John Wiswell has gathered around all the #BestReads2015 lists, so you can go and check many, many other readers/writers and the many awesome books they recommend! I’m sure you’ll find something new and exceptional amongst their favorite reads.
I messed up reading this year and I didn’t even think you can do wrong with reading and books. Apparently you can and that happens by neglecting the pile of books that you’ve started in 2015 – albeit there were a lot of BA thesis themed books that needed reading, there’s no real excuse. This might be the shortest list of books I’ve posted since doing Best Reads.
Another thing I did ( I thought wrong again) was read more short-story collections than actual novels and I beat myself up about that for quite some time but then “Trigger Warning” came in my mail much earlier than expected, and although I haven’t started it yet (ruining my Neil Gaiman dogma) there was something in the introduction pages that Gaiman wrote which made me remember something. I’ll allow myself to quote it here word by word.
“I grew up loving and respecting short stories. They seemed to me to be the purest and most perfect things people could make: not a word wasted, in the best of them. An author would wave her hand and suddenly there was a world, and people in it, and ideas. A beginning and a middle and an end that would take you across the universe and bring you back. I loved all kinds of short-story collections, from the anthologies of ghosts and horror stories I’d pick up as a boy, to the single-author collections that would reshape the inside of my head.…..Still, for me, the short stories are the places where I get to fly, to experiment, to play.”
And he’s right – there is something very special in short-story collections that offers a very different experience. I scout for interesting collections all the time, sometimes there’s a good one, sometimes there’s a bad one, but I’m always happy to have one around to come back to and be surprised every time – meet new faces, hear new stories. Perhaps in a way this year was a really good rekindling of a past love, because back in school I mostly read sci-fi and horror short-story collections, and weirdly enough my first Gaiman book was a short-story collection – “Fragile Things”, which did wonders for me and boosted my confidence in writing as well.
I’m stalling – here’s the shortest of the short Best Reads 2015 lists.
Comics and Graphic novels
“Hellblazer 1988–1991” by Jamie Delano
“On the doorstep I remember I lost my key; In Patagonia. For some reason this depresses me immensely.”
“Who is it?”
“John Constantine.” – from issue 1 “Original Sins”
I got through the first volume of Hellblazer, I think that’s 88’ through to 91’ when Jamie Delano wrote it in his first long run– remember the political references? – and that only skyrocketed my preexisting love of Constantine. I’d met him way before in one issue of Sandman and had just a basic knowledge of his character, but instantly grew to love him for his short appearance. I did go through some other graphic novels but nothing clicked with me as much as Hellblazer did.
There are a great many things to praise in this story beginning with Constantine the cheeky, charming occultist detective to the complex, dark, gritty and dirty world he inhabits, but also in terms of writing the language Delano used and the story arcs themselves which in those first issues see the very essence of Constantine’s torment, Astrid and the happening in Newcastle.
I feel I shouldn’t be talking much about Hellblazer as it’s widely popular and there are so many fans of the series out there. One should only know that it’s an incredible story that is multidimensional, it’s both dark and scary, magical and experimental and very smart and sharp too.
“The Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle
I actually like the book better than any of the movie adaptations and surprisingly knowing the end didn’t ruin it in any way, it was like finally getting the best version.
It’s an interesting concept and of course a frightful one, not how the apes have evolved into what we essentially are as beings, and adapting our social structure in a way, but that idea of humanity fading away during its own stride to perfect and experiment, testing supremacy and probing, always pushing the limits, curious and careless and smug. It’s a common dystopian notion that humanity fails, but Boulle managed to capture something very lonely and desolate in vast proportions with his protagonist Ulysse. It’s always believed that no matter what humans will always prevail and their intelligence will be their continuous rise until there’s nothing left to colonize, or understand or grow by, in a way making them complete, fulfilled in every sense, but as the saying goes, you are too smart for your own good and intelligence backfires unexpectedly.
I feel that (SPOILERS) seeing that much of a distant future and a distant planet basically showing an absolute end of the human civilization is scarier than returning home, although technically it also shows the future to find out that the same happening has plagued your home, Earth. For me there was always a feeling in that final moment after Ulysse returns from Soror that he is the most hopeless man in history having seen the spread of ape power in the galaxy, having seen humanity’s inevitable future and at the same time returning again to a future that if it weren’t for the expedition wasn’t going to be his, and still finding himself on the path of the annihilation of his species. That’s what I call being stuck in a timeline that just sucks.
Horror/ Contemporary horror in short-story collections
“In The Court of the Yellow King” – anthology
The first anthology short-story collection I grew to love was “In the Court of the Yellow King”. The stories explore the King in Yellow mythos in different scenarios and if one’s not so familiar with the name, Ambrose Bierce and Richard W. Chambers both wrote about this alien, god-like entity hailing from the distant, barren land of Carcosa. In “An Inhabitant of Carcosa”, a short story written by Bierce is when the ancient city of Carcosa and the King are first mentioned; from then Chambers borrowed that and developed the mythos of that land, fitting it into the narrative of a cursed fictional play called “The King in Yellow”.
Themes from that story went on to be a part of some stories from the Cthulhu Mythos. Because neither Chambers nor Bierce before that linger too much or are too detailed on the King himself, this anthology of brilliant and weird short-stories tries to expand his character and his world, his kingdom (which might be near Aldebaran). If you enjoy Lovecraft, and Chambers or Bierce, you’ll probably like the anthology. It pays great homage to the mythos and their respective works. I think ‘Who Killed the King of Rock and Roll?’ by Edward Morris might be one of my favorite stories in that collection, if not the favorite, it’s very swamp-like, very “True Detective”, old and dusty. It’s Elvis man.
But yes, it’s a very versatile collection as there are Vikings and then hovercars. Also the Carcosa Vikings were terrifying in their soundless and alien-like arrival to pillage and shed blood!
Short-story collection number 2 was ‘Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die”, again an anthology which I found on Goodreads. It’s essentially filled with stories about a machine which predicts death via one word written on a piece of paper – you put money in it, or whatever it wants, it takes a few seconds then spits out a tiny white paper which say, has written on it “Bubble gum” – how you die by that bubble gum is a question worth your life and sanity.
All the stories pose a set of moral dilemmas – would you want to know how you’ll die, but also understand that you wouldn’t be able to prevent it? Would you spend the rest of your life trying to avoid apples, because that’s what the paper said? It doesn’t specify how or when you’ll die.
Would it be a relief knowing and just await death while you live reinvigorated by the concrete certainty of your predicted demise – take the best of life and make it last? How would one society where everyone knows how they’ll die function? Which persons are going to shatter at the weight of that information, and which are going to use it to their advantage?
It’s an interesting anthology and a funny one – there are a lot of chuckles in it and I love dark humor. It explores different reactions and interactions with the machine. Each story just goes to show how peculiar we people react to news with such gravitas. I recommend it. Also there’s a second collection titled “This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death”.
“Books of Blood” vol.1 & 2 by Clive Barker
I started reading Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’ and have gone through vol. 1 and 2 thus far, and I have to say, the stories are phenomenal. I don’t know what took me so long to start reading Barker. I fell in love two pages in.
The sense of, I don’t know, madness and hopelessness is intriguingly charming; they are very solid feelings, very real in the sense of the narrative. I feel really calm when I read Barker, though its humanity’s demise and the individual persons torment that he explores but the stories are just so out there and monstrously huge, oozing weirdness and impossibilities and psychopaths. They are beautiful. I think ‘Pig Blood Blues’ is my favorite from vol. 1 and ‘Hell’s Event’ & ‘The Skins of the Fathers’ from vol. 2
“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood
‘The Willows’, which I did for NaNoReMo (the National Novel Reading Month) as harmless of a story as it is in its beginning, is actually a mind-boggling, stressful experience which very much deprives you of your common sense. As vivid as it is in the sense of its narrative, it’s like staring into pitch black the entire time you’re reading it.
It positions the reader into an impossible situation resulting from a very natural phenomenon, and it goes to show how frail and how susceptible our mind is to its own tricks and horrors.
I talked a lot about it in updates on the reading process and I don’t want to repeat myself, but ‘The Willows’ will most definitely remain one of the most emblematic pieces I’ve read this year. Blackwood created for me the noisiest, most atmospheric horror which in my mind crisscrossed with Bierce and Chambers and created a cacophony of monsters and voodoo and rituals.
“The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey
A long, long time ago I used a quote from a book written by Rick Yancey called “The Monstrumologist”. Adequately I put it on a story about Monsters. Years later I found Yancey’s book re-priced in Costco and wondered for a long time where have I heard the title when it hit me – it was an instant purchase, just based on that one quote – “Yes, my dear child, he would undoubtedly tell a terrified toddler tremulously seeking succor, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.”
The novel I have is the first of four and it’s set in town New Jerusalem in 1888 where a Monstrumologist – a monster-hunting in this case doctor and his assistant a boy of 12 unravel a mystery, a case involving the sudden appearance of the mythological species Anthropophagi brought from Africa (Echoes to Eco’s “Baudolino” and many more explorer’s guides) who have infested in a very brutal manner the small town. They are not wonders or curiosities to admire, they are ruthless hunters, nesting babes in dead bodies, eating raw human flesh, towering at 7 ft. high and jumping twice their size.
Although the story is told from the perspective of the boy, Will Henry, the peculiar character is the doctor- Pellinore Warthrop. If any of you have read or remember from last year’s list V.E. Schwab’s “Vicious” and its main protagonist Victor Vale, Warthrop is a very similar character to Victor in his cold demeanor, his meticulousness, and maybe he even cranks up the cold, cool, collected level a bit more than Vale. He’s very cold and apathetic, even ruthless towards Will Henry or mundane human emotions and reactions. He has a big case of egomania, and his ambition doesn’t allow him to show empathy even if he feels it, but the scary part about him is his drive to achieve whatever his goal is no matter the cost, the people hurt, the people dead.
I love characters like him, I love very intelligent protagonists who conduct from reason, data, facts and know how to handle themselves. It’s quite interesting because for characters like him there’s never truly a backstory, a pre-dating reason for their behavior and loneliness. I find it very easy to connect to characters like that and when they aren’t at the very center of the story they are just a wonderful subject to observe and deduce even. Victor Frankenstein had that offed charisma about him, Erik aka The Phantom (of the Opera) had that aura about him. Get what I mean?
The Monstrumologist is a very interesting read; it has a wonderful setting that is true to the nature of its story and to its respected time. The monsters are scary and very different from what one can usually find in a YA/ Gothic Horror novel ( I think it fits the Gothic Horror genre more, but it could be balancing in the middle, I don’t know).
The other 3 novels from the series greet with more monsters both mythological and not – the second one has a Wendigo in it, and I love Wendigos! Do you love Wendigos?
Something non-fictional that caught my interest was ‘The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made’, which as the title suggests is an inside look into the birth and making of the movie “The Room”. If you don’t know what that is, check it out on YouTube, be awed, dumbstruck, frightened, curious, sleepless and then read the book to salvage your soul.
It’s worth it as it strips naked the weird story behind the bizarre filming of “The Room” and of Tommy Wiseau (you know him, don’t you?) and it’s a very honest and direct book written by non-other than Greg Sestero the guy who plays the protagonists best friend/ enemy Mark (the protagonist is Tommy Wiseau who also produced, directed, wrote and God knows what else the movie). James and Dave Franco are filming a movies based on the book and that should be hilarious.
I was a poor child this year and I was to blame for that, since I robbed myself of the pleasure of reading all the “to be finished” books. It feels like cheating to add some 50-70% finished books to the Best Reads list, though I’ve done that last year I think, so instead of doing that, alongside the tiny Best Reads list I decided to post a To Finish List… of all the books that were started throughout 2015, but were not finished out of my own stupidity. In a way it’s a New Year’s resolution.
This list, which is to be completed at the very start of 2016, includes:
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman – 44% in
Elric of Melnibone Book 1 by Michael Moorcock – 52% in
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – 20% in
The Lies of Locke Lamora Book 1 by Scott Lynch – 20% in
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley – 11% in
Whitstable by Stephen Volk – 20% in
1Q84 Book 2 by Haruki Murakami – 10% in
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman – 5% in
Black House by Peter Straub & Stephen King – 45-50% in
What did you read throughout the year?