According to Goodreads, I read 171 books for a total of 26,500 pages. The shortest book (19 pages) is Gwen Beatty's Kill Us On the Way Home. The longest book (592 pages) is Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Those book/page numbers sound impressive until you realize how many comic book trade paperbacks I read. Don't worry, you're still probably smarter than me. (smarter than I?) (FUCK.)
Anyway, I had a great time reading again all the way back in 2015. Just like I made it a goal to read more indie lit last year, this year I need to read more books by women. Some of my favorite books (The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, and Nevers by Megan Martin all come to mind immediately) are strong female voices, so bring them on in 2016. (I already preordered Katie Schmid's Forget Me / Hit Me / Let Me Drink Great Quantities of Clear, Evil Liquor.)
I documented my reading journey on the aforementioned Goodreads, where you can add me as a friend at here. I tried to leave a little review of everything I read/rated. I also post cover shots, capsule reviews, and excerpts of everything I read over on my Instagram account. You can be my friend there, too.
Oh yeah! And I did a few formal book reviews at Heavy Feather Review and [PANK]. If you want me to review your book, give me that shit for free and I probably will. Otherwise, just keep being awesome and I'll get to you eventually unless I get eaten by bears or something.
And now, in alphabetical order based on whatever dumb shorthand I named the image files on my computer, my favorite books of the year.
BEST COMIC THAT IS BETTER THAN MOST LITERATURE
[3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man by Matt Kindt]
A man named Craig keeps growing, won't stop growing. Craig loves and is loved, but he becomes too big for love to work. It can't function. He's a man who you would think has, within him as he expands with every passing moment, room for everything. But what's the counterpoint to that? The world that contains him has less and less room with every passing moment. Which is exactly how love works or doesn't work: not against or in spite of effort, but independently of it.
This year I also read the first five trades of Kindt's MIND MGMT series along with four of his stand-alone comics, and this one blew me away the most. For the things we can control and the things we cannot, Kindt's 3 Story is heartbreaking and life-affirming.
BEST MEMOIR THAT USES A VIDEO GAME I'VE NEVER PLAYED AS A FRAMING DEVICE
[Baldur’s Gate II by Matt Bell]
Bell does what I do with wrestling, what most nerds do with the things they hyperfocus on, and gives it a cerebral twist. This book about Baldur’s Gate II is an apt mix of recapping the game itself and dissecting it in a way that justifies an interest that has continued beyond, through puberty and adulthood and Rush albums both good and bad.
Bell shows the humanity that lies between the lines of any RPG. The actions of our character, Gorion’s Ward, are set up as a series of choices in a system that, regardless of who the player being the character is, eventually brings us all to the same outcome. Birth, middle stuff (food, sex, etc.), death. This should sound familiar.
BEST NOVEL ABOUT BODYBUILDING
[Body by Harry Crews]
What an odd, black comedy. The ending came fast and there were some too-long sections devoted to the b-story of some bodybuilder with an amazing back falling in a deep, mutual love with the hillbilly sister of one of the main characters, but it definitely made me want to check out more Crews.
The idea of "fetishizing surface qualities is dumb" dovetails into "fetishizing anything is dumb" and then finally turns into "everything is dumb." In a way, this is a depiction of the grotesque horrorscape that the world has become, but in another way, it's just a crazy old man being really funny, mostly on purpose.
BEST SHORT STORY COLLECTION THAT MADE ME REMEMBER HOW INHERENTLY SAD ALL YOUTH IS AND BASICALLY JUST GO "OY VEY" A BUNCH
[Bones Buried In the Dirt by David Atkinson]
David Atkinson is one of the best dudes out there in terms of Friend of Writers with capital letters. This book is eerie in how it nails the unassuming (or, often, the incorrectly-assuming) narratives of childhood. The voice is too spot on, nomadic, almost, in terms of the young mind that won't stop moving because it's the only thing it knows how to do.
As the narrator made his mistakes, began to understand how social construct works, I cringed along with him, thinking of my own missteps. If there's one thing we all were, it was wrong at some point. If only we didn't need it.
BEST CHAPBOOK I FINALLY READ AFTER GETTING YEARS AGO
[Box Cutters by Sam Snoek-Brown]
It was weird reading these stories as a proper book, as many of them were passed back and forth between Sam and I for years before Box Cutters was even an idea. "How Long My Bruises Will Last" is still one of my favorite stories, one that opened my eyes to how an economy of language can work and succeed.
I can't say the one thing I learned from Sam in all the years I learned shit from him. Lots of those things are here: don't be flashy, don't say more than you have to, and listen to the damn story.
BEST COMIC SERIES THAT MADE ME WANT TO BEFRIEND A DOWN-ON-THEIR-LUCK POLICE OFFICER / DANCER / BARTENDER / BOXER / HEIRESS / ETC
[Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips]
The only noir I knew before reading these books was Veronica Mars, The Maltese Falcon, and that Joseph Gordon Levitt movie I can't remember the name of. (Brick?)
After these, I dug up some more noir to read and realized that my original reaction of "These are like super fucking good, right?" was right on. Brubaker gives us real characters that flesh out the tropes of the genre and Phillips does the same with his art, leaving shadow over only the necessary parts.
This same duo let me down a bit with Fatale, their other series I read this year, but each arc in the Criminal world checked all the boxes: action, desperation, and integrity.
BEST POETRY COLLECTION ABOUT WRESTLING
[The Dead Wrestler Elegies by Todd Kaneko]
Just like the best dead wrestlers themselves, Todd Kaneko twists up manhood and humanity, for better or worse. We pop in and out of the narrator's relationship with his father and, to a lesser extent, his mother, and if there's one thing I wished for in the book, it's a more standard progression of that narrative. Nonetheless, as those ideas weave in and out, we tangle up personal history with a public half-myth and are certainly not left off in any sort of detrimental state.
This book needs more Dino Bravo getting killed trying to do Trailer Park Boys shit, but other than that, this book is way rad.
BEST SHORT STORY COLLECTION WHERE I DIDN'T ACTUALLY LIKE ANYONE IN THE BOOK
[Death Don’t Have No Mercy by William Boyle]
I could see this book coming out on Black Sparrow Press sometime back in the 70s, but for as much as it owes to that lackadaisical, just-plainly-say-what-the-hell-happened sort of writing, there are other recognizable touch-points of minimalist/crime writing that give the book a lived-in sort of feeling.
I got a bit lost in the stories at different points. Things start to blend together, and one character's bad decisions, lustful gazes towards female bartenders, and schlepped drinks turn into those of another a little too easy. I figured I'd had my fill by the time I reached the last two stories in the collection, that had become harsh background noise at that point, but I kept going and got to read the two best stories in the whole collection. If nothing else, "In the Neighborhood" and "Here Come the Bells" are two of the best stories I read all year.
BEST NOVEL WHERE ALL THE CHARACTERS TALK JUST LIKE ME AND MY BUDDIES
[F250 by Bud Smith]
The large and easy free-floating heart of the beats and the vernacular of a bunch of dickhead guys who never went to college figuring out the best way to call each other dickheads when they can't decide how a snare drum should sound. What that ends up being is some people noot necessarily understood, but known, and wholly so.
This is working class writing that isn't dumb or an accidental parody of itself and, holy shit, it's really damn funny. To be expected from a book written by a funny dude like Bud Smith who can cut to the quick of what it means for a guy in New Jersey to be in a band called Ottermeat and crash his Ford F-250 into pretty much fucking everything.
BEST POETRY COLLECTION NOT ABOUT WRESTLING
[First Course In Turbulence by Dean Young]
About a dozen really great poems in here. The best ones make great use of Young's randomness, putting a line-of-thought through the things nobody else would have come up with. There's not a formulaic funny/funny/sad or sad/sad/funny sort of rhythmic cleverness here. Instead, Young's best work in this collection is rich like the world, everything always there.
The worst poems here are obtuse, like a bad cut-up or tolerable alt lit. Still, when Young's ideas and language meet up and come alive together, holy fuck.
Excited to read more, as I have several of his collections I'm finally jumping into after reading him here and there in anthologies.
BEST COMIC SERIES THAT WAS INCREDIBLE UNTIL RUINED BY ALIENS AND TIME TRAVEL
[Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause]
It was so perfect, like an Alice Munro short story: the pace, the aversion to cheap tactics, the humanity. Waid took his love of classic comics and turned it inside out with shockingly apt writing. He cut the hokey bullshit from Superman and pushed the rest over a cliff.
And then aliens. And then an inescapable prison-planet. And then time travel! I'm trying to keep this list positive, but the second half of this run can get fucked. I can't recommend trades 1-5 enough and can't shake my head hard enough at trades 6-10.
BEST CHAPBOOK BY SOMEONE WHO HAS SEEN ME NAKED
[Kill Us On the Way Home by Gwen Beatty]
Some gal sees her ex-boyfriend's wife and sees that she's pregnant and so she herself pretends to be pregnant so she can bond with her new not-really-a-friend friend who has no idea who she is. Her boyfriend who doesn't like her and who she doesn't really like makes her paper-mache bellies so she can look the part.
A kid with a friend who has a phantom limb blows all his settlement money on cab fair to ride around and shoot seagulls in parking lots. These sisters go on a quiz show and try to not explode from the inside out with either rage or facts about bugs.
This all feels so accurate and true to the malaise of a certain place in the world, a certain time in life. Is "kill us on the way home" a good thing, like you're driving somewhere with someone and they don't want to die just yet, want to live to see what the world is going to deliver them when they reach their destination, or it something darker, something of a standard request from what can only be the last place to go or be?
BEST ONGOING COMIC SERIES I DON'T UNDERSTAND, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT
[The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra]
[Honorable Mention: Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron by Daniel Clowes]
This is an alternate history romp where the atomic bomb is just the start of some intergalactic, interdimensional horseplay involving a cannibalistic Oppenheimer, a Fonzie-like Einstein, and the displaced super-brain of FDR. There's also a dog in a spacesuit and lots of secret experiments and motives that I just don't understand.
I stopped reading East of West for similar reasons. I liked it a lot, but the long-haul for Hickman is a bit too long for me. The Manhattan Projects is either really great or it's so up its own ass that I just think it's great so I'll think I'm kind of smart.
BEST WORST ONGOING COMIC SERIES I WON'T STOP READING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT
[Morning Glories by Nick Spenser and Joe Eisma]
The seventh volume starts with "NINE YEARS AGO" and I don't even know that what that means. If I'm reading a book with words AND pictures, and I can't get my brain in the right spot, there's a problem. I guess I did fail math three times in college. Maybe I'm just a moron.
This series is endlessly convoluted, introducing new characters and plot threads and never delivering a conclusion--satisfactory or not--to any of it. In reading it, I wonder constantly why this is a 100 issue run when surely a tighter 60 would have done just fine. Spencer claims to have every detail of every issue planned out. NO FUCKING WAY, DUDE. SHUT IT.
Basically, this is entertaining in the micro and fun to complain about in the macro. And Casey Blevins is jailbait cosplay guilt-porn.
BEST COMIC SERIES I COULDN'T PUT DOWN
[Scalped by Jason Aaron and RM Guera]
This is a double-agent/noir story done so right that's it's way more than just a double-agent/noir story. The reservations featured across the book are populated by alcoholics and addicts and gamblers and thieves.It's beyond gritty. It's grimy, the pages almost thick with a history as sad as it is rich.
It doesn't slow down, either. There are the occasional issues that develop a single character, either through flashback or single POV, but even those move the narrative along in a certain direction. Mostly, though, it follows Dash Bad Horse and Chief Red Crow as they try in their own ways to make the world the way it should have been all along if they didn't fuck it up in the first place.
I read ten trades of this in six days, and the only reason it took me that long is because I had to wait for the library to get the last few of them back in.
BEST POETRY COLLECTION BY SOMEONE WHO LET ME SLEEP ON THEIR COUCH
[A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us by Caleb Curtiss]
My boy Caleb Curtiss let me stay at his house once. I left my book on a cabinet in his dining room and took one of his with me. Glad I did.
The title poem/essay hybrid could have easily been a gimmicky jumble-fuck, but it ended up being the only way that tale could be told, the confusion and twisting of lost siblings and lost time, some more lost than others and none of it close. Probably the best poem I read all year.
BEST COMIC SERIES THAT, ON PAPER, SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING I'D HATE BUT IS ACTUALLY SUPER RAD
[Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson]
A cyberpunk adventure following a Hunter S. Thompson stand-in as he fights against a dystopian future being buttfucked by an echo of Richard Nixon and a parody of Tony Blair.
Sounds like 100% horseshit, but at the end of the second trade, I felt a bit of a connection with the characters, or at least was entertained by the gonzo antics, and by the time the main narrative started rolling towards the end of the third trade, I realized that Warren Ellis made me like something I by all means should have hated. (Just like he did with time travel in Planetary, which I also read this year.) See what can happen when your character believes in something and has to fight to get it?
I loved Darick Robertson's art in The Boys, too, so seeing more her was goddamn delightful.
BEST ONGOING COMIC SERIES I CAUGHT UP ON AFTER FIVE YEARS OF NOT READING AND WILL PROBABLY NOW PUT DOWN FOR ANOTHER FIVE YEARS
[The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard]
I read the first eight trades of this back in like 2009 or 2010 and thought it was pretty good. A couple of months ago I saw the library had the sixteen trades that had been released since then and figured I'd pick it back up.
It was really boring for awhile! Then it got good. Then it got boring again. Then it got REALLY GOOD. Last one I read was all right. I like complaining about it slightly less than I like complaining about Morning Glories. When it's on--that is, when Kirkman's not ham-fisting some exposition or character development--it's every bit as good as lots of people say it is.
The weird thing is how good it really can be sixteen or twenty one trades in. I'd be completely tapped for ideas at this point, and the fact that this isn't the John Cena of comics kind of blows my mind.
BEST BOOK I WROTE
[Soft by Ryan Werner]
It's 256 tiny tiny chapters that make up this rock and roll morality play about music and money and caring about shit and bending yourself in the shape of a C or a V or maybe a Y trying to fit between all three. Some people really liked it! Most people didn't read it. (Don't worry, I get it.)
If you want a copy, you can buy one here. If you want to trade a book or a record or a VHS or some cookies or pretty much anything you made for a copy of this book or any other book I wrote, you can email me here.