Billy Cowie (Idiolect, £7)

When poolside philosopher Art meets terrible standup comic Mads, he can tell he’s met his soulmate. Reasoning that they’re on the same wavelength because they both have Asperger’s, they embark on a romance which is based largely on deep but silly conversations in which they bounce ideas off each other and share their own off-centre ways of looking at things, like David Byrne and The Proclaimers, Mads’ science fiction story concepts and what to do when an annoying song gets stuck in your head. Written in Scots, with a title taken from a William Dunbar poem, it’s a story in which very little of note seems to be happening – Mads is pursued for unpaid rent, steals back a snooker trophy and befriends Art’s nieces when their father dies – but that’s just Cowie biding his time until reality closes in and he can deliver an emotional punch that will leave you reeling for days.


Michael Crummey (No Exit, £8.99)

Steeped in the landscape and lore of his native Newfoundland, Crummey’s fifth novel is set on a rocky, forbidding stretch of coastline in the early 19th Century, where brother and sister Evered and Ada Best, aged 11 and 9 respectively, find themselves orphaned. Totally reliant on each other, and knowing nothing of the outside world save what they glean from the crew of the biannual supply ship, they have to make do with only their father’s boat and the meagre skills they learned from their parents. Season after season, they battle against the elements, malnutrition and debt. But their struggle to survive, as gripping as it is, is overshadowed by the incursions of occasional visitors into their isolated lives and their growing unease with the intense and claustrophobic nature of their relationship as they grow to sexual maturity. The Innocents is a bleak but beautiful book examining the bonds of love and family.


Andrew Hankinson (Scribe, £14.99)

New York nightspot The Comedy Cellar was opened in 1982 by Manny Dworman, a libertarian who intended his club to be a haven for free speech as well as laughter, an ethic continued by his son Noam after he died. Consequently, alongside reminiscences of the relationship between the venue’s management and the comedians who saw it as a second home, this oral history is dominated by discussions of freedom of speech and what should be acceptable within the confines of a comedy club. Consisting almost entirely of interview snippets, plus a number of other transcripts and documents, presented without context or background, Hankinson’s account also runs backwards, beginning with the fallout from the Louis CK scandal and working back in time from there. For those reasons, it’s not the easiest or most enjoyable read, but captures the intensely combative, competitive, hierarchical and often petty atmosphere of an iconic comedy venue.