2017, by the numbers
Total books: 150
Story collections: 22
Nevertheless, I’ve hardly made a dent in my library of unread tomes. At last approximation, I have over 200 books just…sitting there, waiting to have their spines cracked spines, their pages creased, their sentences underlined. My bookish obsessive-compulsive disorder means I won’t be doing any of that, but I will read them and (hopefully) enjoy them.
As I am easily amused/satisfied, I enjoyed the majority of my 2017 reading. Admittedly, some books did make me profoundly angry they ever found a publisher looking to punish the world, but I won’t be slamming them here. As I get older, I find myself less than inclined to trash the work of independent authors/publishers.
Rest assured, if I hated a book by a recognizable author, I’d let you know. Although, frankly, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep was kind of disappointing. Hardly horrible, but far from his best work.
But while the vast majority of my reads were good, there are a number I’d revisit without hesitation. Here, then, are my favourite reads of 2017 (although not all published in 2017), presented alphabetically, with a few notes on each. (Click on the individual titles for more info).
Barren Cove, Ariel S. Winter
Winter’s tale of lonely robots finding meaning in their existence is a lovely treat. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable hybrid of Philip K. Dick and Madeline Ashby that treats its electrical characters with love and compassion.
Beforelife, Randal Graham
Fair warning: I blurbed Graham’s book. Graham proves himself a Canuckian heir to the magnificently pun-happy merriment of literary pranksters Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde. At once a raucous comedy, thrilling adventure, and meta-commentary on the nature of storytelling, Beforelife is an afterlife to die for.
Borne, Jeff Vandermeer
Every new Vandermeer novel is a gift. This one, a dystopian adventure epic featuring giant bears, sentient blobs, and echoes (for me, anyway) of the Adventure Time cartoon (the malleable Borne somehow reminds me of Jake the dog), is as bizarre and beautiful as you could ever hope for.
Brother, David Chariandy
After Malagash (below), the novel that broke my heart the hardest. Chariandy’s examination of gender, race, and family in 1990s’ Scarborough is a tender Canadian masterpiece.
D’Arc, Robert Repino
Another warning: I also blurbed Repino’s book. Think The Fantastic Mr.Fox, with advanced weaponry. Charlotte’s Web, with armed combat. The Wind in the Willows, with machetes. Weaving together threads from dozens of ideas, Robert Repino tops his brilliant Mort(e) with an epic animal allegory at once strange, frightening, funny, and altogether remarkable.
The Devil’s Detective/The Devil’s Evidence, Simon Kurt Unsworth
A detective in literal Hell. Being as I am a weird fan of paranormal detective stories, how could I but love this series? Luckily, Unsworth brings great hardboiled style and a noir sensibility to his netherworld mystery, as well as a terrific hero in Thomas Fool. I crave more!
Entropic, R.W. Gray
Gray’s short stories are wonderfully surreal little glimpses of CanLit perfection. Gray is one of Canada’s best short story writers, bar none. His story “Blink” may be one of my all-time favourites, by any author.
Has the World Ended Yet?, Peter Darbyshire
An off-kilter, phantasmagorical treat. Darbyshire delights in mashing pop-culture genres together, exposing profound truths beneath classic tropes in ways at once hilarious, weird, and heart-breaking. Any collection that has H.P. Lovecraft’s legendary god Cthulhu working for a temp agency gets an automatic pass from me.
The Last Neanderthal, Claire Cameron
I usually find novels that play the historic past against events in the present to be somewhat ham-fisted, but Cameron’s stark tale never falls into that trap. This tale of an archaeologist and the Neanderthal she is excavating is incisive and moving without becoming obvious.
Malagash, Joey Comeau
The book that broke my heart the most this year. This slim novella, following a young woman recording her conversations with her dying father to keep his memory alive via a computer virus, masterfully expose the trauma, heartbreak, and humour of an event we all must eventually brave.
Mammoth, Larissa Andrusyshyn
I’m not a big poetry guy, although I really should be. But Mammoth stuck with me. Andrusyshyn’s work is funny, odd, and memorable.
A Perfect Machine, Brett Savory
As I said in my blog review, “A Perfect Machine is one weird engine. This world is a surreal, bullet-ridden nightmare that obeys no laws save its own. Like the best of mindjob lit, this gloriously odd monster mash practically remands a revisit.”
Venera Dreams: A Weird Entertainment, Claude Lalumière
More strange stories by a master of the form. Lalumière’s linked narratives—all based around the magical city-state of Venera—are full of gorgeous imagery, lush dialogue, and deeply sexual scenarios. It is a dazzling read.
Volk, David Nickel
In his sequel to Eutopia, Nickel evokes the classic gothic horrors of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, pushing Eutopia’s heroes into an insidious scheme involving German legends, a mystical being called the Juke, and Hitler’s plans to create “Übermenschen.” Volk is challenging, but stick with it: it’s a remarkable horror novel unafraid to ask questions and leave questions unanswered.
The Voodoo Killings, Kristi Charish
As I said in my blog review, “I love zombies. I love detectives. Ergo, I love zombie/detective mashups. And thus, I love The Voodoo Killings, the first in what I hope will be a long-running series of detective thrillers involving befuddled zombies, angry poltergeists, and brain slurpees.” Plus, the protagonist is named Kincaid Strange, which is fantastic.
Wild Fell, Michael Rowe
A gothic nightmare, potentially the closest a Canadian haunted house novel has come to equaling Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. With this and his previous Enter, Night, Rowe proves himself one of the country’s premier fantacists.
And since I love you, more notables I highly recommend:
- The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, James Morrow
- Bad Things Happen, Kris Bertin
- Bearded Women, Theresa Milbrodt
- A Bird on Every Tree, Carol Bruneau
- Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
- Dietland, Sarai Walker
- Electric Fences and Other Stories, Gugu Hlongwane
- The Fatness, Mark A. Rayner
- Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
- Life on Mars, Lori McNulty
- Nocturne, Helen Humphreys
- Skin Folk, Nola Hopkinson
- This Side of Sad, Karen Smythe
- Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, Kerry Lee Powell
So, for 2018…Look, I’m not going to bother topping 150. I’ve got too many intimidatingly large books to get through (most by Neal Stephenson and Stephen King). I’m just going to read for enjoyment, and whittle my merry way through my TBR pile. I’ll have to likely take on a few new books, for reviewing and such, but by and large I’ll be living in the past.
I want to broaden my reading habits, read more PoC books, but this may not be feasible if my intention is to get through books I already own. However, I am planning to alternate between authorial genders per book. I’m also going to read alphabetically by author, which should give me a wide range of literary experiences.
I’m currently reading a few books for an outside project, but once done, if I follow this plan—alphabetically and female-male—my first five reads of 2018 will be:
- Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air
- Laurence Klaven’s The Family Unit and Other Fantasies
- Debra Komar’s The Ballad of Jacob Peck
- William Kotzwinkle’s Elephant Bangs Train
- Kathryn Kuitenbrouer’s All the Broken Things
And also…I will try and post more in the way of reviews and such (and, if applicable, to various review sites to increase a book’s overall Internet coverage), but truth be told, I ain’t the blogger I used to be. People do change over time, and nowadays the act of sitting down and writing something not related to the projects I’m working feels somewhat onerous. Nevertheless, I shall persist, and try to come up with original content a few times a month or so.
I also would like to get a new site going. I’m kind of sick of my design. Any takers on who’d like to design it for free? No? Even if I name a character after you? Darn.
And writing? I plan to do a lot more. I’ve already submitted a short story, and if all goes well I will be through with an incredibly rough first draft of a new book over the next few months. Then, we’ll see what happens.
And so…A belated toodle-oo to you, 2017. Reading-wise, you were a pretty darn good year.
On every other level, you were kind of a dumpster fire.