At the start of the year, I decided I would read fifty two books, and I haven’t reached that. There’s a couple of weeks left in the year, but it’s likely I’ll have read forty seven, I suspect.
I didn’t have much of a guide to the work I read, though I found myself reading bodies of work, or filling in gaps of authors I enjoyed. Consequently, I read very little published this year, though I bought enough published this year, which is entirely different (likely I’ll read this year two to three years from now). I read more men than women, and I read more people from a Western background than otherwise. It happens.
The books I liked the most at the end of the year, then, aren’t terribly surprising. I thought JM Coetzee’s Disgrace was easily the best book I read all year, an amazingly constructed novel of circular structure, relentless in its intent. A hard novel, in some ways, it left me with even less respect than I usually have for the ‘rape narrative’ of genre fiction. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was also a particular favourite of mine this year, though I remained unconvinced by perhaps the last ten percent of it. Still, an excellent novel detailing a world in which the rights of women have been lost. I suppose you could draw a thematic link between the Coetzee and Atwood, but truthfully, I read them at least six months apart, and there was no conscious intent on my part.
I enjoyed Lydia Millet’s trilogy, which contained the novels, How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, and Magnificence. Split over three narrators, the books follow the themes of environmentalism and modern life, though it is a lot more interesting than my short description of it would suggest. Magnificence, the final book, is to my mind the best of them, and brings the three books into a thematic loop, leaving me with a greater impression of Ghost Lights than I actually had while reading it (it is, to my mind, the weakest book in the three).
Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock was also a favourite, the one I liked the best out of his books this year. Set in Brighton, it follows a down and out gang trying to establish itself, while its young leader, beset by Catholic guild, slowly loses himself to the prospects of sex and marriage. I especially linked the opening scenes of this book, but the whole thing was excellent. In a different breath – and a much more b-grade breath – I also enjoyed JG Ballard’s The Drowned World immensely, with its imagery of flooded streets, alligators, and vague slave drivers.
Of special note, also, are some of the independent books of the year. Anna Tambour’s Crandolin was the pick of them, a delightful, strange, demanding novel that was hugely under appreciated. Hopefully a similar fate will not await Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong, which, in addition to being a fine and ambitious novel, has the unique status of being a book with two versions and a soundtrack.
My favourite comic this year was Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT. On the surface, a spy story of shadowy organisations and betrayal, the comic itself goes much further, and is perhaps the best use of the single issue format that I have seen in a long, long time. I linked the collection here, and that has it all, but the single issues are a favourite. It’d been a few years since I read anything by Kindt – I had first read Pistolwhip over a decade ago, and then a couple of others that followed before I drifted away – that I ended up reading his superb graphic novel, Superspy, as well. My other favourite comic of the year was Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy, which returned after years absence in my heart, and promptly won me over with an entire issue dedicated to killing zombies with two chainsaws attached to a pole. You either understand the beauty of 22 pages of Geof Darrow drawing that or you don’t, really.
Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson returned with Astro City, which was, strangely, published by Vertigo, DC’s non-superhero line (or whatever it is now). I don’t really read DC or Marvel comics these days – I did when I was a teenager, but content arguments aside, the individual issues have much too much advertising – so I was surprised when Astro City appeared there. Still, the quality of the comic remains, and I’ve enjoyed greatly the series so far. My guilty pleasure of comics throughout the entire year remained, however, the two Transformer titles, More Than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise. Guided by James Roberts and John Barber respectively, they’ve both been consistantly strong, and well illustrated by Alex Milne and Andrew Griffith. I’m not entirely sold on the Dark Cybertron crossover they’re currently doing, but mostly, I think, this is due to the art choice they’ve made, where both Milne and Barber have been replaced by three or four artists doing each storyline. It’d be alright if it was consistant, but already the consistancy has been lost – Nick Roche doing bits of the James Raiz line – and yeah, well, we’ll see. Overall, though, the titles are impressively strong and consistant, and IDW ought to be praised for that.
Which brings me to the end of the year of things I enjoyed. Well, of comics and books I enjoyed. If you’ve not heard of them, check them out, obviously, and if i missed something of interest, lemme know (I’m sure I did).