Best Books Of 2015
In 2014, I kept a record of every book I read for a piece I called Every Book I Read In 2014 (And What I Thought Of Them).
It was an interesting experiment, but one I decided not to repeat.
Instead, for 2015, I decided to keep track of every book I read and liked, regardless of when it actually came out, and how much of it I actually read in 2015 (when I read large poetry and short story collections, I usually spread them out over many months).
Here now, is that list.
Nick Cutter: The Deep Well, this was one freaky book. But also freaky good. Which is why I stayed up late to tear through the last hundred pages so I could see what happens, but then stayed up even later because I was too on edge to go to sleep.
Adam Sternbergh: Near Enemy While I liked his first Spademan novel, Shovel Ready, Sternbergh really nailed the whole pulp-meets-cyberpunk thing with this one. So much so that I stayed up late just to tear through the last hundred pages (though, thankfully, it didn’t freak me out like Nick Cutter’s The Deep did).
Joyce Carol Oates: Zombie I can always count on my friend Steve to send me some fucked up book for my birthday, and this year he didn’t disappoint. In anyone else’s hands, this fictional autobiography of a psycho-sexual serial killer who wants to lobotomize someone and turn them into a sex zombie would’ve been all flash and no substance. But this is Joyce Carol Oates, who really gets into the character’s psyche in subtle but effective ways.
Scott Sigler: Infected, Contagious, and Pandemic Freaky, frightening, and a bit gross, this trilogy of medical sci-fi novels — about a condition that causes triangle-shaped growths to form on people’s skin, and then for those people to go all squirrelly — really reminded me of a cross between Outbreak and [SPOILER ALERT] The Puppet Masters (the movie, not the Robert Heinlein novel; I haven’t read the novel…yet). And then it got weird when I learned that Joni Mitchell suffers from Morgellons, the medical condition that kicks off this novel, and is thought, by some medical professionals, to be fictional.
Douglas Coupland: Worst. Person. Ever. Kind of like that show You’re The Worst if it was written by Chuck Palahniuk, this darkly comic novel is not for the meek. Or fans of books about likable people. Or those who think karma is nonsense and that payback isn’t a bitch. Yeah, I think that about covers it.
Lev Grossman: The Magicians, The Magician King, and The Magician’s Land At first, this fantasy series seemed like it was going to be Harry Potter: The College Years. But then The Magicians took it for a left turn when it went all Less Than Zero; The Magician King went even deeper with the fantasy, making it more like a darker and more mature version of The Chronicles Of Narnia; which led The Magician’s Land to end this trilogy in a rather epic way.
Paul Beatty: The Sellout Audacious, hilarious, charged…I’m not sure if it took balls or gall to write this book, but man was it good. Not only did its absurdism remind me of Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk, but also, at times, South Park. But what would you expect from a book in which a black guy ends up in front of the Supreme Court for owning a slave and trying to bring back segregation in a modern L.A. suburb? Which made for some interesting conversations when I was reading this book in public and someone would ask me about it. “Okay, I have to start by pointing out that it was written by a black guy…”
Richard Stark: Lemons Never Lie As bummed out as I may be that this is the last Richard Stark novel I’ll ever read — well, read for the first time, anyway — at least it ended strong, as this was the most twisty of his four Grofield novels.
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant I’m always cautious when someone tries their hand at a genre they’ve never written in before, but Ishiguro’s first fantasy novel is so good that I hope he tries to write a hard boiled crime caper one day. I especially enjoyed how this was more like a Beowolf-style kind of fable tale than a Lord Of The Rings-esque sword & sorcery epic.
Clive Barker: The Scarlet Gospels While it not my favorite book of his, it was nice to read a classic Barker-ian horror novel again after eight years. Especially since he clearly hasn’t lost his taste for flesh.
Neal Stephenson: Seveneves An epic science fiction novel (emphasis on the science), this imagines what we would do if the Moon shattered and the pieces were, in two years, going to shower down on Earth, rendering it unlivable, and what life would be like five thousand years later when the descendants of the original survivors returned to the planet. Stylistically, it was somewhat similar to Andy Weir’s The Martian, and it was equally engrossing, but with a much more epic tale of survival and aftermath.
Peter Clines: The Fold The polar opposite of Stephenson’s book, this was more like a fun and breezy sci-fi action flick in book form. Though I especially liked how, unlike many sci-fi novels, this didn’t pretend that other books, movies, and TV shows didn’t exist.
Ernest Cline: Armada A fun, often funny, and totally effortless read, Armada was a bit silly at times, and a bit obvious at others, but it was also exciting and engaging. So much so that I tore through it in two sitting, staying up until almost 2AM to finish the last quarter (which seems to be a theme among the books I’ve read this year).
Henning Mankell: One Step Behind While there were a couple little details that I didn’t like (but also won’t spoil), this was otherwise one of the best Wallander mysteries. Not only was it twisted, but it was also twisty, (mostly) unpredictable, and not as movie-esque as some of his previous Wallander books.
Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice As someone who’s been working his way through Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” novels, I was cautious but optimistic about this space opera, which, I was told, was rather Banks-ian. And it was, but it was also cyberpunk-ian, which gave a fresh feeling.
George Orwell: 1984 While people much smarter than me can explain why this book is important, what struck me as I read it was how gripping it was as a story. Yes, it’s scary as prophecy, and we see elements of it all around us (I was constantly reminded of North Korea; or rather, what little I know about life in North Korean), but it’s also an engaging sci-fi novel that’s inspired so many other dystopian and even cyberpunk works of fiction. Though it also reminded me, in terms of tone and style, of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Howard Kaplan: Bullets Of Palestine Really dug this novel’s mix of history, politics, and espionage. In fact, I think it was the historical and political aspects that made the spy stuff so exciting.
Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention Non-fiction is a tricky thing, I think. You have to be informative, but you also have to be…entertaining isn’t the word, but it has to be enjoyable to read. Otherwise, you’ve just written a dull text book. Thankfully, that’s not what Marable did with this detailed, enlightening, but also engaging biography, which presents a much more layered, subtle, but unflinching look at a rather complex man.
Terry Gilliam & Ben Thompson: Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir While I don’t like all of his movies, there’s no denying that Gilliam is a unique filmmaker. Though as the commentaries and other extras on the Brazil, Time Bandits, and 12 Monkeys Blu-rays show, he’s also a interesting, intelligent, and funny as well. Which is what comes across in this engaging illustrated autobiography.
I Am The Beggar Of The World: Landays From Contemporary Afghanistan This collection of Afghani poetry really blew me away in how they were able to say so much in just two lines. So much so that I immediately went and bought a second collection of them called Songs Of Love And War: Afghan Women’s Poetry. Which I also liked a lot, but not as much as Beggar.
Dorothea Lasky: Rome Coupling raw word and ideas with vivid imagery can feel rather hamfisted in the wrong hands, but Lasky does a good job balancing these elements. Which is why I ordered her previous collection, Thunderbird, before I finished reading this one.
Jay Nebel: Neighbors While there was a darkness underlying a lot of these poems, there was also a sly grin and even a bit of humor to these vividly imaged poems.
Leigh Stein: Dispatches From The Future Admittedly, most of these poems read more like slightly surreal and super short stories, but they were all enticing, while the best ones seemed a bit emotionally revelatory as well.
S.A. Griffin: Dreams Gone Mad With Hope When I first moved to Los Angeles, and was still writing poetry and going to readings, S.A. Griffin was one of the people I used to see all the time. Reading this collection, I was not only reminded of those days, but I was also happy to see that his writing was still just as strong as it was twenty odd years ago.
Alice Walker: Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete I’m not sure how I made it this far in life without reading any of Walker’s poems, but after reading the first 150 pages of this exemplary collection, I’m both embarrassed and annoyed that it took me so long. It really is that exceptional.
Don Share: Wishbone Yet another poet who has function as well as form, this collection worked so well for me that I immediately ordered an earlier book of his, Squandermania (though I have not read it yet).
Joseph Ceravolo: Collected Poems Never heard of him before I picked this up, but I’m glad I took the chance. Not just because his work was rock solid the whole way through, but also because it was interesting to watch him slowly evolve over the course of this collection.
COMIC BOOKS/GRAPHIC NOVELS
Scott McCloud: The Sculptor What starts as a graphic novel about yet another struggling artist slowly turns into something rather fantastical…and, ultimately, fantastic. Beautifully drawn and written, this really is, if you’ll forgive the cliché, a tale of love and loss and everything that surrounds them both.
Mark Millar: Starlight: The Return Of Duke McQueen andKick-Ass 3 Millar’s long been one of comic’s best writers, but Starlight is his best book in years. The story of a Flash Gordon/John Carter-esque hero who returns to the alien world he saved when he was a much younger man, McQueen not only has snappy dialog and smart action but a wry sense of humor as well. As for Kick-Ass 3, while there are a lot of easy ways to end a superhero comic book series, this book doesn’t employ any of them, and instead ends in a way that’s unexpected but neither cliché nor obvious.
G. Willow Wilson: Ms. Marvel: Volume 2: Generation Why, Volume 3: Crushed, and Volume 4: Last Days As interesting as this character’s origin story may have been in Volume 1: No Normal, things really got going, and going well, in Generation Why, which has her trying to find her way as a superhero with the help from a certain furry veteran. Thankfully, Wilson kept her hot streak going for the other two collections as well.
Guy Delisle: A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting, Even More Bad Parenting Advice, The Owner’s Manual To Terrible Parenting While I prefer his travelogues — especially Pyongyang and Jerusalem — these comic collections are very funny…though only if you have a sense of humor about children. Or think they’re jerks.
Stjepan Sejic: Sunstone: Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 It’s not easy to find an erotic comic book that’s actually sexy and well-written — though you could say the same about a lot of erotic novels — but Sunstone is both of those things and more. Not only is it deliciously filthy (as opposed to obviously or gratuitously) and beautifully drawn, but also full of likable and complex characters. Which is why I’m actually more invested in the relationship between Ally and Lisa than I am in most other fictional couples.
Matt Kindt: MIND MGMT: Volume 5: The Eraser It took me a little while to really get into this superpowered espionage tale that’s like The Bourne Identity meets The X-Men, but I’m glad I stuck with it because I now see how the writing is as inventive and unique as the art and layout. Though, having said all that, this is not the place to start this series; go with MIND MGMT: Volume 1: The Manager instead (obviously).
Brian Michael Bendis: Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 3: Guardians Disassembled Like Millar, Bendis is also rock solid most of the time, but this book was quite exceptional. And I say that as someone who only read it because of Bendis, not because of the Guardians. Not only was it exciting, but it was as clever in its dialog as it was in its action.
Peter Milligan: The Names While I’m not a fan of real-life conspiracies, I really enjoy them in fiction. And the one in this comic — as far-fetched as it may have been, and as weird as it may have gotten — was really intriguing.
Mike Johnson: Star Trek: Volume 9: The Q Gambit and Volume 10 Whether expanding upon the story of the movie or just showing how stories from the original series would play out with the new Enterprise crew, the Trek comics in the post-reboot era have been rather interesting. In the former, Q shows up and turns this into a sort of “what if?” tale featuring alternate version of the Deep Space 9 era that’s a bit silly at times (as all stories involving Q risk being), but one that’s also really fun. Then, in Volume 10, we get one story that’s a reworked version of a tale from the original Star Trek show, and a second that throws this crew way off course, but in a good way.
Jason Aaron: Star Wars: Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes, Kieron Gillen: Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 1: Vader, and Greg Weisman: Star Wars: Kanan: Volume 1: The Last Padawan I’ve been reading Star Wars comics since the first ones came out in the late ’70s, and while there’s been a lot of great ones, few have ever really capture the feel of a Star Wars movie. But these new ones not only do that, they also tell equally epic stories that fill in some interesting details about the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (Skywalker and Vader), and what happened before Star Wars Rebels (Kanan). Vader also has the distinction of introducing Doctor Aphra, the coolest Star Wars character since Ahsoka Tano. Well, until Rey in The Force Awakens came along. And even then it was a tie.
Brian K. Vaughan: The Private Eye While we’ve seen futuristic takes on pulpy P.I. tales before, most take a cyberpunk approach and have muted colors (hello Blade Runner). But this great read takes a different approach by being brightly colored but dark in tone as it satirizes our modern connected times. Though that would all be for naught if this wasn’t also a really thought out and smart pulpy P.I. tale.
So, what were the best books you read in 2015? Let me know in the comments below…so I can read them and maybe mention them as one of the best books I read in 2016.
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