I want to write about my year in reading and have been meaning to post this for a few days, but, as you can see from how infrequently I’ve blogged in 2015, I’ve grown unaccustomed to doing this kind of thing.
Anyrate, this has been perhaps the most productive year for me as a reader, and it’s also been one of the most enjoyable. I contribute this to choosing nearly every book based on desire rather than obligation or some sense of me needing to read something because it’s important or whatever other rubric I used to use to choose books.
I also read fewer indie press books than ever before.
This is largely because my aesthetic preferences and tastes have shifted, sometimes enormously, away from what the indie press community is choosing to release and create.
To be honest, I’ve felt more and more distant from that group as a whole over the last couple of years. They’ve been immensely formative and important to me, but I think we’re in very different places and are heading in very different directions.
I think part of this is my rediscovery of the love I have for science fiction and fantasy. Truthfully, those books are the reason I knew I wanted to be a writer. They’re why I began writing at all.
I took a long detour in high school, college, and afterward into literary fiction. I began readings things because they were deemed important or acclaimed or whatever else. Blame it on Dostoevsky, maybe, for making me believe realism was grander and greater than any work of imaginative fiction.
But I’m glad I came back about five years ago. It was like coming home. It reminded me so much of why I loved reading and writing and all the places I longed to go and create.
Despite that, for the following years, I would typically read one SFF title for every five literary novels I read. This was the first year that I largely abandoned realist fiction and dived deep into SFF.
Also, much of what I know about the SFF genres were work written by white english speaking men, so I tried to go broader this year. I didn’t completely stop reading books by honky english speaking bros, but I did discover quite a bit of work from amazing writers I had never heard of before from around the world.
For an easy summary, here’s a link to the books I read this year.
I also reviewed every single book I read this year, I think, so there are a lot of thoughts on those books. But I’m going to post some more thoughts here, in a different way, since months have come and gone between my writing of the initial review and today.
These are more reader reactions than they are reviews.
The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams
This is a trilogy I’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time. Ever since I finished A Dance with Dragons way back in 2010 and heard that these books influenced Martin. I went in with very specific expectations and was wildly off. This shares similarities with Martin, but they’re also crazy different. For one thing, Martin’s plot is so aggressively paced for the first three books. Tad Williams is a much more naturalistic storyteller. Or, to put it another way, he’s more interested in how people interact than he is with political machinations, which largely make up Martin’s series.
Williams becomes a much better writer as the trilogy goes on. The first is certainly the weakest book and I think the third is the strongest. The third is also the length of the first two combined, making it one of the longest books ever published, so there’s that.
And while this trilogy has a lot of problems, it’s also wedged its way into my heart. It does so many things so well and so different than anyone else. It’s captures failure and friendship in ways few books bother to and it finishes in a way that is probably deeply unsatisfying to many readers, but which I kind of loved it for.
The Blue Fox, The Whispering Muse, and From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjon
This was an interesting experience. I loved The Blue Fox so much, thought The Whispering Muse was solid, and kind of hated From the Mouth of the Whale. I had never read Sjon and these are his only books translated into english, and I’m more than willing to read whatever gets translated next, but it was very peculiar to read these. For one thing, each is so wildly different in tone, style, and content that they feel like they could be written by different people. It seems odd that this would be the three works chosen for translation. But, yeah, this was an interesting experience, since I read them accidentally in the order of most liked to least liked.
The Wandering Earth and The Mountain by Liu Cixin
The Wandering Earth is novella that is so brilliant and heartbreaking that it’s hard for me to do it justice. I loved his novel The Three Body Problem and so I picked up his novella collection and was blown away by this first one. His novel was kind of emotionally distant and more about ideas than anything else, but this captures huge ideas and big emotions in a really effortless manner.
The Mountain is another novella that takes big ideas and character and play out like a comedy. It’s so great and so funny and so insanely interesting. Imagine aliens come to earth just to talk to one person.
The Shape of Every Monster Yet to Come by Brian Allen Carr
Carr’s short fiction is every bit as brilliant as his novels, though I will always prefer novels to short stories. There are a lot of very powerful stories in this very brief collection. Grimy and hard but also often very funny.
Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett
This is one of the most interesting and most inventive novels I’ve ever had the joy of reading. Imagine human history and its end retold my a corrupted artificial intelligence. It’s surreal and haunting and incredibly moving. It’s also extremely formally experimental. Certainly the most experimental novel I read this year but it’s never difficult to read or follow, once you give in to a novel that constantly reinvents itself, its language, and its narrative rules. It takes experiments almost exclusive to literary fiction and succeeds where so many of those literary novels fail. Just brilliant and I can’t wait for whatever she writes next.
The 8th House by Feng Sun Chen
The first poetry collection I read in 2015 and it was a great one. I prefer her first collection, but there was a lot to love here too. She has a really peculiar way with language that makes her poems somewhat unsettling to me. But, yeah, this is language.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods, and The Awakened Kingdom by NK Jemisin
This is a really interesting trilogy. The first is such a great intro to a world and mythology told in a very small setting. The second expands on the world and also grows in amazing ways. The third kind of folds back on the previous two books but offers interesting developments to the mythology. The fourth is a novella that I think is kind of unnecessary and also not very good.
I loved the first book but I think the second is by far the strongest. Each novel is a standalone, but they’re informed by the others. So while you could read the second without reading the first, I think you’d miss out on some of the magic. The third references the previous two often enough that you should probably read it after them and I also can’t imagine bothering with that book if you haven’t read the previous ones and loved them. The third is interesting and solid but I’m not a huge fan of it. It does interesting things and is different enough than the rest of the trilogy to stand on its own, but I’m also not convinced by it as much. I think part of it is that it’s over 600 pages, which is quite a bit longer than the other books, but I don’t think it needed all those pages.
That being said, super excited to get into her other books.
Where the Train Turns by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
A very beautiful little novella about childhood that makes me want to pick up his english language novel. Not a lot to say about it as it’s been almost a year since I read it and it’s not sticking out super hard, which is maybe a bad thing, but I distinctly remember enjoying it. But it’s difficult to remember seventy pages when you’ve surrounded it with big trilogies set in the same world.
Datura and Tainaron by Leena Krohn
It’s interesting that a huge collected works was just published by the Vandermeers because I tracked down these two novels by her a long time ago. They’re both exceptionally interesting books. They’re amusing and sometimes funny and generally pleasant reads. That being said, I didn’t think much more of them than that. I fully enjoyed reading them but I also didn’t get much from them beyond a feeling of contentment.
So they’re good books and I fully recommend them, especially because they’re both so short, but they’re far from favorite. Despite that, I picked up the collected works and plan on reading some of her other books.
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
I loved this novel. It’s invented and interesting and absolutely gorgeous. I don’t have a lot more to say than that, but it takes a postapocalyptic setting and imbues it with so much tenderness and care and thoughtfulness, that it stands above and beyond so many others in that genre. It’s also decidedly not a thriller. It’s much more like how Le Guin would write postapocalypse than it is like the Hunger Games or any other such thing.
Don’t Pay Bad for Bad by Amos Tutuola
Didn’t love this collection. It’s basically a bunch of fables and I think I just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of thing. There is a lot to like about this and so I’m interested in checking out one of his novels, but this didn’t do a lot for me.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
I was not a fan of this book for the first 200 pages. I was fighting with the novel. I wanted it to be told differently, for it to work differently. But eventually I was able to let go of my prejudices and fall into the novel, and it became glorious. It’s a very big and interesting world. It’s certainly not my favorite book of the year, but I enjoyed it a great deal.
That being said, I’m not sure I’ll be reading the next book. It seems like it’s turning into something that will have a great deal of court intrigue, which is often uninteresting to me.
What I do love about this book is that it takes a great moment from history and retells it in a fantastic way. But I especially liked how the characters were largely unaristocratic. Rogues and so on. Unfortunately, I fear it’s moving into a story about kings and queens and how they hold power.
But who knows! Book two is a ways away and I may dive into that when it’s available.
The Bear Whispers to Me by Chang Ying-Tai
This was a beautiful little book about memory and family and how childhood is basically a fantasy epic set in the real world. I love the way it plays with nature and the slipperiness of memory and fact.
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
This was one of the most surprising reading experiences because I thought I was stepping into a fantasy novel, which this most certainly is not. It’s brutal and powerful and sometimes difficult to push through because of how open eyed it delves into topics that are, to put it mildly, unpleasant. I couldn’t put it down though and it sticks with me really strongly. Not for the faint of heart but definitely worth reading.
Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers
A fun little novella told with so much clarity and enjoyment that I just ran through it. I mean, only takes like an hour to read, but it’s really great stuff. Time travel has never been a genre I’ve cared about, but this makes me want to give it another shot.
Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
I’m always down for whatever Two Dollar Radio is publishing and this was pretty solid, though not one of my favorites by them. It’s about anorexia, love, relationships, and running from life. It’s beautiful and sometimes unpleasant. Much like life. It’s also the first realist novel I read on the year.
Sterling City, The Last Final Girl, and Three Miles Past by Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen’s been one of my favorite writers for about ten years and I was kind of casually catching up on some of his novels. He’s had so many books come out in the last couple years that I’ve fallen way behind. But, for the first time in a long time, he hasn’t had any books out in a new year, so I’ve been going back to ones I missed.
Each of these is insanely different, which is about as Stephen as things can be. We have a SF novella with Sterling City, a horror triptych with Three Miles Past, and a postmodern horror comedy with The Last Final Girl. So, yeah, they’re all great and really geared towards any of those three genres. So pick them up.
Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot
Really interesting SF novel that’s playful in ways that David Foster Wallace fans would enjoy. That’s not often my cuppa, so parts of this novel kind of annoyed me. Despite that, it has such interesting and wild ideas. It’s also very funny and surprisingly emotional.
Sayonara Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi
This is one of the wildest novels I can think of. It’s so bizarre and so funny and so easy to read. It plays with structure and form in genius ways but also never stops telling the story it’s telling, which is a pretty absurd one. Kyle Muntz has been recommending this to me for years so it was a treat to finally read it.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain by Neil Gaiman
I actually don’t remember this novella but I remember enjoying it. I wish I could say more than that, but I can’t. It’s the first Gaiman I’ve read in years and years.
The Explorer and Other Stories by Jyrki Vainonen
I really loved this collection. Maybe my favorite collection of the year. He takes absurd and wild ideas and then makes them a story that’s full of character and charm and love. Just brilliant stuff.
The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ
A short story and novella collection that contains what I would consider a full length novel. I really loved these sword and sorcery tales. Some are undisputedly better than others but I think the book as a whole is better than any of its individual parts. A very awesome collection that gives you a very different perspective and take on the genre.
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
One of the most powerful novellas I’ve ever read. It surprised me how great it is, since I’ve seen the film and thought it was a decent romance film. But this is really fantastic and beautiful, even though it’s so so so sad.
I’ll remember it for a long time and I’m glad I read it because now it will replace the film in my memory.
Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood
Meh. A short story collection that I just never seemed to care about.
White Horse by Ge Yen
A novella I remember enjoying but can’t remember. It was surreal though. Or oneiric.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
It’s not news that I love Hayao Miyazaki, which is why I picked this up. I really enjoyed it. Very different from the film, which made it a rich and pleasant experience, without feeling a need to compare the two. But this is a funny and fun novel about friendship, love, and, you know, magic.
Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago by Octavia Butler
These are some of the best novels I’ve ever read, and certainly the best thing I’ve ever read that shows a truly alien species and culture. I have so many thoughts about these books and they’ve already had a huge impact on me as a writer and a person, but they truly are unforgettable. They’re grotesque and shocking but also so natural and effortless. They talk huge ideas and intense moral dilemmas and deal with them in a very real ways.
It also never acknowledges the deepest question these novels bring up. By ignoring that question, it actually highlights it and, to me, shows what these novels are actually about, or at least what they actually reflect.
Genius level stuff here. Excited to dig into the rest of her books, which are depressingly few.
The Last Projector by David James Keaton
This is my favorite book I read this year, which is really saying something, considering I read nearly 200 books this year and over 40,000 pages! But this is brilliant in every way. It’s experimental and genre bending. It’s hilarious and thrilling. It pushes boundaries in ways few literary novels even attempt but it never loses the pacing of a thriller or the humor of a true comedy. It does a thousand different things and it does them all better than just about anyone does anything. It’s encyclopedic and just amazing.
Really one of the best books you’ll find in the indie press community, but also beyond it.
Black Gum and By the Time We Leave Here We’ll be Friends by J David Osborne
In weird ways, Black Gum was the perfect book to follow up Keaton’s. It’s compressed in ways that Keaton’s is expansive. It funny, but in very different ways. It’s just as hypnotic though.
The way I thought of them at the time is that Keaton is basically an acid trip that goes on so long you almost forget what it feels like to be sober, and then Osborne’s is a bowl you smoke to level yourself back out.
By the Time was a completely different monster. It was great but I much prefer where Osborne is now than where he came from. But, yeah, super odd to read the most recent and the oldest book by an author in the same year.
Elric of Melnibone, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf, The Vanishing Tower, The Black Sword, and Stormbring by Michael Moorcock
The complete original saga of Elric of Melnibone is so fun and so great. I mean, they’re not great in the way that something like Moby Dick is great, but they’re great in that they do exactly what they set out to do and they have a lot of fun doing it.
The books vary a lot in value, I think, but they’re all a swashbuckling good time. They’re at turns hypnotic, funny, brutally grim, thrilling, thoughtful, and emotional. A doomed swordsman who brings ruin upon everyone and everything he comes into contact with.
It’s a foundational kind of text and I’m glad I ran through them this year. I’ve no interest in reading the other subsequent Elric novels, but these are great.
The Wild Girls, Orsinian Tales, Incredible Good Fortune, Finding My Elegy, The Daughter of Odren, and Sixty Odd by Ursula K Le Guin
Le Guin has been a favorite of mine since I first picked up one of her books five years ago. This year I only read her poetry and then shorter works. There are a mix of novellas and short stories in the first two books and the other four are all poetry.
I wasn’t convinced by her poetry at first, but I really think she’s one of my favorite poets along with being one of my favorite novelists. She’s a genius. She ranges from funny and lyrical and playful to revolutionary and impassioned and powerful. She hits all kinds of registers and sometimes her most revolutionary poems are her shortest, whereas she has longer ones that are like a musical dance.
Her short stories are also great and I really enjoyed them, which has me turning my eyes towards some of her collections, of which she has many.
But, yes, still haven’t found something not to love about her.
Academic Exercises by KJ Parker
This was an amazing novella collection. There were some great ones and some less than good ones, but, overall, I think it’s a pretty great book. I didn’t read all the stories that make up this 500+ page collection, but I read a fair amount, I think. The award winning novellas are certainly the highlight, but the others ones are great too.
He writes fantasy in such an interesting way. I think because he often uses the perspective of academics who are somewhere between failures and fame, with most being on the lower rungs of that ladder. But this creates a really interesting way of worldbuilding, because not a lot if explicit, but you can infer a lot about the world from these academics.
But, yeah, this is a master in his element, and I’m very excited to try out one of his novels.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Oh man, I love these books. No, I adore them. I can’t remember the last time I loved a character like Fitz.
What’s interesting to me, looking back, is how I thought the first one was just okay. It was fun and fast but there was nothing that different about it. The second and third books are so utterly brilliant, however, and they turn what could easily have been a very standard fantasy into something so gloriously unique and brilliant and powerful and sorrowful that I barely have the words to capture how I feel.
Never has a trilogy dealt so explicitly with failure. Fitz fails so consistently and so enormously that it’s simply an achievement for him to survive page to page. And the thing is, he’s not a failure because he’s an idiot or anything like that. He’s just outclassed by those who wish him harm and want him to fail.
But, yes, this is maybe my favorite trilogy I’ve read in a long time. Luckily for me, there are two more trilogies that follow his life, so I have thousands of more pages to read, and I am so excited for it. I’ll probbaly be starting the second trilogy soon. The third trilogy finishes later this year, I believe, so I may run through it as well.
Colorless Tsuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
I’m a big fan of Murakami though it’s been a few years since I’ve read anything by him, so it was pretty disappointing to read this book, which I think is mostly stupid and/or bad.
It’s a weird book for him to write and I think it never manages to go anywhere or say anything interesting. It hints at exceptionally interesting ideas, but it never actually turns in those directions.
I’ll still keep reading Murakami, but this was hugely disappointing.
Cthulu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom and The Incoming Tide by Cameron Pierce
I love both of these little books, which are about as different in content as two books by the same author can be, but they also both feel very much like one brain coming forth. They’re surprisingly emotionally resonant works, though the latter is much more fragmented, while the former is a novel so dripping in absurdity that i makes me laugh just thinking about some of the concepts in it.
But, yes, Pierce is one of the best in the indie lit community and he can do just about anything he wants better than most of us.
A Legend of the Future by Augustin de Rojas
A brilliant SF novel. It’s kind of like 2001 but different enough to keep things exciting. Big ideas and clear writing. It’s not the best SF novel you’ll find, but it’s a pleasure to see SF from a Cuban perspective.
The Doors You Mark are Your Own by Okla Elliott and Raul Clement
I wrote a very long review of this novel, which I didn’t finish. I know that writing that review has rubbed some people the wrong way, but I stand very firmly behind it.
I think this is a novel worth trying it, but I think its ambition and hype are perhaps overwhelming what could have been a solid novel.
Not for me, but it might work for you. A lot of people seem to like it.
Legend by David Gemmell
I’m actually not sure why I read this book, since nothing about it really leaps out at me or makes me want to read it, but I actually think it’s very good. Or at least very good at what it does.
It’s kind of like a huge male fantasy but also sort of shocking in the way it works. I really like it, though elements of the ending are kind of cheating, I think. But it’s a very interesting story about patriotism and dying for causes and what it means to age past your own legacy.
Thomas the Rhymer and Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Ellen Kushner is a well hidden secret genius. Both of these novels are so utterly fantastic that it’s hard to believe there are so few imitators. She builds such beautiful worlds and characters and does really complex things with language and narrative structure that work so simply and somehow never distract from the story being told.
Excited to read the rest of her books. Depressed there are so few.
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M Valente
Novella and short story collection. I didn’t read every story but I read quite a few and they’re pretty great. Sometimes she reminds me of Stephen Graham Jones, which is high praise, I think. But she has this way with using language and tackling really interesting ideas from peculiar angles.
I kept meaning to read one of her novels, since most of them seem short, but I kept picking up something else. Will check into it soon.
The Tain by China Mieville
It’s been a long time since I’ve read Mieville and I’ve only read four of his books, though it seems to me like I’ve read many more. But I liked this. It had his baroque style as well as a more condensed noirish flavor. I really loved the concept underneath the novella.
You’ve never seen vampires like this.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I thought this book was stupid. It’s shocking to me how much acclaim it’s received because I legitimately think this book is bad. There are certain moments I thought were really great, but, on the whole, I thought it was a waste of my time.
Clearly I’m in the minority here, so try it out, because you may love it.
A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
This was super interesting. An epic fantasy centered on the question of abortion, and I think it’s easy to draw both conclusions from the novel. I think some will read this and think it’s very reactionary and conservative. Others will think it’s a progressive text. Still others will think that looking at this novel in that way is a disservice to the book and its author.
Anyrate, it’s a really interesting and decidedly unwestern fantasy world. I’m excited to read the rest of the books in the series, but, for some reason, I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe soon.
Damnation, Kerotakis, and Reconsolidation by Janice Lee
These are three very different texts that are each powerfully impressive in very different ways. Lee has one of the best commands of language while also managing to use narrative in surprising ways. She also brings big emotions to the text and handles them subtly.
Excited for whatever she does next.
Hungry Darkness and Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias
One is a Central American take on Jaws and the other is an amazing spanglish noir.
I had never read Iglesias before this year but these were both huge surprises. Both very different in style, content, and even quality. Hungry Darkness is certainly the weaker of the two, but it’s a very fun read. The writing is clear and straightforward but is sometimes a bit clunky.
Zero Saints is masterful, so it’s not really an insult to say that Hungry Darkness is worse. It’s kind of like comparing Miike’s Audition to Zebraman. I think one is much better, but the goals are incomparable, so it’s not really a useful comparison.
Iglesias is one to watch though.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
This is a swashbucklingly fun epic fantasy with a middle eastern influenced setting. It’s seriously the most fun book about an aged wizard and revolution that hints at much bigger stories. It’s the first in a series, apparently, but it’s unclear when or if the following books are coming out. Either way, this is a standalone novel and I recommend it highly.
Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
I loved this book. I also loved Broken Monsters, which I read last year. This is a brilliant take on serial murders and history as seen through proletariat women throughout US history. How they’re silenced and never believed. How their value comes from how their bodies are possessed.
It’s really an amazing novel about so much more than the fear of a man who wants you dead.
Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A novella by a master that has some troubling ideas presented. The love between a teenager and a very old man. It’s…troubling, but also kind of brilliant. It’s only the fourth book I’ve read by Garcia Marquez and the first I’ve read in a long time, but I should probably go back to reading more of him again.
This is pretty fantastic.
Scary People by Kyle Muntz
Actually the second time I read this and it’s better than the original version I read last year. This is such a fun and grim and hilarious book. It’s a big departure from Muntz’ earlier books but a very welcome turn in where he’s heading, which is a place with more clarity and character.
Big things are coming from him in the future.
Black Sun Rising by CS Friedman
I didn’t love this novel but it has one of the most interesting worlds I’ve come across in epic fantasy. Its premise is science fiction but the world and story allow for that to twist into a truly epic fantasy. Also, I’m nearly finished with the sequel, which is so great.
Because of how unique and peculiar the setting is, it takes a lot of time to establish it properly in this novel, since she also avoids infodumps. Anyrate, around the halfway mark, it really picks up and starts becoming pretty great. The second novel is much better as it has a solid base to work from.
Also, this works as a standalone novel, which is always nice to find in an epic fantasy.
The Brazen Serpent by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Some solid irish poetry by someone I’ve never heard of. I enjoyed this more than I expected to.
The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, The Mystery Knight, Fevre Dream, The World of Ice & Fire, The Ice Dragon, The Rogue Prince, and The Princess and the Queen by George RR Martin
Yeah, read five novellas set in the world of A Song of Ice & Fire, then read the encyclopedic thing, then a standalone novel and a standalone novella that marketing people are pretending is part of A Song of Ice & Fire, which it certainly is not.
Anyrate, the Dunk and Egg novellas are fantastic. So much fun and they tell much smaller, simpler stories than the main series. The Rogue Prince is skippable, and The Princess and the Queen is awesome. The encyclopedia of the world is also brilliant and full of so much interesting stuff.
Fevre Dream is an awesome take on vampirism.
So it’s been a big year of Martin reading but I actually loved it all. I’m also convinced he is as great as I once thought after reading the first five Ice & Fire books.
The Bards of the Bone Plain and Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip
She has one of the most surreal and dreamlike ways of describing magic. It’s uncanny. It comes from nowhere and is so utterly brilliant that it’s hard to analyse how she’s doing it. The novels themselves aren’t as good as those scenes, which makes it even more surprising, but I really enjoyed these novels. Not sure if I’ll ever read anything by her again, but I may end up reading everything.
We’ll see, but she’s definitely worth looking into.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
I don’t know. Something about this just never clicked for me. I think it’s because I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator kind of bothered me. So I don’t know. Most people I know who’ve read this loved it. On the surface, it has so many things I thought I’d love, but somehow it just missed really hard for me.
I may try again some day. I’d read it instead of listen, but, yeah.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Also listened to this as an audiobook and I think that made it even better. It’s a brilliant but also intensely interior novel. It’s so much about how one man perceives the world that it works super well as an audiobook, because the narrator, who was also the author, feels every sentence so strongly.
Intense and weirdly surreal, despite being pure realism.
The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert by Rios de la Luz
Brilliant short story collection full of magical and beautiful and darkly sinister stories about helplessness and imbalances of power. A lot of the stories cover topics that aren’t easy to read about, let alone talk about, but de la Luz handles them so brilliantly. Sexual violence and postcolonialsim are some of the most important topics that bleed through the pages of this book.
I cannot wait for whatever she writes next.
Graft by Matt Hill
I was lucky enough to read this ahead of publication. It’s what would happen if Guy Ritchie took on Philip K Dick’s work. It has all kinds of big concepts while also being a fast and intense thriller about what humans do to one another for greed and control and power.
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Very great fantasy novel that takes what would normally be a coming of age story for a young swordsman and hero and puts a princess in those shoes. It contains one of the most intense dragonfighting scenes I’ve ever experienced, and it does a whole lot more than that.
It’s a great fantasy novel. Feels like a classic.
She has such gentle care for her characters while also telling a romping good story.
The Gingko Light and Compass Rose by Arthur Sze
Interesting poetry, but I didn’t love it.
Commons by Myung Mi Kim
Read this really quickly, so I can’t actually remember a lot about it, but I think I enjoyed it a lot. Actually, I do remember it, and I didn’t enjoy it, because it’s not the kind of thing you enjoy. It’s intense and political and quite good. Poetry as a statement of peace and war.
Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee
Beautiful and melancholic poetry collection.
Seawolf by Jack London
Essentially a story about philosophy that’s also an awesome book about life on the sea. It contains a nice love story, but it’s really about class and morality and how class generally determines morality as a form of control.
But it’s also a lot more than that. Including a fun adventure.
Selected Poems by Seamus Heaney
Oh you know, just brilliant poetry by a Nobel Laureate. What else is there to say?
Elantris and The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My first look at Sanderson, who’s one of the brightest and most successful stars in epic fantasy. Both are standalones, which is nice, especially as more and more fantasy books are always parts of series now.
Really enjoyed both. Surprisingly unique and well thought out. The Emperor’s Soul is essentially a heist novel, which is extremely cool. Elantris has a lot of interesting things to say about empire and religion here, and how class and gender are underneath all these things.
Much more thoughtful than you’d expect.
The Six Heirs by Pierre Grimbert
Was really excited because this is the beginning of an epic fantasy trilogy written by a Frenchman and set in a Chinese influenced world. Unfortunately, it was super poorly written, which may be an issue with the translation.
Either way, I found this difficult to read.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My first look at Okorafor’s work and I thought it was fantastic. A starflung story about space pirates, colonialism, culture, gender, and race. It’s so thoughtful and beautiful and says more about race than 1,000 other books could.
Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter
Less than impressed by this novel, but I still thought it was solid. Very concerned with gender and how gendered magic is. The magic of men is positive and the magic of women is always witchcraft and so on.
But, yeah, it’s a solid little book.
Frameless Windows, Squares of Light by Cathy Song
I really loved this poetry collection. It’s maybe the best one I read this year. I mean, besides the Seamus Heaney and Le Guin ones, but it’s not really fair to compare those.
Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwok Kim
Fearless and brilliant poetry about war and history and how these never go away, are never erased. Even by time.
Yellow Light by Garrett Hongo
Yeah, more poetry I loved.
Split by Cathy Linh Che
Brutal poetry. It was hard for me to read, actually. It’s strong and vibrant but it’s really not a pleasant read.
Madoc: A Mystery by Paul Muldoon
This was a really interesting collection of fragments. Explores a lot of topics in interesting ways. I wonder if I would’ve preferred his poetry more than this, but I think this was a good place to start.
Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
Man, this is like a mix of Samuel R Delany and Gene Wolfe. I think that’s the best way to describe this. If you like either of them, you’re going to love this. You may never even forget it.
Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer
Read this for a class and I really liked it. It’s the first craft book I’ve ever read and I probably won’t read another one, but this was fun. Has a lot of useful interviews and concepts.
Worth checking out, especially if you’re a student of writing.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
Brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. One of the most interesting books around that hits different styles and registers while blending everything from 19th century realism to really baroque fantasy to something more surreal and unsettling.
The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
So I’ve owned these for several years. I hadn’t picked them up before because I didn’t want to wait a bunch of years before the conclusion of the trilogy was released. For some reason, I got it in my head that the next one is going to be out in 2016 and I’m still confident this will happen, so I finally picked them up.
They are addictive. I don’t know if they’re good or even how much I like them, but they’re insanely readable and unputdownable.
This really is an interesting trilogy and I think it will conclude in ways most will be super unsatisfied with, but mostly because I think everyone thinks the central conflict is something that it simply isn’t.
I don’t know. I kind of love these books. They’re lethargically paced but also full of so much love and character and desire and ambition that I just can’t help but be stuck inside them.
I recommend picking them up. Hopefully the third book will be out this year!
Babel-17 and Empire Star by Samuel R Delany
I don’t know. I didn’t love either of these. I think having read Delany’s most acclaimed and best books first has set me up for disappointment when I go back to read the first section of his career.
It could be, too, that I just wasn’t feeling these novels. They’re solidly Delany, but I think Delany works better if you read him in order or ignore his pre-Einstein Intersection novels.
Counternarratives by John Keene
This story and novella collection deals with colonialism, slavery, and cultural clashes. It’s full of difficult and powerful stories.
Maybe a must read. Check it out if you’re looking for historical fiction.
The Revelator by Robert Kloss
The best book that came out in 2015. So take that, everything else on this list!
Kloss is at the top of his game. This is an important step for him, I think. He’s written something just as brilliant and powerful and unforgettable as The Alligators of Abraham but he’s able to push emotions stronger and make us feel these characters more powerfully.
I will always be his biggest fan, I think.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke
The first thing by Clarke I’ve read and it’s so good it hurts. It feels like it could have come out this year. Somehow it hasn’t seemed to age at all. It’s also grim and beautiful. It has one of the most interesting looks at humanity’s future.
But, man, this is really just something else. I can’t believe how great it is. I know I’m sixty years late on this, but you should pick it up.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
I have no words for this. It’s one of the strongest books I’ve read in a long time. A lot of intelligent people have said much more important things about this book than I could, so check it out.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A perfect way to end the year. It’s fantastic and deserves to be on all those year best lists you’ve seen floating around. It felt like a book I would have fallen in love with so hard while I was a teenager. Now, it’s more of like a nostalgia for my own lost youth.
It’s a great novel about love and friendship and control.
Those are the books I read this year.
Though, along with them, I read a lot of graphic novels, but I chose to not talk about them because that would make this already enormous post even longer.
And then I read loads of short stories as well. It’s been a very fun year to be a reader and to be me.
Finally, I read a handful of great as yet unpublished novels by some of my favorite writers, which you’ll hopefully be seeing soon.
So I hope, if you’re still reading this, that you’ll give some of these a look.