And since I’m nothing if not predictable, I decided to repeat this process for 2017.
So, here’s a look at the best novels, short story collections, and other books I read in 2017.
And since I’m nothing if not predictable, I decided to repeat this process for 2017.
So, here’s a look at the best novels, short story collections, and other books I read in 2017.
In 2015, I kept a record of the best books I read that year, regardless of when they were originally published.
Since people liked this story, I decided to repeat this process for 2016.
So, here’s a look at the best novels, poetry collections, and other books I read in 2016.
Ann Leckie: Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy Like the first book in this trilogy, Ancillary Justice, these novels expertly mixed hard sci-fi with a dash of cyberpunk, and the results were not only original but also compelling, like if Iain M. Banks had watched Ghost In The Shell before sitting down to write Consider Phlebas. Granted, Ancillary Mercy wasn’t as strong as the other two, especially at the beginning, but it it got much better during the second half, and was ultimately a fine ending to this epic sci-fi saga.
Henning Mankell: Firewall While the last couple Wallander mysteries have all been good, this one stood out as the best since the first. Not only was it actually mysterious, but it had a rather intricate plot that kept making me think I had figured things out, only to realize later that no, no I hadn’t.
Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Though I wasn’t sure what to expect, save for some darkness, I was still surprised by how this novel was so philosophical, political, and personal. And how much Kundera’s writing reminded me of José Saramago (Blindness, Small Memories).
José Saramago: The Stone Raft In a lesser writer’s hands, a story about the Iberian Peninsula breaking off and floating away would’ve been a predictable disaster tale or sci-fi novel. But like many of his novels — especially Blindness and Seeing — Saramago takes this idea and turns it into a beautifully written and lyrical fable that’s somehow both immensely personal and totally universal.
John Irving: A Prayer For Owen Meany Part of me is sorry no one ever told me this engaging novel was Vonnegut-esque; I would’ve read it sooner. But part of me also not sorry because I think if I had gone into this expecting it to be Vonnegut-esque, I would’ve been disappointed because it’s only somewhat Vonnegut-esque.
Lauren Holmes: Barbara The Slut And Other People: Stories I’ll admit, it was the title that first caught my attention. But even before getting to the titular story, I was hooked by this collection and knew Holmes would be a writer I’d be following for a long time. Her characters are layered and flawed but likeable and unique, while the situations they find themselves in are just slightly skewed.
John Scalzi: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division, The End Of All Things Like the Ann Leckie novels, Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is also an inventive, clever, and ultimately fun sci-fi series. But it’s also rather funny, totally gripping, thoroughly inventive, smartly political, and even, at times, a bit ribald. And while The End… does seem to be the end of this thing, I really hope it isn’t. Or that Scalzi starts another series that’s just as inventive, clever….
Sylvain Neuvel: Sleeping Giants It’s funny, a copy of this book was sitting on my desk for nearly a year, but it wasn’t until I read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly and then interview Neuvel myself (which you can read here) that I finally read this sci-fi novel. And then felt like an idiot for waiting. Reminiscent of both Max Brooks’ World Was Z in structure, and Andy Weir’s The Martian in humor, this book was gripping, funny, and really intriguing.
Claudia Gray: Star Wars: Lost Stars While I read a bunch of Star Wars novels this year in an attempt to catch up — including Gray’s Bloodline and Greg Rucka’s Smuggler’s Run — this was easily the most interesting, as it followed an Imperial and an Imperial-turned-Rebel through the events of the original trilogy. Sure, at times it was a little too convenient in a movie kind of way, but getting to see the events of the films from the sidelines, and having it not be so black & white, made this really engaging. As for the others, Smuggler’s Run was also really good, Bloodline and Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath: Life Debt both picked up half-way through (you can read the review of the latter book here), James Luceno’s Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel was solid and made me even more excited for the movie, while Jason Fry’s The Weapon Of A Jedi and Moving Target by Fry and Cecil Castellucci were fun, fast reads.
Daniel H. Wilson: Robopocalypse I’m the first to admit that I put off reading this novel because of its silly name and well-worn premise. And the first to admit that I was an idiot for doing so. A fictional oral history of a Terminator-esque human/robot war, this novel was such a fun read, so clever and gripping, that I ordered the sequel, Robogenesis, before I even hit the half-way point. Unfortunately, the second book wasn’t as fun or intriguing, and while I did enjoy it, I didn’t like it as much as the original.
Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes: Stories Much like I did with Kurt Vonnegut and his Bagombo Snuff Box, I thought the best way to introduce myself to Murakami would be through this collection of short stories. So far, so good. Though obviously very different from Vonnegut, Murakami is an equally vivid and interesting writer, and thus someone who I’ll be reading again some day.
Mike Brooks: Dark Run This sci-fi novel is for anyone who loved the TV show Firefly and its cinematic counterpart Serenity, as it has a similar mix of the Wild West and Star Trek, complete with a Han Solo-esque captain leading his crew on an Oceans 11-y mission. If you want to know more about it, you can read my interview with Brooks by clicking here.
Blake Crouch: Dark Matter While this novel about dimensional portals and the multiverse seemed like it was going one way — and it was a good way, but still one way — this sci-fi novel has a really clever twist towards the end that really threw it, and me, for a loop…in a good way. I even got to interview Mr. Crouch, which you can read here.
Drew Magary: The Hike Though just as much of a mindfuck as Dark Matter, this equally freaky novel — in which a guy goes for a walk in the woods and ends up in an alternate and often surreal dimension that seems hellbent on killing him — also went weird, and even a bit silly, though always in interesting ways. For more on this book, you can read my interview with Mr. Magary by clicking this link.
Patrick Dacey: We’ve Already Gone This Far: Stories This was a really impressive collection, especially when he got all Chuck Palahniuk-esque. I look forward to reading more of his stuff one day.
Jon Hollins: The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold Yet another book I tore through like a rabid weasel in a tissue factory, this fun novel not only sets an Oceans 11-style heist in a Lord Of The Rings-ish world, but it also injected just enough Douglas Adams-esque humor into the proceedings to make it light-hearted and a little funny without becoming jokey or a parody of the fantasy genre.
Mickey Spillane: The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 1 As a fan of Jim Thompson, Richard Stark, and pulpy crime novels in general, I am embaressed that I’m only now getting to the Mike Hammer novels. Especially since I was such a huge fan of the TV show back in the day.
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War In reading all of the Old Man’s War novels, this predecessor kept coming up, and after reading it, I know why. Though grittier, it is every bit as inventive and immersive and gripping, especially when it comes to how moving through space impacts relativistic time.
Adam Ehrlich Sachs: Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables, & Problems I must admit, I enjoyed this collection of weird, surreal, and really short stories about fathers, sons, and their complex relationships because they’re the kind of tales I’d write.
Erica Jong: Fear Of Flying While this wasn’t the erotic classic I was expecting — it was started off being more Woody Allen than Anais Nin before ultimately becoming rather Catcher In The Rye — it was still a great, insightful, and often funny read that, yeah, sometimes got nice and dirty. Though it didn’t hurt that reading any book about mentally and sexually strong women feels like a rebellious act these days.
Mary Roach: Grunt: The Curious Science Of Humans At War Like her other great science books Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Science And Sex, Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers, and Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal, Roach’s new book — which is about how science is helping the military deal with war, not do better at war — is unflinching, informative, and really funny. To employ a cliche, she really makes science come alive, something I wish other non-fiction authors did as often and as well. Oh, and for more on this book, you can read my exclusive interview with Mary Roach by clicking here.
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidental: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly While I was a fan of Bordain’s Parts Unknown when it started, I lost interest early in the second season. But I thankfully can’t say the same for this book. Though there were a couple parts that didn’t grab me, most of this memoir did for much the same reason I appreciated Parts Unknown: Bordain, for all his bravado, can be rather funny and insightful when he wants to be.
Patti Smith: Just Kids This is going to sound like a back-handed compliment…because it is. While I’ve never been a fan of Smith’s music, and have only a passing interest in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, I really enjoyed this revealing and uniquely poetic autobiography, memoir, remembrance, what have you. Not only did it make me want to read Smith’s other memoir, M Train, but it also made me want to read more Jean Genet, Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, and some of the other novels that Smith talked about in this great book.
The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History As Told By Jon Stewart, The Correspondents, Staff, And Guests As someone who’s seen every episode of The Daily Show, but really got into it when the Stewart era hit its stride, this is a fascinating look at how it came together, especially when that process wasn’t a smooth one. It is as funny, smart, and insightful as the show itself, and just as much fun.
Daniel Khalastchi: Tradition While I liked his slightly humorous, often surreal narrative poems — in part because they reminded me of another poet I like, Hal Sirowitz — I do wish there had been one or two more along the lines of the longer and more serious “Poem For My Father.” Still, I liked Tradition enough that before I even finished reading it, I ordered his other collection, Manoleria.
Nick Flynn: Some Ether Much like Khalastchi, Flynn also has a slightly skewed, narrative style, though without the silliness or satire. As a result, this mostly solid collection will not be the last of his I read.
Alice Walker: Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete Though I started this last year (hence its inclusion in my “Best Books Of 2015” list), I read most of it this year, and suffice it to say the latter two-thirds were just as good as the first. Which is why, after finishing Her Blue Body, I then read her other, equally impressive and expressive poetry collections Absolute Trust In The Goodness Of The Earth: New Poems, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems, and The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness Into Flowers: New Poems in rapid succession.
The Poetry Of Arab Women While I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the poems in this book, it was also something of a bummer to read because some of the best contributors —most notably Fawziyya Abu-Khalid, Sekeema Shaben, and Nadia Hazboun Reimer — either don’t have books of their own, or don’t have books I was able to track down. Though, on the plus side, reading this anthology did make me feel like I was giving the middle finger to all the right people in the same way as two collections of Afghan poetry I read last year: I Am The Beggar Of The World: Landays From Contemporary Afghanistan and Songs Of Love And War: Afghan Women’s Poetry.
Ayad Akhtar: Disgraced I don’t remember where I first heard about this play, in which an American Muslim struggles with religious politics and self-image, but reading it was a rather powerful experience. Besides not going where I expected, it also tackled a rather tough subject both bluntly and honestly. Which is why I then got his other play, The Invisible Hand, which was just as compelling, though was more about modern economics than personal identity.
Danai Gurira: Eclipsed Like Disgraced, this play — about women being held as “wives” during the Liberian Civil War — was also a compelling and thought-provoking experience. While I know little about what women in war-torn African countries have gone through, save for some superficial details, that didn’t prevent me from appreciating, and being emotionally impacted, by this play.
Anton Chekhov: The Plays Of Anton Chekhov Smarter people than I can explain the importance and influence of his plays. All I’ll say is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, especially “Uncle Vanya” and the short ones, even if it did take me a moment during the comedic ones to remember why the humor seemed familiar.
Jason Aaron: Star Wars: Volume 2: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon, Kieron Gillen & Jason Aaron: Star Wars: Volume 3: Rebel Jail, Jason Aaron & Kieron Gillen: Star Wars: Vader Down, Greg Weisman: Star Wars: Kanan: Volume 2: First Blood, Charles Soule: Star Wars: Lando, Kieron Gillen: Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 3: The Shu-Torun War Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by how Marvel’s first batch of Star Wars comics really captured the feel of the films. Well, I’m glad to say they continued that with these collections, especially the part in the beginning of Smuggler’s Moon that illuminates what Obi-Wan was doing during his sabbatical on Tatooine. Though what’s interesting is that while Lando doesn’t have that cinematic feeling, I still enjoyed it because it was a pulpy crime caper in the same vein as my favorite ex-canonical Star Wars novel, Scoundrels, which also starred Mr. Calrissian.
Jeff Lemire: Descender: Volume One: Tin Stars, Descender: Volume Two: Machine Moon, Descender: Volume Three: Sigularities As someone who’s into cyberpunk, and has also been on a hard sci-fi/space opera kick lately, this series really hit me with its big ideas and snappy dialog. I also really loved Dustin Nguyen’s watercolor-ish visuals, especially the designs of the robots.
Brian Wood: Starve: Volume 1 This is going to sound like hyperbole, but really, no one but Brian Wood could write a comic about a famous chef with a drug problem who returns from a self-imposed exile to star in a cooking show while dealing with his psychotic ex-wife, a daughter he doesn’t know, and an impulse control problem he has no interest in combating. Or, to be more accurate, no one but Wood could write such a comic and have it be so compelling and engrossing.
Jason Aaron: Thor: Volume 1: The Goddess Of Thunder While I’ve never been a big fan of boy Thor, this first collection of the female version is smart, funny, and exciting, and makes her way more interesting than her male counterpart.
Inio Asano: A Girl On The Shore While you could dismiss this manga as just being about two kids who are fuck buddies, there’s layers of awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings that make it so much more. Which is what I was expecting, given that this was written by the same guy as the similarly multilayered Solanin.
Scott Snyder: Superman: Unchained, Batman: Volume 7: Endgame Snyder has done a lot of good work with Batman, but he really nailed it with those this smart Superman story, one of the best I’ve read in a long time, in part because he was willing to show the cracks in the armor. And then I read this epic Batman tale, which was equally as well-crafted and thoughtful.
Stjepan Sejic: Sunstone: Volume 4 Basically, everything that I said about Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 in my “Best Books Of 2015” piece applies to this volume as well. Like them, this new collection is still sexy, well-written, deliciously filthy, beautifully drawn, and full of likable and complex characters. Which is why Volume 4 nearly broke my heart when it made me think Ally and Lisa might’ve fucked things up.
Dennis Hopeless: Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears: Volume 1: Baby Talk While Spider-Woman has never been one of my favorite superheroes, her recent adventures have actually been rather interesting. That’s especially true for this super clever and funny book, in which she goes to a space hospital to have her baby, but ends up going all Die Hard when the place gets taken over by alien terrorists.
G. Willow Wilson: Ms. Marvel: Volume 5: Super Famous After coming into her own with Volume 2: Generation Why, Kamala Khan’s stint as Ms. Marvel has consistently made for some of the smartest, funniest, and most clever superhero comics in recent memory, and this collection continues this tradition. Sure, watching a teenage superhero try to juggle school, home life, and superheroics isn’t new, but Wilson does it better than anyone since Stan Lee first forced a radioactive spider to bite some nerd with a camera.
Mike Johnson: Star Trek: Volume 12 and Volume 13 While it didn’t work as well in the movie Star Trek Into Darkness, I’ve really enjoyed the clever way that Johnson’s Star Trek comics have retold the adventures of the original Enterprise crew but with the new versions of Kirk, Spock, and pals, which is what he does in this volume’s first story of Volume 12. Though his best Trek comics are actually the ones where he either continues narrative threads from the movies (which is what he does in the first story of Volume 13) or fills in some of the blanks in the film’s plot (Volume 12‘s second story).
Mark Millar: Huck: Book 1 Millar has been one of my favorite writers for the last few years, and this semi-superhero story is a good example why. Imagine if Superman was a little dim, and used his powers to do favors for people. Well, until someone exposes his secret, and then some bad people come looking for him. It’s a rather clever idea, one that works really well. Though I am wondering where it might go in Book 2; it seems rather complete as is.
Kengo Hanazawa: I Am A Hero: Omnibus 1 and I Am A Hero: Omnibus 2 While it is interesting to see a Japanese comic book version of the zombie apocalypse, this series is even more interesting for showing how a Japanese comic book artist, i.e., the book’s main character, would handle being caught in a zombie apocalypse.
Brian Michael Bendis: The United States Of Murder Inc.: Volume 1: Truth Aside from Goodfellas, mobsters usually aren’t that interesting to me. But I was really grabbed by this comic, in which the mob has taken control of the East and West Coasts, as well as Vegas, much to the chagrin of the U.S. government, even though the politicians signed a treaty with the criminals.
John Lewis & Andrew Aydin: March: Book Three It is a testament to both Lewis’ life in the civil rights movement, and the way he, Aydin, and artist Nate Powell work together, that this is one of the more interesting books of the year. It really is a stunning conclusion to what they started with March: Book One and continued in March: Book Two. But it’s also the most infuriating given how this is really what happened, and how recent events have shown how far we still have to go.
Jonathan Hickman: Secret Wars While most of the spin-off books were just okay, the main book in this, the latest of Marvel’s big events, was the most epic and exciting of these kind of things since Marvel did the first Civil War saga ten years ago. The way they tore apart the Marvel Universe, recast so many of the characters, and then stitched it back together, was inventive and compelling.
Berkeley Breathed: Bloom County: Episode XI: A New Hope Part of me still can’t believe that Bloom County is back after being away for twenty-six years. But reading this collection, it really does, no exaggeration, feel like no time has passed. The strips in this book feel like, well, not like they were written in 1989, of course, but what they would’ve been like had Breathed not taken all that time off. Your move, Gary Larson.
Frank Tieri: Catwoman: Volume 8: Run Like Hell It’s been a while since Catwoman has just been a cat burglar. But if the two stories in this collection are any indication, she hasn’t lost any of her skills. That said, the first was better than the second, though only because of how the intricate story weaved in and out of the Bat-verse.
Warren Ellis: Trees: Volume 1: In Shadow and Trees: Volume 2: Two Forests In this intriguing sci-fi comic, aliens have dropped gigantic pole-like structures onto the Earth…and that’s it. For ten years, they didn’t come out of them, they didn’t use them to enslave humanity or take Earth’s resources…nothing. It’s like they don’t even care that these poles are in the middle of Manhattan and other places around the world. Weird.
Chris Hastings: The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Volume 1: Believe It Between Ms. Marvel, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Gwen, it’s been a good year for the woman of Marvel Comics (and a bad year for sexist comic book fans, but fuck those guys). And now we have Gwenpool, who’s not to be confused with Lady Deadpool or Spider-Gwen, though comparing her to Harley Quinn isn’t entirely inappropriate. Granted, a comic book in which the hero knows they’re in a comic because they came from a dimension where people read comics isn’t wholly original, but Hastings does a good job with this meta tale. As for those other ladies, check it out, they got their own pinball tables!
Robbie Thompson: Venom: Space Knight: Volume 1: Agent Of The Cosmos and Venom: Space Knight: Volume 2: Enemies And Allies As someone who remembers when Flash Thompson was a dick and Venom was a supervillian, it’s odd how both managed to turn their lives around by teaming up. But it really worked out well in these two volumes, in which they’re fighting bad guys in outer space. While the first volume slightly edges out the second, both are smartly written, clever, and just ever so weird, making for some fun adventures in space.
Brian Michael Bendis: Invincible Iron Man: Volume 1: Reboot In which Tony Stark gets a new suit and a sparkling new wit from the master of it, Mssr. Bendis. Really curious to see what he has in store for Mr. Stark.
So, what were the best books you read in 2016? Please 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 2017.
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.