Unearthly yams pelted down from the heavens. That’s why they were unearthly. They didn’t come from round here. They weren’t yams exactly, but that’s mostly what they were shaped like and the color was about right, apart from the glowing. And I guess they were a bit larger than regular yams, if I’m being honest. They dented up my ’73 volky pretty good. And Bob’s gazebo was torn up pretty bad. We were all pretty torn up about that too. Many of us on the block liked drinking our morning coffee under there, which Bob permitted all friendly neighborly like. Alfredo, well, he tried to eat one of them “yams”. It was in the nature of a dare. I don’t think he would’ve come by it on his own, but he never could stand down from a dare, that Alfredo. Those of us who witnessed it just shook our heads at Boggins, who shoulda known better. I mean, none of us wanted nothing bad to happen to Alfredo, cuz he makes a mean potato salad whenever we had a potluck or a block party or even just a BBQ. Everyone made sure to invite Alfredo. He put chopped up pickles in his salad or something. Maybe that was it. Still, even though he ate one of those yams, no harm seemed to come to him, that we could see. Still, we made sure to snub Boggins after that, for a couple weeks at least. He always brought these deviled eggs. They just weren’t as good as Alfredo’s salad. Nancy, she probably wouldn’t let it go for months. But that was Nancy for you. Bringing everyone on the block handmade doughnuts (crullers and bear claws) except for Boggins. I don’t think Boggins noticed though. That’s just how he is. Mostly we just tried to ignore the yams, but eventually we all got together and cleaned em up, tossed em in the garbage can. We didn’t want to use those glowing yams in any kinda composting type situation. Who knows what’d grow out of that? Anyway, we’re all looking forward to Dave’s yearly garden party. We sure do hope Alfredo brings his salad!
Señor Velasquez Dos de los Tressos stared at the cat lingering motionless on the windowsill, its long curved tail draping down below. The cat’s round unblinking eyes stared at de los Tressos and, with a flushing face, he averted his eyes away, deftly mopping his brow with his florid, scarlet handkerchief and quickly twirling one of his thin, outjutting mustachios. When de los Tressos looked back, the cat was gone! Vanished! The curtain drifted gently back and forth even though the window was closed. He looked frantically about the room. Ottoman, no! Scattered blankets on the chaise longue, not this time! The sideboard with the deliciously concealed sherry and amarillo, never! de los Tressos felt subtle pressure on the back of his left calf and stumbled backwards, crashing into a small round table, holding a cactus and several decks of cards, which scattered all about, jacks and queens and aces fluttering through the air.
Señor Velasquez Dos de los Tressos lay on the floor and groaned. The cat leapt onto his chest and settled there, purring, shoving its paws gently into his chest.
–the ones who carried all the things on their back, their shriveled backs, with tangled up knapsacks, scarves and other paraphernalia, their lives wrapped up in pouches and zippers and strings–
there’s no room for you here.
And so we left.
–the ones who’ve carved meaning into their foreheads and shouted at the sun until it bleeds and whistled some dying moon down from the pool of cool brown water up above, while some foxes yelp in the creaking forest swaying–
there’s no space for you here.
And so we left.
–the ones who crouch in dust and ashes and call it feasting and cackle madly over shreds and patches, while pointing (see! see!) at the piles and heaps of sodden rotting masses of all that wasn’t eaten–
there’s no room, no space, no home for you here.
And so we left.
–the ones who jab themselves with needles in the hot or cool darkness while shadows of light flicker over themselves, all hot and cold in the darkness, wanting the things seen and unseen, and having neither, seeking nothing, having it all brought here–
no room, no room, no room.
And so we left.
Taking our treasures with us. Our holy treasures with us. The treasures they’ll never see or know. The treasures in the sky above or swinging down below, treasures in the gleaming ashes of the night.
Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier
One of the most charming, delightful, and lyrically imaginative children’s books I’ve read in ages. I’d put this in the top 10 of books to hand just about any kid. Was shaking my head in wonderment at the writing on just about every page.
Batwoman: The Many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett
The most interesting thing to me about this was its use of a Lost-style narrative structure, a kind of dance between past events adding nuance to the present. It’s an effective technique in comics, for sure. It’s a good story, because it doesn’t really require much prior knowledge of the Batwoman character.
The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant by Michelle Cuevas
I loved this book (though slightly less than Confessions of an Imaginary Friend–really an embarrassment of riches). The villain character is pretty delightful. I’ll read pretty much anything Cuevas writes at this point.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Read this for my book club. There’s an amazing amount of historical detail. Lincoln is already endlessly lionized, but I ended up having more admiration for him after reading this book. Read this book and you’ll enrich your knowledge of United States history beyond what most people have. Worth it.
Those Above: The Empty Throne (Book 1) by Daniel Polansky
Most fantasy stories use a kind of bland, European medieval setting that does feel a little stale at times. Polansky’s novel is refreshing because it uses the Roman Republic as its inspiration, which allows for more interesting characters (a political matriarch, lots of senators, legionnaire-equivalent professional soldiers, etc). The story has an interesting take on Elves. Here, they’re birdlike, live forever, and extremely interested in subjuguting and enslaving the human race, which they see as basically little more than insects. A lot of bleak stuff here, though, so if that’s not your bag, you’d be better off reading Polansky’s A City Dreaming, which was one of my favorite books from last year.
Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson
Really takes the piss out of the standard fantasy Chosen One narrative trope. Sometimes a little too on the nose, but, in general, pretty funny stuff. Humor is hard! The talking goat is a delight.
Batman: I Am Bane by Tom King
I liked this, but I have very little memory of what happened in it. For some reason, I have a lot of trouble remembering what happens in comics.
Fate of the Four by Chip Zdarsky
Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing) team up! It’s fun and witty and generally enjoyable. My kid liked it too.
Batwoman: Wonderland by Marguerite Bennett
A sequel to The Many Arms of Death, which is pretty much required reading for this one. If you liked that one, you’ll probably like this.
Invincible: The End of all Things, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman
When I first started reading Invincible about 20 years ago, it was a breath of fresh air and was one of the things that got me into reading comics again. I read this because it’s the very last volume of this comic’s run. I’d only recommend it if you’ve been on board for the entire ride. In general, if you’re interested, I’d recommend reading early issues of this comic, which were fantastic. This volume was really creaking under the weight of its narrative dead-ends.
Archangel by William Gibson
I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. I’ve read several comics by novelists and I think the skills don’t necessarily transfer. There are some interesting time travel ideas in here.
Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White
Fantastic! Even though I’m not particularly religious anymore, religious symbolism in fiction still hits pretty hard. Set in 1950s Australia, the novel’s about four characters who are tapped into a kind of spirituality that’s alien and alienating to the people around them. A masterpiece.
Paper Girls (Volume 5) by Brian K. Vaughan
1980s paper girls time travel all over the place. A lot of fun. You definitely want to start at the beginning with these.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A friend talked to me about this book (and its series) and I was pretty intrigued. I found this book baffling and slightly off-putting. It reminded me very much of 1950-1980s science fiction, which focused far more on expressing ideas and whizzbang science fiction gadgets and aliens than creating well-rounded “believable” characters and character interactions. If you like science fiction as a vehicle for ideas, you’ll probably get a lot out of this one. Otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere. I’m not sure I’m going to read the rest of the trilogy, but what do you know? It could happen. Extremely bleak, but in a different way than is typical in American doom’n’gloom SF.
Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini
A teenager gets an AI implanted in his brain so that he can take to girls, basically. Funny, weird take on contemporary teenage culture. Finished it and realized that the author committed suicide several years earlier. Definitely puts a sad and mournful spin on this book, which is mostly about trying and failing to connect to other people.
Come Closer by Sara Gran
A woman gets possessed by a demon. Dark and effective thriller story. Kind of perfect in doing what it sets out to do.
Hellboy: Darkness Calls and The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola
I finally got to the Hellboy comics I hadn’t read before. The art’s different (I guess Mike’s drawing hand got tired) but there’s a marvelous build of narrative tension to the final issues of the comic run in the next and final volumes. Really good stuff. Hellboy is a comic that stands the test of time like no other, I feel.
The Wild Storm (Volume 3) by Warren Ellis
You really gotta start at the beginning with this comics series. (I struggled a little just trying to remember what happened in the first couple volumes.) Got a bit of the old ultra-violence, so if that’s not your cuppa tea, you may want to sit this one out. It’s superheroes as pawns or players within global and interstellar factions, which is probably more like what would happen in a real world setting.
Dark Days: The Road to Metal by Scott Snyder
The lead-up to the Metal DC comics crossover event. This is comics at its most bonkers and wild. I can get behind it.
Dark Nights: Metal by Scott Snyder
So bonkers and gonzo. Superhero comic doing what superhero comics do best. I mean, the Justice League has a Voltron moment with a giant robot. And Batman rides a Joker dragon at one point. If you’re there for it, it’s gonna give you a ride!
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Lord of the Flies with girls, basically. There’s an interesting technique where some of the chapters are done in first-person plural, the plural being the three sisters who live on this island that’s completely isolated from the rest of the world. Things get complicated when three men (well, two men and a boy) wash up on the island. It’s a science fiction novel in tone, even though it could almost be set in any era from the 20th century onward. The book really shines in its exploration of the relationships between the three sisters.
Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. by Jody Houser
Alternate reality/time travel shenanigans rewrite the status quo for this Batman-equivalent. I feel like this comic is still trying to find its footing.
Nonconformity: Writing on Writing by Nelson Algren
Written during the early days of the establishment of the permanent US war machine, but it could’ve been written today in its diagnosis of US society and its ills.
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
I don’t think I’d ever read a book by an Iranian writer. A searing portrayal of depression and despair and isolation. One of the strangest books I’ve ever read. So if strange, dark books are your jam, check it out.
Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (Volume 1-4)
Spider-Man and his family have adventures. My kid and I both enjoyed this. It’s pretty light and charming.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The story of two girls and their friendship growing up in Italy in the 1950s. The first of a series of four novels. Deeply fascinating and insightful. I’ve rarely read a coming-of-age story that focuses so closely and thoughtfully on the relationship between two girls.
Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury and The Bride of Hell by Mike Mignola
Nails it. This is the good stuff right here.
Binti by Nnedi Okorofor
A novella about an outsider breaking into an established educational system. All about culture shock and alienation and then everyone gets killed by aliens–who are truly weird. A lead-in to longer novels, that I’ll definitely read at some point, on the strength of this one.
Those Below: The Empty Throne (Book 2) by Daniel Polansky
I’m grateful that this one stopped before moving into trilogy territory, not because I disliked it, but because I appreciate people who are able to tell the story they want to tell in less than three books. Refreshingly non-monarchy-centric. A meditation on the nature of power.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
An ambitious, original science fiction novel about a tidelocked planet. The aliens are so great here, these sort of telepathic communal crab-like creatures that share memories as a way of communicating via these gross mouth tentacle things. So good. Effective use of alternating POV characters. I never knew where this book was going to go. Like the best science fiction of the 70s, presents credible alternative systems of human organization that are each terrible in their own way.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Like Jane Yolken and Patricia McKillip, who she probably inspired, Carter reimagines famous fairy and folktales. Like Grimm’s original stories, doesn’t shy away from the blood, sex, and death that usually runs as an ignored undercurrent through these stories. Deeply feminist, but in the best way.
There There by Tommy Orange
I see a real Game of Thrones influence in the narrative technique of nested and interlocking and interconnected POV narrators. Although I sort of think Tommy Orange does it more effectively and in far less time. The characters converge in a bloody shoutout at a Native American powwow in Oakland. This is the good stuff, right here.
Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow by Jennifer Lee Rossman
Charming and took a couple twists I wasn’t expecting. I really wanted the freaks to be more freakish. Pretty good for a first novel!
The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis
A novel about reincarnation as far as I can tell. Like reading a book length poem. For me, evoked a feeling of bewilderment that I very much enjoyed. Sort of happy it wasn’t longer, though.
Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King
The Riddler and the Joker go to war for inscrutable reasons. Scott Snyder turned the Riddler into a credible Batman villain and Tom King really runs with that here. Joker frowns a lot in this comic, which is hilarious every time.
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess
Refugees arrive from an alternate earth and experience all the trauma and isolation that you might expect from that. Excellent.
Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer: A lot of great art in here. Also, some lovely anecdotes about what’s basically my favorite game.
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem: The West Coast never looks stranger than in the eyes of someone from the East Coast. He’s less of a detective and more of a magnet for strays, people and animals. It captures a certain something about the strangeness of the times we’re living through.
Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier by Michelle Cuevas: Recommended by a friend. A delightfully charming children’s book. There are lyrical flights of fancy here that should be the envy of writers everywhere.
Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas: A picture book. Simply charming, as everything by Cuevas is. What if someone told the story of Peter Pan’s stray shadow, basically.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas: A picture book about the guy who delivers the letters found in bottles at sea. What it’s like to feel unappreciated, but then to suddenly realize you are.
Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition) v. 4 & 5 by Yukito Kishiro: These books get increasingly strange. It’s weird that I didn’t really notice (or don’t remember noticing) how super weird they get. It becomes almost like a horror story at points. I suppose I (and probably a lot of other people) was distracted by the pretty amazing art on the first go round. It’s definitely a product of its time and place.
Godbound: A Game of Divine Heroes by Kevin Crawford: I read this because a friend of mine wanted to a run a game of it. A game for those times when you really want to jump to the most epic stuff. This book is quite readable and the game has been a lot of fun to play, which is really what you want out of a roleplaying game book. The world setting is extremely varied and provides a lot of fun character possibilities, from necromantic witch queens to steam-powered robot pilots to pyramid-dwelling gene splicers and a whole lot more.
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner: Probably the most entertaining novel I’ve read in the superhero genre. A fun, light, popcorny sort of novel. Kind of perfect for what it is, like a chocolate doughnut or a candy bar.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra: Read it for background info on the forgotten thinkers behind the worst of humanity in the 20th century. Refreshingly, not USA/Europe-centric. Makes a compelling case that the failures behind the promise of the Enlightenment in improving life have created a void of meaning that is easily filled with hatred and violence. I’m super dumbing this down based on my dim recollection. It’s very well-researched.
The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross: Book 9 already?! The USA comes off super creepy in this one. What if everyone woke up one day and forgot the president existed? One of these spy stories where nothing goes to plan and no one’s happy, but it kind of works out in the end.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus: Most pomo novels I find pretty insufferable, but this one is quite good. And so very funny. Is it an epistolary novel if the letters hardly ever get sent? Also, the biggest fuck you by letter I’ve ever seen. Simply brutal. My kids found the title endlessly funny. Which, I guess in a way, it is.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: I read this because I liked her other books. It’s well-written, but so freaking dark. Yeah, I get it, women can be terrible too. Almost no one comes off looking good in this one. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, exactly, but it does what it does very well.
Judgment on Deltchev by Eric Ambler: You know who shouldn’t get involved with intrigue in a Cold War-era Eastern Bloc country? A playwright, that’s who! The protagonist is nerve-wrackingly out of his depth and outmatched at nearly every turn.
The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson: A kind of YA novel that doesn’t get written anymore. Slow and moody and literary and wrestling with big questions of religion, ritual, and tradition. It’s very good. I can’t remember where I read about it, but I’m glad I did.
X-Men Grand Design – Second Genesis by Ed Piskor: If you’re into the X-Men’s convoluted history, these books can’t be beat. I bought this one. Totally worth it.
Ant-Man: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer: Almost entirely worth it just for the guy in the Grizzly suit. This Scott Lang is almost too much of a wastrel to be charming. It’s a real fine line. Can anyone be this dumb? Yes, it turns out, yes, someone can be.
Beyond the Laughing Sky by Michelle Cuevas: A book about being different and figuring out who you are. Sentimental without being mawkish. Cuevas can write sentences like almost no one else. (I still like Imaginary Friend the best, though.)
Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani: A book I’d been trying to track down for about a decade then, boom, one day it turned up at my library. Lovecraftean-style horror as told through academic gibberdegook. It was definitely an experience reading it, but I don’t know of anyone who’d have the kind of patience it takes to work your way through it. Strikes me as the kind of book that people love the idea of rather than the thing itself. The kind of post-modern novel that people think of when they talk about hating post-modern novels, obscure and pedantic and inscrutable. Not horror, exactly, but there are horrific ideas in it.
doing or not doing, endlessly looping around it
well, not endlessly, but you get the idea
trapped in a kind of bubble of time
that’s either one bubble that lasts forever
or a series of identical bubbles practically indistinct
there’s a kind of caterwauling that comes with nothing
a flashing nonsense when the mind spins down
call it a dream, if you like, or a distraction
there’s time enough for nothing
plenty of time for lazing about day after day
there’s a notion that a person should be doing
what? anything just as long as it’s something
why? who knows, maybe it’s our religion
so when someone, my beloved, does nothing
it’s so easy to point fingers and rage
maybe there’s a kind of boldness in saying no
in refusing to buy into the game that we all play
I mean, there’s not much to recommend it
a generic job for a generic people
where’s the wisdom here? sitting under a tree or madly racing after
so, my best beloved, I’ll try to learn the lesson
you’ve spent your whole life teaching me
why should I think this is a one-sided game
with all the direction arrows pointing at you?
maybe it’s me.
but I think you know it’s not
there’s no moon about, it’s already slid past
still, it’s pretty quiet
nowhere but the cold collapse of night
these slow building blocks of sleep
feeling that sleep creep up the cheekbones
toward my eyes
still for some reason
the slow crinkle in the neck
the ache around the corners of the eyes
the cold toes
the distant murmur of rockets
finding this dark quiet so charming, or alarming,
that I can’t quite let it go
- Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd: I read this because of David Bowie. It was on his list of favorite books and his son started a sort of online freeform book club based on his dad’s favorite books. This book is super weird! A story that eats its own tail (tale?), set in different eras of London. Turns out I love books about London and books about detectives and books about secret histories and architectures. There’s nothing pleasant about this book, except the mesmerizing prose.
- Gnomon by Nick Harkaway: You can’t go wrong with Harkaway, you really can’t. The man can write! I’ve read every book he’s written and I’ll read every book he writes. A story about (what else?) a detective–actually, an inspector. It’s not exactly a mystery, but it is a fantastic story about memory and identity. It has one of the creepiest characters in a book I’ve ever read.
- Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls: A married woman falls in love with a sea monster. It’s funny and sad and more people should read it and know about it, probably.
- Puckoon by Spike Milligan: Another David Bowie pick. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read (while it’s also deeply offensive in almost every way, but what can you do?). An Irish novel from the 1960s. The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is going to go through the middle of a town and the British government is going to put their border crossing station in the middle of a cemetery. There’s almost nothing but crazy hijinks.
- Six Four by Video Yokoyama: Somehow the PR guy in this Japanese police force solves a mystery. I don’t usually go in for the police procedural stuff, but for some reason, I found this one deeply compelling. It’s just really good.
- Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell: George Orwell writes movingly about his time in poverty in the early 20th century.
- The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch: I’m a sucker for time travel stories, even ones like this that are hiding inside of a “thriller” story.
- The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt: Dewitt writes an extremely moving story about fathers and sons. Well, one son and several fathers. There aren’t any samurai in it, unless you count the cinematic ones.
- Space Opera by Catherynne Valente: No other book has reminded me so much of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide books. A real pleasure.
- Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West: The best book I read in 2018 (and many other years). A travelogue of 1930s Yugoslavia. I can’t think of another book that charmed me so effortlessly or that made me feel the burden and weight of history so keenly. Rebecca West is someone I would’ve loved to have known. But I’ll settle for her writing instead.
- The Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin: Some of these were a re-read and some of them were new to me. Sometimes you need a little magic in your life. These books are a good place to get them. (See also: Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien)
- A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman: Europe in the 14th century was probably the worst time and place to be alive as a human being. A little comfort reading. Knights were freaking terrifying (“worms in iron cages”). And disease was pretty terrible too.