2016 Review: “Books Read by Me” Edition

2016 was inarguably terrible.Ah, 2016. What an absolute terrorshow of inhumanity you’ve been. 2017 is looking to be even worse. If any people reading this make it through to next Xmas, we here in 2016 do apologize for the inconvenience, and we hope you can ultimately make peace with the cave-dwelling Trump voters mole people.

But to avoid the rancid spray-tanned tangelo with fur elephant in the room and leap over to happier notes, I managed to plow my way through 126 books over the past twelve months. Being the forgiving sort that I am, I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them, with only a few being complete disappointments (looking at you, Brian Aldiss’ Dracula Unbound, you bewildering turd-fire).

So, because I love lists and list-related paraphernalia:

2016 in Review: The Numbers
2016 in Review: The Recollection

Like I said, I’m (arguably) an easy man to please, book-wise, and I’m not the most discerning of readers. Then again, having past suffered through the turgid prose of noted literary luminaries such as James Patterson and Chuck Norris, perhaps I’m just grateful to read a story that doesn’t utterly insult my intelligence. Most of my reads were quote-unquote “genre” or one sort or another: some fantasy, some horror, a lot of hardboiled detective (I’m working on something, it’s research!), and once in a great while a straight-ahead “realistic” tale.

Here, then, are a few of my favourite new reads of the past year, books that I’d reread without a second thought. Books marked with an asterisk (*) are Canadian, because Oh Canada.

  • The Underground Railroad, Colson WhiteheadLovecraft Country
  • Underground Airlines, Ben H. Winters
  • Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff
    • This trio of ostensibly unrelated novels should, nay, must be read together as some sort of remarkable, unholy triumvirate on the subject of American racism in the 21st century.
    • Underground Railroad is the closest narrative of the three to reality, covering as it does a slave’s run to freedom from a 19th-century Georgia plantation. It’s harrowing, brutal, and moving, so much so that the fantastical inclusion of an actual underground railroad could be argued as superfluous. Yet Whitehead’s bravery in mashing genres results in a picaresque novel that functions both as a wonderful story and as all-too-accurate allegory for today’s troubled world.
    • Going further into genre, Underground Airlines sets up an alternate American history where slavery was never abolished, and a black man working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service is forced to infiltrate an abolitionist movement. Lovecraft Country moves into, well, Lovecraft country, as its many characters struggle to survive both malevolent spirits and the pervasive racism of the American South. Individually and as a whole, these novels grapple with American race relations and class struggles with verve, style, wit, and astonishing accuracy.
    • As well, check out the similarly-themed The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle and Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard. Both read by me in 2016, both way awesomegravy.
  • Certain Dark Things & This Strange Way of Dying, Silvia Moreno-Garcia*
    • I’ve already written of these books (here and here), so I’ll be brief and simply say that Moreno-Garcia is one of Canada’s literary bright spots, genre or otherwise, and I cannot wait to see what 2017 and beyond will bring.
  • Alice & Red Queen, Christina Henry
    • Saint's BloodIn two beautiful works, Henry updates and recontextualizes Alice in Wonderland into something brave, weird, gorgeous, and new.
  • Knight’s ShadowSaint’s Blood, Sebastien de Castell*
    • Continuing his swashbuckling Greatcoats series (with more still to come! So much swash! So much buckling!), de Castell delivers some of the most flat-out entertaining fantasy books out there today. Intricate world-building that never loses its sense of fun. If you ever want to learn how to write a fight scene, de Castell’s many instances of swordplay are must reading.
  • Company Town, Madeline Ashby*
  • Seven Crow Stories, Robert J. Wiersema*
  • Into the Current, Jared Young*
  • I Want Superpowers, Steven Bereznai*
    • More Canadian sci-fi/fantasy goodness in a variety of forms.
    • Company Town is Ashby’s best novel thus far (read more here), and considering how I love vN and iD, that’s saying something. Canadian sci-fi at its absolute best, with futuristic high-tech weirdness, great characters, and kickass plotlines.
    • Seven Crow Stories is proof that Wiersema is one of Canada’s preeminent genre practitioners. This collection is very strong, and “Three Days Gone” is one of the best stories Stephen King never wrote.
    • Into the Current straddles the line of realism/fantasy, as it follows the life of a man currently trapped in time amongst the sky-stuck wreckage of a just-exploded plane. Young’s writing is very strong, and his storyline at times resembles the time-travels of Billy Pilgrim, in the most positive sense.
    • Combining the best elements of Hunger Games and X-Men, I Want Superpowers is a YA novel that deserves a wider audience. It’s dark, dystopic, and ultimately hopeful, which is what the kids like these days (or so I hear, now get off my lawn!).
  • All the Things We Leave Behind, Riel Nason*
  • When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Raziel Reid*
  • Sad Old Faggot, Sky Gilbert*Sad Old Faggot
    • Had to put at least a few “realistic” novels here.
    • As proved in The Town that Drowned, Nason is a gifted storyteller who crafts believable characters with subtle grace. All the Things… proves she’ll be publishing great Canadian novels for some time to come.
    • When Everything Feels… broke my heart more than any other book this year (other than the first ten pages of Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, which devastated me so much I had to put it down). Ridiculous and contrived controversy be damned; this is a damned fine book that should be read by every teenager in the country world.
    • Sky Gilbert combines autobiographical memoir with fiction in Sad Old Faggot, and I cannot tell which is which. Suffice to say, by its title alone, Sad Old Faggot is bound to upset a lot of people, which should be enough to make it a worthy read. Luckily, it’s also insightful, honest, and profanely funny.
  • Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, David Wong
  • The Unnoticeables & The Empty Ones, Robert Brockway
    • These books more than filled my yearly quota of imaginative, weird, bugnut crazy, monster-laden mindjob literature. More!
  • The many, many works of Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Chester Himes.
    • I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say, all authors present bring the hard to “hardboiled.” They’re also vastly talented writers who understand the nuance of the genre.

And there you have it. To all the books I never got to this year, I’m sorry, I can only read so fast, I’ll get to you ASAP.

And again, to the people of 2017 and beyond: we’re really sorry. I hope our sympathy warms you as you deal with the Trump voters C.H.U.D.s in your neighbourhood.