Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorites in 2013 - Books


It's that time of year again, when our calendar is running thin. Soon we will have a brand new year to desecrate with fornications and debaucheries, but for now, it's a time to dwell on the time behind us. One way to measure that is to examine what media you consumed and how it effected you.  With that in mind, I want to look at my favorite things from 2013.

Note on two things: 1) these are my favorite things--not necessarily the best, or the highest class or whatever, just the things that I enjoyed the most, 2) these are my favorite things that I experienced this year--that doesn't necessarily mean they came out this year, just that that is when I found them.

For this post, I want to talk about MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013!!!!

I want to split this post into two categories of books: general books and comic books/graphic novels.

The "general books" category will consist of books that I've read this year. Non-fiction, fiction, memoir, short story collection, novel, whatever. Is it long-form writing? Then it counts.

General Books

1. Joyland - Stephen King

Joyland was not what I expected that it would be. It was sort of like the movie The Way Way Back but with violence and murderers. I realize that's a bizarre description, but it is also very apropos in my opinion. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. I love his voice, his diction, his descriptions of things and people. Of course, this book would be one of my favorites. But I also liked how, while I was expecting a super tense violent mystery, I got a very poignant look at a boy's coming of age story that also featured murders and ghosts.

2. John Dies at the End - David Wong

I love horror. It's one of my favorite genres of fiction, and it has been for as long as I can remember. I've been obsessed with ghost stories since before I was even in school. David Wong somehow took the irreverent, sarcastic tone of Cracked.com, and wrapped a surreal horror story around it. It's interesting how often you'll read and scene and have conflicting feelings of wanting to laugh at how bizarre something is, but it also hitting just the right emotional chord to freak you right the fuck out.

3. I Am Not a Serial Killer - Dan Wells

Dan Wells wrote a not-YA YA book. It's rare that book gives me nightmares, but this book did. Not because the events depicted were particularly terrifying--don't get me wrong, it's a tense, exciting, scary book. I just don't get scared usually. But the mindset of a 15-year-old sociopath who is completely aware of just how dangerous he could become if left unchecked is such a disturbing mindset to be in, that I can't even imagine how Wells wrote this whole book. And, get this, there's a sequel! Like I said, tense as hell, incredibly well written. And it's a testament to how gifted Wells is as a writer, because not only does he make his sociopath interesting, he makes him likable! And (from what I can tell) he doesn't really cheat with the mindset like they have done with the later seasons of Dexter

4. 11/22/63 - Stephen King

Second Stephen King book on the list, I know. King has always ridden a razor-sharp fine line between deliciously crass genre writer, and literary writer of profound and astounding beauty. He's got a gift of voice that is virtually unparalleled. And even though this book is essentially a boat anchor, it is also amazing. It's almost like two different books glommed together--you have the story of the main characters struggles to find and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating JFK, but you also have the beautiful, heartbreaking, gorgeously written tale of the main character's life as he adjusts to and makes a home in 1950's Texas. The latter story takes up most of the book, actually, but you don't care. It's so compellingly written that you have to continue to see what happens next.

5. NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

I'm sure Joe Hill gets tired of everyone being like OMG IT'S STEPHEN KING'S SON11!!!1!!!!1ONE!!! And I have to admit, to an extent, that's exactly why I started following him on Twitter. And it's why I read Horns. And then I was smacked right in the goddamned face by one of the most astoundingly talented horror writers I'd read. NOS4A2 is unlike his other two novels in that it spans multiple decades with multiple characters. Hill creates a villain with almost Freddy Kruger-like charm, and a tough-as-nails main character that he's not afraid to just let be a person. She reacts poorly to things in her life, she pushes people away. She is a flawed person. And it's those flaws, and her desire to overcome them, that makes her so easy to root for.

6. Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh

If you exist on the internet in any capacity, you have more than likely heard of Allie Brosh's blog, Hyperbole and  Half. Maybe you weren't as enchanted as I was--when I first discovered it, I read the entire archives up to her most recent post over the course of three days--but I'm sure if you have human feelings and haven't had your heart replaced with robot parts, then you have read and enjoyed a few of her posts. The book is like that, but in book form. Approximately half of the book is from her blog. The other half is new material--and one post that was previously unillustrated. Go, buy this book. Support a hugely talented and hilarious person.

7. Let's Pretend This Didn't Happen - Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson also runs a hilarious blog that, while I haven't read the entire archives of, I have read a lot of now. Her book had me and my wife sobbing with laughter. We each took turns reading chapters to each other--even after we had finished reading the book, just because it was so goddamned funny. It's not just funny, however. It also has some beautiful, poignant chapters that really tug on the amorphous black hole where my soul used to be. Again: go, buy, support an awesome person.

8. Feed - Mira Grant

I was completely gobsmacked by this book. I knew I'd like it. I didn't realize how completely it would absorb my brain for a while. There are little things that, because of who I am, I find fascinating. Little details will often propel something from "enjoyable" to "holy shit that's awesome." I loved M.T. Anderson's book Feed (unrelated to Mira Grant's book) because you could see the logical pathways he took to create the linguistic patterns and slang that the teenagers of that book used. The book was great, but those little touches constantly delighted me. The same thing is true in Mira Grant's book.

Grant's book is a look at how society would function after the zombie apocalypse had already come and gone. This isn't a book where human culture just topples and everyone's living in dirty tribes like The Road Warrior. That's not what societies do. Instead, this book looks at the current level of technological capabilities, and extrapolates how we would exploit those capabilities to detain, overcome, or co-exist with the zombie hordes.

I also love politics, and the reason I mentioned this one and not the later two books in the series as my favorite is because this one involves blog-journalists traveling with a presidential candidate and reporting on his campaign from the field. The main character, George, is one of my favorite people to read in a long time. She's smart, competent, analytical, and logical, while also being fiercely proud and loyal. I loved this book. So much.

9. Sharp Things - Gillian Flynn

For 2013, my goal was to make myself read more widely. I wanted to make myself read more women in more genres. I've held myself okay to this. I have several women's books still in my TBR pile, but I noticed that more than half of the books that I read this year were still by men. That said, one of the goals that I started specifically focusing on was reading women in the horror and thriller genres. They're two genres that blend together often, and I've barely heard of anyone beyond Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley writing horror. In that regard, I think I've been a success, as I've tried out several new female authors.

Gillian Flynn is a relatively new writer. I'd heard good things about her. I especially decided to pick her up when I saw her book blurbed by Stephen King. I was not in store for how much I would enjoy her book. She writes about some dark shit, so her books are definitely not for the faint of heart. Flynn's voice is not really similar to King's, but like King, I am in love with it. She has a stripped down, sort of bare-bones style of narration, but with enough flare for language to paint some grim and beautiful pictures. She, like King, uses characterization to a very successful degree, creating characters that are familiar without becoming cliches, with nuances that make them people, not just players in the plot.

Sharp Things' protagonist, in many ways, comes across similar to Joe Hill's protagonist in NOS4A2. They're fucked up, they don't know how to be complete and whole people. But they ultimately try to do the right thing. Sharp Things offers an interesting look at inter-female relationships without all of the cattiness of Sex and the City.

10. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

If Sharp Things made me a fan of Gillian Flynn, Dark Places made sure I was hooked for good. Dark Places is about a woman who is the sole survival of her family's brutal massacre. She's grown up broken, fucked up--as appears to be Flynn's way--and mostly unable to maintain successful relationships. When her funds dry up, she agrees to investigate the murders for a group of True Crime enthusiasts for cash. What unfolds is a tangled look at the bond between family members, the nosiness of small-town communities, and how fucked up hugely public trials can become.

This book expands beyond just the main character's point of view, alternate between Libby Day--the main character--in present day, and choice characters' view points leading up to the murders themselves.

Gillian Flynn makes me want to be a better writer. She's one of those frustratingly talented people that makes writing look so easy anyone can do it.

Comic Books/Graphic Novels

My comic book habit continues on into this year. While I've maintained reading Gail Simone's Batgirl and Scott Snyder's Batman, I stopped reading Action Comics as it just didn't grab me, and I've dropped Wonder Woman and Justice League to paperback reading, and they've fallen quite a bit lower on my list.  Justice League because volume 2 just wasn't as interesting as volume one, and Wonder Woman because Brian Azzarello turned the Amazons into rapists--I don't understand why people feel the need to make Wonder Woman and the Amazons shittier. They don't make Superman a raging dick that can't control himself, but they constantly characterize Wonder Woman as moody, cold, distant, and the Amazons constantly as blood-thirsty savages. *headdesk*

Anyway, onto my favorite comics I read this year.

1. Wolverine and the X-Men - Jason Aaron

I love Wolverine. I know, that's a controversial opinion--I mean, who likes that weirdo, amirite? But I've liked him ever since I was a kid watching the 90's cartoon. This comic struck me as interesting, taking the "lone wolf" Wolverine and placing him in a role of responsibility not just of teenagers, but placing him in a sort of mentoring, Xavier-like role. I've read volumes 1 and 2 so far, and I love them. Sadly, this is a comic that's being cancelled soon, but you should buy up the trade paperbacks, because they are hugely fun, like X-Men meets Harry Potter.

2. Aquaman - Geoff Johns

I don't read much DC. In my very limited time as a comics reader, I've found that Marvels books--despite Marvel having the reputation as the "dark" company--are much more fun. DC's comics have discovered grimdark, and my god if nearly every comic I've picked up hasn't been scowling and blood and shitty thing after shitty thing happening without even any banter between characters. The books that aren't like that, in my experience, are quickly cancelled and hushed up to make room for another Batman or Superman title.

And then there was Aquaman. God bless Geoff Johns, man. Aquaman has been fun from the get-go. Attacking the stereotypes and old jokes people have been making about Aquaman for decades, Johns makes the character fun, while also presenting him in a way that makes you take him seriously as well--even if the characters in the comics done. I LOVE the current run of Aquaman, and I can't wait to grab volume 3.

3. Avengers Assemble - Kelly Sue Deconnick

There are approximately eleventy-billion Avengers comics at Marvel. They seem to be running about equal with the X-Men. However, I love Kelly Sue Deconnick. She has a fun writing style. The characters clearly enjoy being around each other and being on a team together. You get the vibe that they're--gasp--friends. And I love that. Hawkeye, Spiderwoman, Captain Marvel, and Captain America make constant appearances, although KSD's trade paperback--Science Bros--also offers awesome story lines involving Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man  - Dan Slott

I started trying to read Spider-Man because I heard about his (at the time, recent) demise. I heard about Spider-Ock, how Spider-Man's body was taken over by long-time Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus, and I had to figure out not only why something like this would occur, but I wanted an idea of what Spidey was like before the switch. I bought the Ultimate Collection volume 1, and I have been hooked every since.

I can't say that I'm a fan of Marvel's decision to divorce Peter Parker and Mary Jane, especially the asinine way they did it, but Carlie Cooper has been a fun, if a little bland. I can't expect her to be as developed as MJ, though--MJ had years of development.

Slott's Spider-Man is hilarious, and reading him makes me feel exactly the same way watching the 90's cartoon growing up did. I'm slowly catching up to the current run of Superior Spider-Man--especially thanks to my wife's generous gift-giving this Christmas--and I'm especially intrigued because I've heard rumors of other changes coming to the Spider-verse involving a certain mixed-race superhero. I am STOKED to find out more.

5. Captain Marvel - Kelly Sue Deconnick

My favorite comic that I've read this year is, without a doubt, Captain Marvel. My search for reading more females didn't just apply to books, and I wanted to try my hand at supporting female superheroes as well. Captain Marvel has earned the right to take over the mantle left behind by her deceased partner. The first 12 issues of the book ranged from fun, snappy adventures to emotionally charged personal stories. Captain America and Spiderwoman are especially prominent in the books, and thank god. Carol Danvers' relationship with them is awesome, fun.

The art hasn't always been my favorite, but the story more than made up for it, and the Enemy Within story line was great fun. I'm super sad, and super excited simultaneously, about the relaunch. While space adventures certainly fits more with the Captain Marvel's powers, I'm hoping we can keep plenty of appearances from Spiderwoman, as she's quickly become a welcome face.

________________

So that's my list of favorite books from 2013. See anything you're interested in? See anything in the list you've already seen that you have a burning desire to discuss? Fire off in the comments.