A is for ALEX + ADA. Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s near-future sci-fi drama about a man who falls in love with an android might seem like well-trodden, eye-roll inducing territory, but it’s a genuinely interesting exploration of what love could mean in the 21st century. A spiritual companion to Spike Jonze’s Her, Alex + Ada can challenge you if you want it to. Vaughn’s art is simple, yet beautiful. This book was an absolute pleasure. Although, off the top of my head, I’m not sure it passes the Bechdel Test (however, every page of this book is about relationships so I think it can be forgiven).
B is for BLEAKER HOUSE. Nell Stevens’ memoir about attempting to write her first novel on one of the most secluded places on Earth–half way around the world, to boot–is, surprisingly, a page-turner. It was so good that Pan Macmillan is publishing her next book, about Elizabeth Gaskell, in June 2018.
C is for CONVERSATIONS WITH KAFKA. Gustav Janouch’s memoir about his quasi-apprenticeship with Fraz Kafka was interesting, even though I’ve never read anything from Kafka. Don’t ask about what prompted me to read this because I don’t remember. I’m glad I did, though. I earmarked so many pages (don’t judge me) it was ridiculous. This is a quote fan’s wet dream.
D is for DAVE EGGERS. The Circle was, easily, the worst book I read this year. Eggers feels at least a generation too old to be writing about a cutting edge social media company. This was startlingly free of insight, unintentionally comical, and inhabited by one of the most vapid protagonists you’ll even find in Mae Holland. Avoid at all costs.
E is for EGGHEAD. This is a collection of absurdist poetry from comedian/musician/boy genius Bo Burnham. Like, absurd is putting it lightly.
Martha was ugly, like a shaven baboon.
So she wrapped herself up in a curtain cocoon.
One week later, she finally emerged.
She smelled like shit.
What a psycho.
If you’re a fan of Burnham’s comedy specials, you’re sure to enjoy Egghead. And it’s short. I went the audiobook route (the perfect medium for it) and finished it in two hours.
F is for THE FUTURES. If The Circle was the worst book I read this year, Anna Pitoniak’s The Futures might have been the most disappointing. There was a decent amount of hype for this book early in the year, and it was all for naught. As I wrote in my review, “It reeks of Pitoniak’s old boyfriends, anxiety-fueled job searches, high school crushes on star athletes, and what’s become one of the more tired, unrelatable characters in fiction: the struggling, privileged, young, white person in New York City. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like fiction.”
G is for the GLOBE AND MAIL Or, I should say, Globe and Mail book reviewer-turned-baseball writer Stacey May Fowles. Her book, Baseball Life Advice, is a sweet, sentimental (even saccharine) love letter to the game of baseball. I read it in March, just before the 2017 season was about to start, and it was perfect. Had I read it at any other point, I don’t think I would have finished it. This book is for the moments when you’re longing for the thing you love, but once you have it, the juice has already been squeezed, so to speak.
H is for THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST. I go on the record as much as I can to say that Tad Williams is my favorite writer. The Heart of What Was Lost is an extremely short novel (for him) that acts as a bridge between his magnum opus fantasy trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and his new sequel trilogy The Last King of Osten Ard. It was awesome. MS&T is awesome. Tad’s awesome. It pains me that we’re not friends yet.
I is for THE INTERESTINGS. Meg Wolitzer is so good, you guys. I am pumped for her new book, The Female Persuasion, due out in April. The Interestings explores the decades long friendships that spring from a group of summer camp kids. It might be the best book I’ve ever read without a truly exciting incident. It’s just a wonderful telling of the love, hate, death, sexual trysts, and confusions that come with knowing a group of people for 30+ years. Terrific read, highly recommended.
J is for the JUGGERNAUT that was War and Peace. I wrote enough about it during the War and Peace Readalong I did this summer, so I’ll spare you more verbal vomit here. However, I enjoyed writing about Tolstoy essentially starting Tumblr in 1885. Check that out here, and scroll about half-way down the page.
K is for KILL OR BE KILLED. This ongoing comic series was recommended to me by a co-worker and it ended up being one of the best recommendations I’ve received in quite some time. This is the story of a man who makes a deal with a demon to save his own life. If he kills bad people in the demon’s name, he gets to live. If he doesn’t, he dies. As a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilante culture, it’s a total success, and a lot more heady than it sounds.
L is for LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT. Ilana C. Myer’s ode to bard lovers everywhere was her first novel, and an enjoyable literary fantasy. It was good enough that I’m excited to read Myer’s next book, Fire Dance, which is set in the same world as LSBN and publishes in April.
M is for MEG HOWERY. Her novel, The Wanderers, was quite good, but only if you check your expectations at the door. It’s about a seventeen month on-Earth simulation of the first space mission that will put humans on Mars. With little to no action, it’s essentially a very well-written character study about the three astronauts. Recommended for slow-paced literature fans.
N is for NINO RICCI. It’s almost Christmas, so consider this my annual shout out to Ricci’s beautiful, humanist, and touching portrayal of a very mortal Jesus in Testament. It’s so good that I read it every year or two, and I’m an atheist.
O is for OZAWA. Murakami’s Absolutely on Music involves a series of conversations with renowned orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa, famous for his time with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. If you like to talk about music—any kind of music—this book should interest you. It’s fantastic (if a little longer than it needs to be). It made me listen to orchestra music in a brand new way. Listen to it in the background as you read along. It’s great fun.
P is for the POETRY. Rupi Kaur, the “Instagram Poet,” seems to be lauded or crucified on a daily basis. She’s an extremely polarizing figure, which I understand. I absolutely loved this collection, but then I saw her perform it and it was one of the worst cultural experiences of my life. Her melodramatic delivery is insufferable. Stick to her written work. You’ll be glad you did.
Q is for the delightfully QUEER mind of Jeff Vandermeer. His book, Borne, is … unusual. But it’s also what science fiction looks like at its best. How unusual? Here’s how the synopsis starts:
In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free.
And it only gets weirder from there.
R is for REZA FARAZMAND. Reza is by far and away my favorite cartoonist/humorist working today. His first collection, Poorly Drawn Lines, is the funnies thing I’ve read in years. If you’re looking for a preview, just check him out on Instagram.
S is for STRONG MOTION. Laura hosts “Franzen in February” at Reading in Bed every year, and this year I committed to reviewing Franzen’s second book, Strong Motion. In true Rick fashion I wrote my review four months late, mostly because I kind of hated it. Check it out here.
T is for TOLKIEN, and my much belated reading of The Hobbit. Like War and Peace, I wrote about it a few times. You can check those out here. In short, The Hobbit is fucking smart, man.
U is for THE UNWRITTEN. I had pretty good luck with graphic novels this year. Mike Carey’s The Unwritten is something of an analog of Harry Potter. In it, Tom Taylor is the inspiration for his father’s fantasy series about a boy wizard. Once Tom’s father vanishes, revelations about Tom’s childhood cast doubt on his heritage, his memories, even his very existence. It’s wackier than I would like, but it’s intriguing. The Unwritten is finally being released in hardcover deluxe editions, so that’s the way to go.
V is for my most VISCERAL reading experience of 2017, The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld. Along with the next book I’m going to talk about, this was my co-favorite read of 2017. The Child Finder was a harrowing thriller, as advertised, but I was blown away by how empathetic, subtle, quiet, and challenging this book was. Just read it. It was so good that I’m going back in 2018 and re-reading Denfeld’s first book, The Enchanted, which I slept on a bit and didn’t entirely enjoy.
W is for A WORKING THEORY OF LOVE. Scott Hutchins’ novel–about a man who attempts to recreate his father in A.I. form after his untimely death–did a lot to help me come to terms with my father’s personality disorder and the car crash that nearly took his life more than 30 years ago. This is a beautiful, engrossing, weird novel with a huge heart. I wrote about it here.
X is for XYLOPHONE, obviously. Xylophones have nothing to do with what I read this year, but I can confirm that xylophones are an actual thing.
Y is for spitting in the face of YOLO. Joey Comeau’s short heartbreaking novel Malagash sees its young heroine attempt to preserve her dying father’s personality in a computer virus. It sounds strangely similar to A Working Theory of Love, and to be honest when I read the preview that’s exactly why I bought it. But it’s quite different, and every bit as moving. Plus, it’s set in my home province, Nova Scotia! Whodathunkit.
Z is for ZOEY LEIGH PETERSON. Her wonderful, challenging, hilarious, concise, and thought-provoking debut novel Next Year, For Sure caused some awkward conversations with my wife–the book is about open marriages–but they were worth it. This book is terrific. I cannot wait to see what Peterson comes out with next. She is a writer I will be watching for years. Highly recommended!
Kudos to Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock for inspiring this piece. Check out her A to Z list here!