Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading list 2011

I'm not ashamed to admit that I have failed to match last year's number of books read over the course of the year; 2010 was an epic, of course, with a grand total of 44 read, but while 2011 hasn't quite reached the same giddy heights, I did manage a not to be sniffed at 38 - considerably more than 2009's 27, 2008's 33, and 2007's 34, so I think I'm still somewhat justified in calling myself a bookwhore.

Anyway, as is traditional, I'm donning my college lecturer-style tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, and accessorising this year with my fancy bow tie and braces for that authentic authoritative yet slightly geeky look; at this rate, all I need is some NHS-style glasses and my transformation into a hipster will be complete.


By now you know the drill: I'll be grading each book (A+ EXCELLENT, C or below, AVOID), and providing links to each title which will take you through to an appropriate online store where you can purchase your own copy to love and hug and call George; this year I'm going with Foyles where possible because they're an independent, their shops are lovely, and I was impressed by their website when I used it earlier in the year. Oh, and good times - I actually bought a decent amount of my books in actual shops this year rather than scurrying off to a certain large online retailer named after a rainforest. Yay for me!

Let's push on.

01. The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko - Cracking novel about a teenager who encounters a version of himself from an alternate universe, but then becomes stranded across the multiverse when his duplicate convinces him to try his transfer device in order to steal his identity. Minor quibbles aside - some sentences just read a bit clunkily and the proof-reader in me recoiled at some typos - this was a thoroughly enjoyable read: A
02. Palo Alto by James Franco - This collection of inter-connected short stories (one of my favourite forms of storytelling - see Knockemstiff in 2008 and The Madonnas of Echo Park in 2010) by the famous Hollywood actor is a cracking read that brilliantly portrays what it's like to be young and disaffected. Funny, insightful, and realistic, I thoroughly enjoyed this book: A
03. Shootin' the Sh*t with Kevin Smith by Kevin Smith - The thing I find with Kevin Smith books is they're funny for the first 50 pages or so, then you realise everything that comes after is basically variations on the same theme. This collection of transcribed podcasts (yes, TRANSCRIBED podcasts!) is no different - and somewhat more redundant when you think that you can just download the podcasts themselves for free from iTunes. Fun in places, but ultimately overlong and, quite frankly, a bit of a rip-off: C
04. Life by Keith Richards - The autobiography by the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist is a remarkable look back at the life of one of rock 'n roll's most defining characters. Keith's voice shines through on every page, and his philosophy on life is fascinating, but it struck me (however truthful it might be) that there was a smidgeon too much sensationalist Mick Jagger-bashing. A worthwhile read, though: B+
05. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 6 by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley - The latest collection of the finest superhero comic book on the planet. This volume seems to major a little more on Invincible's epic smack-downs with supervillains than usual, at the expense of the more character-based storylines it does so well, but still: B+
06. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood - The story of how a young man learns to let go of the spirit of his dead brother when he falls in love with a beautiful yachtswoman. A quick and breezy read, and notably different to the film of the same name. I liked this a lot: A-
07. Chocky by John Wyndham - Classic tale of an 11 year-old boy who begins to hear the voice of an alien named Chocky in his head. I enjoyed this, but felt that it didn't quite live up to expectations or the promise of its premise: B-
08. The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Sommerville - Cracking collection of loosely connected short stories, the last of which in particular - The Machine of Understanding Other People - I thought was just brilliant: A
09. Things I Like About America by Poe Ballantine - Wonderfully honest, beautifully written memoir about the author's travels across America that reads more like a collection of short stories than a biography or travelogue. Love this book: A
10. Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes - A touching and honest tale recounting the events of an evening in the lives of two people who have been set up on a date by their friends. A quick read, but like all of Clowes' work it's beautifully illustrated and wonderfully told: A-
11. The Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire by Poe Ballantine - Brilliant novel about a college dropout trying to find the perfect life on a remote Caribbean island, but instead finds life getting somewhat more complex than he'd hoped: A
12. Tron: Betrayal by Andie Tong - A graphic novel that fills in some of the gaps between the original Tron movie and 2010's Tron: Legacy. It's a solid story, but I found some of the art was too dark and confusing to follow; worth a go if you like the films though: B-
13. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell - Classic novel in which an elderly narrator recalls the effect a murder had on the life of, and his friendship with, another boy in the 1920s. A good story, but it didn't quite absorb me as I thought it might: B
14. Rasl Pocket Book 1 by Jeff Smith - Collecting the first seven issues of the latest title by the creator of Bone, Rasl follows the life of an art thief who travels between parallel universes. Brilliant stuff, with gorgeous art and a story that weaves together elements of real history such as the work of Nikolai Tesla and conspiracy theories including the Philadelphi experiment and the Tunguska event. Can't wait for the next book in the series: A+
15. Invisibly Yours by C.D. Payne - The latest novel from the author of Youth in Revolt tells the story of Axel Weston and the drama that unfolds when he discovers how to make himself invisible. While it never quite reaches the dizzy heights of brilliance that mark out the Nick Twisp series, Invisibly Yours is a very enjoyable tale, and Payne once again displays his mastery of taking a simple concept and spinning it out into a series of ever-escalating, increasingly ridiculous plot-lines: A-
16. Love From the Shadows by Gilbert Hernandez - The third graphic novel in the 'Fritz B-movies' series finds two siblings visiting their estranged father, intending to kill him to get their inheritance before the story spirals off on all manner of unusual, typically Beto tangents: A
17. Yeah! by Peter Bagge, illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez - Collecting the short-lived mainstream comic book from two of the underground comics scene's most popular figures, Yeah! follows the exploits of three teenage girls who make up the most popular band in the universe, except for on their home planet of Earth, that is. There's no hidden subtext here, it's just a good fun read: A
18. 501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine - Second volume detailing the author's travels across the U.S. and every bit as heart-wrenching, life-affirming, and brilliantly written as the first: A
19. Life With Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier - Wonderful graphic novel following the mundane life of a young woman as she contemplates a string of failed romances as she turns 26. Brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated: A
20. Star Trek: The Children of Kings by David Stern - The first Star Trek novel I've read in years follows the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they attempt to discover who was responsible for the destruction of a Federation starbase - the Klingons or the Orions? This was a big disappointment: the author writes that it is supposed to be a prequel to the 2009 movie, yet it can't be as the film chronicled Christopher Pike's entire tenure as captain of the Enterprise; there are pointless cameos from established characters that serve no purpose (and in one instance ensure that this book couldn't be set in the Prime universe either); the characters are bland and one-dimensional; and the story featured scenes and concepts that I felt had been better covered by the franchise elsewhere, before ultimately coming to an unsatisfying conclusion. Not only that, but the cover, while attractive on first glance, is a poorly photoshopped mess on closer inspection: C
21. Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu - Collection of short stories focusing on issues of identity and insecurity, often with a slight sci-fi bent. I found the author's style a bit cold and distant as a reader, and nowhere near as enjoyable a collection as, say, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. A bit disappointing: C+
22. Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen - The latest novel from one of my favourite authors explores the relationships between a group of a high school kids, their parents, and each other. I was a little bit disappointed with this novel; it lacks the humour of Kultgen's previous books, and it felt like some of the story lines were left unresolved by the end: B-
23. Black Jesus by Simone Felice - Wonderfully poetic tale of a blind soldier who returns home to a group of eclectic characters in Gay Paris, NY and a dancer named Gloria who has problems of her own. It's a breezy read and beautifully written: A
24. The Ne'er-Do-Well (issue 1) - A fantastic collection of short stories by previously unpublished writers. A brilliant annual literary magazine: A
25. The Ne'er-Do-Well (issue 2) - Building on the promise of the first issue, the second volume of stories from the Ne'er-Do-Well contains some wonderful tales such as The Marlboro Man and one about an unquenchable fire that brings a group of people together: A+
26. The Ne'er-Do-Well (issue 3) - Focusing on stories about workers (including one by Willy Vlautin), the third issue of the Ne'er-Do-Well is an utter joy to behold: A+
27. God Clobbers Us All by Poe Ballantine - Brilliant novel by one of my favourite authors in which Ballantine's Edgar Donahue character finds his life getting ever more complicated after he gives a middle-aged colleague LSD. I love Ballantine's writing: A
28. Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson - Short but beautifully written and illustrated graphic novel about the break-up of a couple and the unseen things that go on around them: A
29. Citizen Rex by Mario and Gilbert Hernandez - Collected edition of the comic book series focusing on robot rights and the reemergence of the titular character years after his disappearance. I enjoyed this story far more as a book than I did when it was originally published as monthly issues: A
30. Essex County by Jeff Lemire - Wonderful 500-page collected edition of Lemire's Essex County trilogy, which effortlessly weaves together the stories of a young boy, an old man, and a county nurse. Sad, uplifting, and brilliant: A+
31. Drive by James Sallis - Fantastic short novel telling the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who finds himself up against an LA crime family. Beautifully written and more intricate than the movie: A
32. Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe - Brilliant adaptation of the Ico Playstation title that went way beyond what I expected of a novel inspired by video game. Miyabe brings so much depth and additional backstory to the tale of the horned boy and young princess trapped in a mysterious castle, and in the process crafts an utterly compelling fantasy story: A
33. Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 by Los Bros Hernandez - Fourth fantastic edition of the new LnR annual series features two brilliant new Beto stories and a continuation of plotlines from Jaime's stunning Browntown and The Love Bunglers in the previous issue that left me utterly speechless at one point. Awesome: A+
34. The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes - brilliant graphic novel by the author of Ghostworld about a teenager who discovers that cigarettes give him super-powers, and a death-ray gun gives him the opportunity to quickly and efficiently despatch anyone who stands in his way. It's a quick read, but beautifully illustrated and masterfully told: A
35. Power Pack Classic Volume 1 by Louise Simonson - Collecting the first 10 issues of the 1980s Power Pack comic books. I have fond memories of this series, but had never read the origin of the characters before. Not quite as good as the stories I loved as a kid (they're in volume 2), but entertaining nonetheless: B+
36. The Cabbie by Marti - Brilliant crime comic strip that evokes memories of Chester Gould's classic Dick Tracy strips. The story follows the driver of a taxi as he attempts to retrieve his inheritance from a family of slum-dwellers; it's a quick read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed: A-
37. Frisco Pigeon Mambo by C.D. Payne - Brilliant comic novel by the author of Youth in Revolt following the mishaps and adventures of a group of chain-smoking, sherry drinking lab pigeons released into the wilds of L.A. Another brilliant book by one of my favourite writers: A-
38. Esperanza by Jaime Hernandez - The latest collection of Locas stories in Fantagraphics' series of compact Love and Rockets editions focuses on favourite characters Maggie and Hopey as well as introducing new members of the cast including Viv 'The Frogmouth' and Angel. Wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated: A

And there you go then. Thirty eight (for the most part) incredible books. I suppose it could've been 39 because I did read my own book a couple more times this year, but there's something slightly egotistical about putting myself on the list so I won't. Although I'd just love it if you bought it and put it on your reading list. Go on - it's available here and a complete bargain. Yes, I'm utterly shameless.

Anyway, I've already got at least six new books sitting on the side waiting to hop on to 2012's list. So while I crack on with reading them, and as 2011 draws to a close, I'd just like to wish you a happy, healthy and altogether brilliant New Year! *sweeps theatrically offstage*

No comments: