enough for sifting and sorting to begin. Naomi Klein’s piece of the next morning, 9 November, lays the blame for “the nightmare in which we now find ourselves” on the Democrats, whose embrace of neoliberalism has left blue collar America vulnerable to Trump’s bluster. This is followed two days later, on 11 November, by an op-ed, pegged to Leonard Cohen’s death earlier in the week. The subheading “Art lasts; life doesn’t” rings out and speaks of the consolation of poetry in terrible times. Read together, these three pieces form a powerful triptych.

‘A masterpiece of subversive feminism?’ … Gal Gadot in director Patty Jenkins’ film Wonder Woman.
A masterpiece of subversive feminism? … Gal Gadot in director Patty Jenkins’ film Wonder Woman. Photograph: Clay Enos/AP

Elsewhere the losses of 2017 felt more like an aching bruise. On 29 May John Noakes was remembered by Lucy Mangan with a loving exactness that goes far beyond the cliche of “down Shep!” and sticky back plastic. The fact that everyone’s favourite daredevil uncle died from dementia, that new scourge of family life, seemed sadly apt. Just a week earlier, it had been the turn of Roger Moore to be remembered. Ryan Gilbey described a man whose self-knowledge and good humour about the limitations of his own craft gave him a certain kind of moral depth. In June there was Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington, remembered here by Veronica Horwell. In a finely judged piece she redrew attention to the fact that Bond conjured the Peruvian bear from his own memories of childhood evacuees in the second world war who were luggage-labelled in case of getting lost in transit.

The Guardian made jokes in 2017, too. Nancy Banks-Smith on condoms in The Archers is a joy and the final line of her piece is so good that it makes you long to rummage in her head and find out how she does it. Contraception is also the subject under discussion in the Pass Notes of 26 February – Prince Charles has a cunning plan to sterilise pesky grey squirrels by feeding them hormone-laden Nutella. And then there is “The Maybot”, a term coined on 8 November 2016 by John Crace to describe the prime minister at those moments when she appears to be controlled by a hacked circuit-board. The Maybot, whirring, clanging and stuck on repeat, is now so widely recognised that it is hard to believe that just over a year ago she didn’t exist. It’s a cheering reminder, too, that it isn’t only the very young who push the English language in new directions.

The Bedside Guardian 2017, then, manages to do more than offer a “greatest hits” version of a year that had more extraordinary things going on than was entirely good for it. While careful to cover the major events – the summer’s snap election with its shock results, the tragedy of Grenfell, the terrorist outrages in Manchester and London – Younge’s selection also allows themes, motifs and even narrative arcs to emerge from what might otherwise feel like a ceaseless churn. Thus Klein’s overview on the role of neoliberalism in putting Trump in the White House is followed by a piece from Larry Elliott five months later explaining how this process operates at the micro-level of household income and ballot box choices. Jessica Valenti’s joyous article in January about the exhilaration of participating in the Women’s March found a reverb in June with Zoe Williams’ column on why Wonder Woman is a masterpiece of subversive feminism. Sabrina Siddiqui’s revealing account of her experiences as a Muslim member of the press pack covering the US presidential election was echoed in suggestive ways by Angelique Chrisafis’s piece in May “‘We don’t want you here’: Muslims fearful as France prepares to vote”. Not easy reading, then, but essential for the times in which we live.

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Kathryn Hughes

The GuardianTramp

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