As is traditional around these parts I like to end the year with a list of my favorite reads. Overall it’s been a great year for reading even if I’ve had to bite my tongue and not complain overly much about books that have disappointed me. Why dwell on the negative when there are so many other books out there to enjoy? So here, in order from most old to most recent, are my favorite reads from 2015.
1. The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796): What a book! What a gory, extravagant, delightful mess of a book! Yes, I spent a good long time writing about this book this year, but wow, what a book! I lost count of the times it made me stop reading and go, “Wait! What the hell just happened!?!” Ghosts, demons, and dirty/sexy Roman Catholicism – this book has it all.
2. The Virgin of the Seven Daggers: Excursions Into Fantasy by Vernon Lee (1913): Probably the book I talked the most about this year as it was the one that surprised me the most since I’d never heard of Lee before I started reading this. From the first story in the collection I was hooked and felt the need to proclaim Vernon Lee as one of the great overlooked fantasy writers of the early 20th century.
3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927): Cather manages to write an epic novel in less than 300 pages as she relates the story of a pair of priests sent to the recently acquired New Mexico territories with the task of rehabilitating the church out there. As always Cather manages to convey both character and landscape with beautiful language. Yes, there’s no real plot and a lot of things happen “off stage”, but those aren’t real complaints. They’re gripes from people too hooked on TV Tropes.
4. Games People Play by Eric Berne (1967): Weird little pop psychology book about transactional analysis. It’s worth a read as it’ll make you look at the way people (yourself included) behave in social situations. You read it saying things to yourself like, “Oh, yeah, I know a person totally like that.”
5. Katie by Michael McDowell (1982): Violent, crazy good fun. McDowell writes the American penny dreadful you never knew you wanted to read. Download a copy today!
6. Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (2001): A story collection set in the same milieu as Allende’s novel Eva Luna. Allende’s rich prose and use of recursive narrative structure knocked my socks off.
7. Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun (2003): One of the weirdest books I read this year with a plot more informed by medieval alchemical texts than logical cause and effect. If you like your books ripe with weird imagery this one’s worth tracking down.
8. Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (2009): The book that introduced me to Megan Abbott’s work. It’s a sad up-ending of noir tropes to tell the story of a friendship between three desperate but ultimately very different women.
9. Open City by Teju Cole (2011): Possibly the book I’ve thought the most about since finishing it. Cole pulls off a nice twist here as three-quarters of the way through the narrator learns a crushing truth about himself that calls into question his role not so much as a narrator, but as a sympathetic character.
10. American Monster by J.S. Breukelaar (2014): Once upon a time science fiction books were raunchy, messy, and lacking in predictable marketability. American Monster sits well in that tradition as an alien super woman prowls the scummy streets of a post-apocalyptic California in search of the man “with the perfect horn”.
11. Vermilion by Molly Tanzer (2015): Ghost-hunting gunslinger travels an alternate American west in the hopes of discovering who it is killing members of her community. If you like steampunk weird westerns and stories of monster hunters here’s your book.
12. Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand (2015): Hand writes the story of a psychedelic folk band that never existed, but you wished did, as they get caught in the kind of story that would make Arthur Machen proud – and she does it all in the form of a VH-1 “Behind the Music” style special.
13. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2015): Low-rent space opera about the crew of a star ship that goes around the galaxy building worm holes. Very episodic, but a lot of fun as we live with the crew of the Wayfarer.
After that it was a quick slide into dangerous work, into moving away and being moved. It was a quick switch painless and unnoticeable. One day the world was wide open, full of endless possibilities. The next she knew it had passed and left her behind. Left her behind wandering without any hope of reaching any place she might make into a home. Her promise and potential gone – eroded away one burn after the other. Each layer stripped away until she had nothing left but a dubious talent that was guaranteed to either kill her or drive her to sand and translation. A long series of compromises and retreats. Episodes of loss, pushed down point by point. Concessions taken. Concessions given. You start to see signs and there’s no way back no matter how hard you search. You’re already on it, losing yourself, losing your way, retreating from where you believed you should have been. But even then you have to wonder if maybe you were wrong to begin with.