Sunday, December 19, 2010

drug-addled antisocial dickheads

Questionable Content's Jeph Jacques made a list of his favorite albums of 2010, and it's interesting reading. Jeph's a music nut and his comic began as an excuse to make jokes about indie rock (it has since become an excuse for jokes about anime), and while I don't share his tastes for the most part (Salem and GRUM excepted), he's good at explaining why he likes what he likes. So even if I hate, say, Fang Island (which I do), I can at least sort of respect his reasons for liking them because I think they're filtered through how they affect his artwork, at least to some degree.

So with that in mind, I'd like to present my list of the best books I read this year. They weren't all published this year, but they are books that I read cover to cover between Jan.1st and right now. They were chosen based on how good I thought they were in terms of plot, character, and observation, what I learned from them, and the effect they will have on my own work.

NAME, Joseph Young - Just finished this one, and it's #10 because I haven't had time to really ruminate on it, but holy crap did it deserve a spot on this list. Joe's a friend, and his book is a real story about vampires and not just a laundry list of tropes to satisfy. Most vampires in vampire novels already know the basics of vampirism and spend their time wading through arcane undead politics or indulging Mormon housewife sex fantasies, but the new vamps in Joe's fading tourist town setting have no idea what to do with themselves. I liked that a lot.

Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine - It's an attempt at epic poetry that wanders a bit, but the good parts are really good, full of plainspoken emotion without any winking hipster awkwardness, and the integration of photography and text partially inspired Gouts of Angry Mist.
Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon - Pynchon's source of nostalgia is pretty well mined at this point, but this novel is localized in California and set just as the counterculture toppled over from optimism into paranoia. Pynchon's gift for complex language is still here, and his observations about the cash cow that California hippie culture would become are more insightful than most takes on that era. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas is still better, but this is really good.

A Jello Horse, Matthew Simmons - A story told in second-person POV that isn't masturbatory garbage is rare enough to earn a spot on my list, but Simmons has a really sharp sense of humor and a good balance of weirdness and storytelling, of when to be abstract and when to be genuine. I wish this book had been a little longer so all the loose threads could have been tied together, though. Parts of the story still feel unfinished.

We Tear Me Apart, Molly Gaudry - I was reading this book in Penn Station and, as I turned a page, an old lady behind me asked me to slow down because she wasn't done yet. Yeah. Molly's another friend, and she wrote a wonderful story about what an actual fairy tale stepdaughter would be like - emotionally fucked up beyond all belief. It needed to be a little longer and a little less passive in the telling, but it abstracts fairy tale cliches very well, and in a way that isn't done often enough.
The Best of (What's Left of) Heaven, Mairead Byrne - This book showed me that one strength of modern abstract poetry is how fun it is to read out loud. Some poems fall short and just sound like arbitrary lists of things, but many of them are awesome in the same way elementary schoolers are when they're all hopped up on sugar. I often tell people that my poems revel in their own stupidity, and my comfort with that style comes almost directly from this book (which is not stupid).
We Can Build You, Philip K. Dick - Simpler and more readable than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but it covers some of the same topics (namely the question of what defines humanity v. mechanics). Dick was a writer who, because he had to crank out novels almost non-stop, seemed a little too consumed with topping himself. This book seems outside of that pressure, and it's one of my favorites of his.
The Alienist, Caleb Carr - I'm a sucker for good period pieces, and this is a good one. Some of Carr's plot theatrics are a little ridiculous, but it's a page-turner with solid characters and Teddy Roosevelt battling corruption and screaming at people. Aspiring steampunks, myself included, could learn a thing or two about how this book manages to capture the grime (and burgeoning scientific advancements) of the Victorian cityscape without becoming a depressing morality play.
Other Electricities, Ander Monson - Whether it's a novel or a collection of interconnected short stories that might as well be a novel, this is a winning experiment on all fronts. Monson has Vonnegut's gift for managing multiple characters without burdening the pace, and he expands upon that gift with an incredible atmosphere that considers multiple definitions of electricity (inner quality that brings things to life) and how communities are shaped by death and loss.
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Michael Ondaatje - Blazing Saddles' infamous campfire scene was the logical extension of cowboys in old westerns eating beans and drinking coffee all the time. It was brilliant. Ondaatje's book goes well beyond that, expanding upon cowboy tropes with humor, elegance, and real rustic poignancy. This novel also mixes up traditional prose with poetry, fake dime novels, interview excerpts, old photography, and comes together as a complete and powerful story. This was another influence on Gouts of Angry Mist, and it's one of the best books I've ever read. Here's my full review from earlier in the year.

1 comment:

  1. i've been meaning to read other electricities since i got it for chrstmas last year--seems it should be time to do so. yay for matthew, molly, and mairead (three m's??? mmm), all awesome books [as i'm sure the others are too, you others].