Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012: My Life In Books

For the last few years, I've set myself a goal of taking in 100 stories. This includes books, graphics novels, and audiobooks. I've always fallen short, except for this year. I finally did it, and, hot damn, I still think I need to make reading more of a priority. Anyway, as I've done before, here's my end-of-the-year recap of the best pieces of the written word that I read/listened to in 2012 (with the past and present tense battling each other pretty hard below).

Novels, Short Story Collections
1. House Of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
The most "book" I've ever read, this heavenly monstrosity went far beyond what I thought was capable of literature. It's the only thing I've ever read that honestly made me think "it's unlike anything else I've ever read." It terrifies me to own it, and I'll always, always, always want to talk about it.

2. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
An epic tale of gods in the modern world, this gorgeous read was violent, weird, wild, crazy, serious, and incredibly done, as it took the madness of fantasy and applied it to real-world darkness, leading up to the young gods of America battling the old realm gods of everywhere else.

3. The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
It was Jewish noir, and it was unreal fantastic. I'd kill to be able to write noir like Chabon. Dead junkie in alternate history of Alaska sparks a detective stumbling upon a great conspiracy of politics and religion.

4. The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman
Young adult has seen a brilliant evolution in the last decade, and this book may be the best proof. It maturely and patiently took dark religious cynicism and smoothly stirred it together with wide-eyed adventure and exploration.

5. Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane
The follow-up to Gone Baby Gone, it's totally crime fiction, and it's totally the best example of the genre. It stomped the shit out of other mystery tales of by crafting real characters with real problems, real motivations, and real reactions.

6. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
After a lifetime of hype, this thing followed through with being the most stand-up, firmly articulate observation of southern culture. An immaculate read, it gave the world Atticus Finch, and he's just as amazing of a character as society has built him up to be.

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
It's a satirical dystopian masterpiece, and it's written by one of the most energetic typewriter maestros. Every character lives in a tender moment of existence and offering up profound perspectives of literature and life. Also, it's fun as hell, even when it's serious.

8. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
I wish the adventure genre was still as mysterious and chilling and bold and wild as it used to be. This was exceptionally written, maddening and thrilling, while also posing as a thoughtful musing on man, nature, and the constant battle and love affair between the two.

9. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, by Kurt Vonnegut
A quick, delightful read, Vonnegut has the Doctor of Death kill him in each vignette and awakens to engage the most varied characters of history. It's light and silly while offering up some of the best philosophy of the 20th Century, but, then again, what Vonnegut work isn't and doesn't?

10. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
The third installment of the Millennium Trilogy, it solidified the series as one of the most well-written "international sensations." It was strong and heavy while somehow seamlessly moving into the legal thriller genre.

11. The Western Stories of Elmore Leonard, by Elmore Leonard
All of the wild west tales from crime fiction's poet laureate, the short story collection rocked like a runaway train and moved carefully like a cautious outlaw. It had every pulpy move of cowboy classicism without ever doing cheap shots of Americana prairie.

12. B Is For Beer, by Tom Robbins
It's a kids book for adults and an adult book for kids, and it's about the righteous foamy brew. It carries innocent childhood fun as well as it does the straightforward dilemmas of adulthood.

13. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Sort of like The Empire Strikes Back of young adult lit, this was a more in-depth outing of the trilogy (all before everything gets unnecessarily hectic in the third installment). Twas wild, fun excitement.

Graphic Novels
1. Bone, by Jeff Smith
A magnificent piece of the medium that works tremendously well for both kids and adults, it's like Lord Of The Rings meets Three Amigos. It's a solid reworking of medieval fantasy with stellar pacing, and it's funny, goofy, sad, strange, and, above all else, epic. I could've read it forever.

2. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
With gorgeous, immaculate artwork, it became a resounding non-linear story tied directly to the Quran. Beautiful, tragic, haunting and superbly told, the narrative of Muslim characters and culture was old world and majestic, and the epic was richly, wonderfully unraveled.

3. Funny Misshapen Body, by Jeffrey Brown
A sketchy graphic novel memoir, it was like catching up with an old friend who doodles. Nothing crazy, nothing tragic. It's just a nice dude recounting how he got through an average life and into art.

4. Hellboy (#1-12), by Mike Mignola
Outrageously self-aware pulpy horror tales, Hellboy and his crew take on one monster after another, and every creature of darkness hides a sly grin of the apocalypse. So, so, so fun.

5. Sin City (#1-7), by Frank Miller
Always violent, always brutal, always on the verge of a dirty joke, the neo-noir saga is intense and light somehow from start to finish. Pulpy and messy, it's wild and weird through and through.

6. Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent, by Ed Brubaker
It had nostalgia pluck away at the heartstrings without giving up the noir self-indulgence. The real world is gritty and dark, but the main's character's memories of childhood and his adolescence are done up like an Archie comic. It makes everything seems weirder, and it works really well.

7. Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
Simply done, thoughtfully crafted, it's a high school tale of woe, brimming with ghost story entanglements and swimming with observations of Americanization from an endearing Russian teenage cynic.

8. Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes
Without a real plot, it's mostly just two teenage girls wandering their own world that bores them, so they criticize and imagine. It's overly realistic without trying to be, which makes it all the more honest and beautiful.

9. Blacksad: A Silent Hell, by Juan Díaz Canales 
With rich dialogue and richer animal humanoid characters, it's a dark and straight up cool classic noir with a swirling, almost Disney touch. I just wish the stories were longer.

10. The Man Who Laughs, by Ed Brubaker
The best incarnation of The Joker is the one that loves being crazy and admits that there's no alternative. It's why he's one of the best all-time villains: precision mixed with chaos. Poor Batman, with the most exhausting bad guy around.

Non-fiction, Plays, Poetry
1. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
Honestly, it's probably the funniest book I've ever read. It's funny almost line by line, and she doesn't fall back on memoir cliches or lose steam like a humorist. She chooses select moments in her life to utilize as chapters, and it's goddamn hilarious.

2. Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America, by Leslie Knope
It's pretty difficult to write a television companion book that doesn't suck, and this collection from the writers of Parks And Recreation posing as every single character, major or minor, was brilliantly done. It added a rich history to a fictional town that's silly and somehow believable.

3. No More Poems About The Moon, by Michael Roberts
I like the world within his poetry. It's everyday nonsense mixed with anything-is-possible-but-not-precious consideration. Butterflies in the kitchen, palm trees in the living room, hope in every heart.

4. My Life, by Bill Clinton
The start to finish life reflection of a charming goof, the memoir is so damn conversational, you almost expect him to use your name in the middle of the text. It's traditional, but so fun and engaging.

5. The Year Of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
In one year, Didion loses her husband and daughter, and the memoir documents the tiny details of grief while offering up a life meditation rarely seen so articulately done.

6. Churchill, by Paul Thompson
Winston Churchill was a lunatic, and it's impossible for anyone not to be fascinated by him. Teddy Roosevelt though Churchill was a brute, and Churchill thought Gandhi was an asshole. This biography, and probably every other Churchill biography, is amazing because it has history's best character.

7. Homegrown Democrat, by Garrison Keillor
One long, all-over-the-place musing on politics and growing up, Keillor recounts life in Minnesota and why it matters to be in the liberal crowd of America. It's whimsical and sly, even when it borders on preachy.

8. A Coney Island Of The Mind, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Purchased solely because of the name, the collection of titleless poems bounced around, all colorful and chiming. Twas the noises and images of an America you'd hope to find in a jazz club, read by a drinking buddy romantic with a lust for life.

9. The Importance Of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wilde
A play of and on the trivial, it's Victorian Era meets vaudeville, tripping over itself with boundless wit and goofy grace. It has every madcap farce cliche before they were cliches, mixing mistaken identities with societal scandals.

10. The Audacity Of Hope, by Barack Obama
Almost terrifyingly articulate, Obama observes his American life versus the American life in a slow, engaging musing posing as a memoir. It reads superbly clean.

Special Mention: Reread
On The Road, by Jack Keruoac
Not only does the book hold up, it's an entirely different story as an adult reader. I only recalled the wild hooligan fun and it being about adventure. But it's a tragic saga of men who can't give up their youth and freedom, and it's more about escape and desperation. The idea of "it" isn't cool, poetic gibberish. It's recognizing the failure of maturity.


Eyvette said...

I own House of Leaves and I've started it but never finished but you have inspired me to pick it up again!

Jake Kilroy said...