Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jake Kilroy's 2014 Year of Reading

In 2014, I read a lot of books and graphic novels, and I listened to a lot of audiobooks. These were my favorites.

Novels, Novellas & Collections
1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugendies
What a gorgeous, honest read. What a vivid, heartbreaking, wonderful history created from nothing. All the weirdness of existence is here, especially for a character that thrives as their own anomaly. Cal(liope), the intersex narrator of the tale, reccounts the family's progression through the whole of the 20th Century. Real life is almost impossible to write, and it's done here with majesty, enthusiasm, and sincerity, painting a rich portrait without ever overusing literary devices.

2. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Even at his supposed "most accessible," Pynchon and his chaotic tale criss-crosses itself a dozen times a paragraph. It's all-out jivey in narrative, not just dialogue, and it's written in the immaculate slang of a doper, not as one of the most enigmatic authors of the 20th Century. It's got a mouthful of noir with tastes for surf lit, and it's totally wild to read and rewarding to dissect.

3. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
This book is so much goddamn fun, both in dialogue and narration. Philip Marlowe is the smoothest blend of tough guy, goof, and wise-ass. It allows him to be capable of pretty much anything (without having the luck of a saint). Sly and stylish.

4. The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
With Gaiman, it's always the real world that's been shaken up. And he makes it seem easy, almost obvious. Why not? Why can't our perceived reality be just a shred of existence?  Here, a boy narrator takes notice of the very great darkness that lurks in the corners of the quiet countryside, and then everything goes haywire.

5. Without Feathers by Woody Allen
This collection is just as silly, satirical, and ridiculous as it is thoughtful, philosophical, and diligent. It's so precise with its absurdism with each short story, essay, or play. It knows the bounds of every joke, with a tone that could challenge an academic or crack wise with the class clown.

Graphic Novels
1. Scott Pilgrim (Complete Series, Volumes 1-6) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
All of the details of a man's early twenties can be found here. Those minute, tiny, perplexing cracks in existence every young adult has are evaluated here without ever dwelling too long. This series is so over-the-top goofy (with the premise of a spaz musician defeating Nintendo-like exes) and yet strangely accurate in its tenderness and "What am I doing?" moments of hopeless efforts. It's also legit funny. I loved the shit out of it.

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 
This should be required reading. Written with the ease of a conversation, we witness extremists employ Islam as a cultural weapon and turn Iran into a different country altogether in the late 1970s. Told from the point of view of its author, evolving from naive girl to worldly woman, it's charming, painful, educational, and, above all, sincere. Easily one of the most triumphant examples of memoir.

3. Saga (Volumes 3 & 4) by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
It's still Star Wars with sex, violence, and swear words, and it continues to be so rad. That's all. It's just cool as hell. You should be reading this.

4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Memoirs are an especially delicate bag of tricks, and Bechdel nails it as true without glory and emotional without tragedy. It's breathtaking in its scope of reality, with themes ranging from sexual discovery to familial loneliness. With a focus on the complicated relationship with her father, Bechdel  remembers summers and holidays of the 1960s and '70s. Expansive and engaging.

5. Astro City (Volumes 1-4, 8) by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross
No other series crafts its own world of superheroes so articulately and passionately while remaining so balanced. Heroes and villains are created and then given histories and identities as defined as DC and Marvel characters, but their stories are told with way more focus on humanity than unreality.

6. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
A beautiful story, and an equally alluring collection of artwork; a man's life measured if he died continually. Nothing sci-fi, mind you. Just an abstract acknowledgement that life is valuable and fragile. It takes its time to set a tempo of experience, noting how magical and important the mundane can (or should) be.

7. East Of West (Volumes 1-3) by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
Sci-fi, fantasy, and western genres mash up and kick ass in one of the coolest, loudest outings ever. Three of the four horsemen show up for the apocalypse. Death's missing, and it pisses off the other three. This is all while the dystopian U.S. comes to a boiling point because of the cowboy-twang of a quasi-religious war.

8. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon
A balanced work, Vaughn tells the story of a pride of lions that escape the Baghdad Zoo after the city is bombed by the U.S. in 2003. The animals' interpretations of the fallen world around them is extraordinary (what great beast a tank is, why their keepers have fled, etc). So basic to mean so much.

9. Sex Criminals (Volume 1) by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
So witty, so endearing, so fun, so self-aware, so alluring, so real, so out there. It's fantastic. A man and a woman can stop time when they have sex. They decide to rob a bank. It naturally gets complicated, and its voice is the best narration in comics.

10. Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Loeb takes everything I've ever liked about Superman and carefully assigns him a deep, thorough identity and then examines it. It's a strange, fragile existence for the Man of Steel, as someone who sees the world as a human with entirely different capabilities and, therefore, fears.

11. Ex Machina (Complete Series, Volumes 1-10) by Brian K. Vaughn (and various artists)
Former superhero with enduring power to communicate with machines becomes mayor of New York City and deals with his past heroism and current politics. Humble in its humanity, wild in its weird, the story balances it all. It even makes use of some of the damn good political debates.

12. Pretty Deadly (Volume 1) by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos
Contemporary magical realism meets old-world fable, featuring Death's daughter riding a horse made of smoke. Reads like it's told around a campfire in the Old West. Lush, mystic, and unruly.

13. Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown
Crudely drawn, but conveyed with joyous awkwardness and honesty, Brown tells the story of his first love and adult relationship. It has the most complete collection of scattered moments that I otherwise thought only existed in somebody else bringing them up. Fleeting instances of sex, fights, tenderness, all of it is remembered here in glorious true detail.

1. Man Without A Country: A Memoir Of Life In George W Bush's America by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut understands and explains humanity as if he were an alien doing a century-long thesis. He gets the humor of bullshit, and, here, he really comes to terms with how much mankind is destroying the planet and, more accurately, mankind. This is the angriest I've seen the poet laureate of the humanist movement, and it's really just a super pleasant man pretty damn annoyed.

2. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Success is a hard thing to articulate. This might be the closest we ever get to process: what matters, what should, what doesn't, et cetera. It's easy to get ramped up on rags-to-riches tales, but it's better to look at how and why. Often, it's the right person at the right place at the right time. They definitely work their asses off, but circumstance lends itself to the thrilling story more often than not, and it's so very easy to forget that.

3. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
Like its predecessor, this was a grand time. The economy is a spectacularly bizarre deal, and there's so much happening in the crevices, and the larger picture isn't typically even econ. The book jumps between bold stats and human interest stories, showing how cause and effect might be much different from what you thought.

4. Thunderstruck by Eric Larson
Total history, told like fiction. Mixes the Northend Celler Murder with the development of wireless communication. Carefully crafted, extraordinarily well-written. History is fascinating. It just needs a good storyteller.

5. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
I just enjoy Nora Ephron. This collection was fun. Even the most saddening observation of aging is told with a "oh, well, you know" class. As a human semi-landmark of the last era of "classic" New York (to me anyway—that late 20th Century New York—pre-9/11, I guess), her writing style reminds me of someone's favorite customer or client recounting a story.

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