2013 in review, part two: winners of the Shelf Monkey! or, the reads I done liked

We’re a few days into 2014. Think about that. 2014. Wow. 14 years (really, 15) into the 21st century, and we’re still debating women’s rights, LGBT rights, human rights; still electing sub-Palins like Rob Ford, Ted Cruz, Steve King, et al; and still behaving like our actions have no consequences. Plainly, as a species, we’re still only a stone’s throw away from the middle ages.

But hey, enough bathing in the misery that is 21st century life. Let’s talk literature! Specifically, the books I read in 2013 that gave me hope that intelligence is still a player in the game, and that there still exist persons capable of stringing two sentences together. Coherently!

The Shelf Monkey Award!

I read 89 books over the course of twelve months (not my record, but not a number to be ashamed of). I found myself reading more “genre” than is my usual, but got no complaints there. There’s only a few books I was truly disappointed by, and absolutely no Horecks in sight. Once again, non-fiction got short shrift in favour of made-up stories. What, it’s my fault we haven’t invented sentient robots yet?

In no particular order, here are my personal 2013 Shelf Monkeys, the books I’d read again in a second (slightly categorized for ease of consumption [and I read a lot this year, so the list is lengthy, and I certainly would recommend at least a dozen more]):

Ultimate Shelf Monkey – Absolute favourite read of 2013

Dr Brinkley's TowerDr. Brinkley’s Tower  – Robert Hough is one of the strongest authors working in Canada today. This tale of con men, medical fraud, and radio, set against the backdrop of a Mexican border town in the early 20th century, is as brilliant, hilarious, and perfect a novel as I’ve read in years. Bravo, Robert, you take top Shelf Monkey this year. Your silverback gorilla and certificate of merit will be in the mail. If they don’t reach you, blame Canada Post.

The straight-up amazing storytellers

Geek Love Way late to the party on this one, but Katherine Dunn’s tale of circus folk making their ways through life is thrilling. No telling how I might have turned out if I had read this in 1989.

In Calamity's WakeIn Calamity’s Wake – I read pretty much only one western a year. Natalee Caple makes me want to read more. But then I remember The Justice Riders, and feel ashamed.

Finton Moon – A Newfoundland bildungsroman laced with magic realism, brought to life by the immensely gifted Gerard Collins.

Under Budapest – Arley McNeny impressed me with her debut novel Post, then blew me away in a linked collection of stories that pushes her into the top tier. Read her, and come away impressed as hell.

Citrus County – Ever see a Wes Anderson movie? John Brandon’s debut is the best movie Wes Anderson never made.

The Signature of All Things – I formed an opinion based solely on the fuss over Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love. Shame on me. This is a rich, intricate saga of historical fiction and botany that had me at page one.

Accusation – Warning: I worked as Catherine Bush’s publicist. But who cares? Believe me or don’t, this warning of the perils of allegations is powerful and unflinching.

Prairie OstrichPrairie Ostrich – I’m not one for heartwarming, but Tamai Kobayashi’s gentle tale of childhood alienation is spectacular. Prairie Ostrich won’t be published until 2014, but if you don’t fall in love with it, you are a fool and beyond saving.

The Hundred Hearts – William Kowalski’s post-wartime family story wields a black wit that triggers laughter even as it curdles your insides.

Born Weird  – Was ever a person born to better write Born Weird than Andrew Kaufman? Methinks not. And I’m pretty not dumb.

The brain-twisting mindjobs

In and DownThe Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu
Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos – James Marshall
In and Down Brett Alexander Savory

These four books took my mind down paths I begged them not to, showed me my soul, and then beat me with a tire iron (both figuratively and literally). And I am the better for it, as they have prepped me for time travel paradoxes, literary killer fish, zombies, and evil clowns.

WARNING: Do not attempt these novels without allowing a cooling-off period between readings.  You will implode. Again, figurative and literal.

The urban fantasy epics

The Blue Blazes

The Blue Blazes – Chuck Wendig
Briarpatch – Tim Pratt
The Mona Lisa Sacrifice – Peter Roman (aka Peter Darbyshire)
The Demonologist – Andrew Pyper
Napier’s Bones – Derryl Murphy
Glass Soup – Jonathan Carroll
Falling Angel – William Hjortsberg

I don’t really care for trolls or orcs or “traditional” fantasy novels. However, put the same elements into a modern setting and add detectives, gangsters, and mathematicians, and I’ll beg for more. Weird, that. These novels are exemplars of the genre that work equally well as pure adventure, entertainment, or literature. Plus, now I know how to fight demons, slide through dimensions, and use arithmetic to fight evil.

The terrifying goodness

The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved

The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved – Joey Comeau
The n-Body Problem – Tony Burgess
The ‘Geisters – David Nickle

Sometimes, you just want to be scared. Or watch campers get eviscerated. Or both. Comeau brought the comedy and campers, Burgess brought the gore, Nickle brought the heart, and all brought me gallons of warm blood with which to heat my cockles.

The sci-fi wonderment

Go, Mutants!vN & iD – Madeline Ashby
Trust – David Moody
Maddaddam – Margaret Atwood
Go, Mutants! – Larry Doyle

Ashby crafts intelligent androids, Moody and Doyle document invading alien species as both threat and comedic set-up, and Atwood hypothesizes the end result of mankind’s own stupidity, all adding up to a quintet of speculative sweetness.

The short and sweet (stories)

Firstly, Savage Love has my favourite cover of any book in the past few years. Beyond that, many have declared 2013 the “year of the short story,” and I see no reason to disagree. That said, if you haven’t read at least Savage Love, then you have no idea how good CanLit can get.