Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading list 2012

New Year's Eve! That day of the year noticeable solely for the fact that tradition dictates I don my tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches (which, worryingly over the course of the last few years seem to have come back into fashion) and studiously run through all the books I've read over the course of the last 12 months. In all the years I've been doing this, 2012 marks the year where I read the fewest books - just 26 - but with good reason! I spent a significant portion of the first half of the year reading the Bikram Yoga dialogue both before going on training and while I was in LA. As such, it wasn't until I got back to the UK at the end of June that I really got to throw myself into the mass of books I'd built up on my bedside table. If I was counting the dialogue, I'm pretty sure 2012's tally would number in the thousands, because lord knows I read that thing cover to cover and back to front more times than I can remember.

As usual, I'm grading each book like a college professor would grade his students (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 buy your own copy to cherish, clutch adoringly, or lick.

Anyway, let's crack on, yes?

01. The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock - Stunningly brutal novel that traces the entwined lives of a number of different characters over the course of several years. Pollock's short story collection Knockemstiff remains one of my favourite books; this debut novel confirms my belief that he is a masterful storyteller: A+
02. Pronto by Elmore Leonard - The first Leonard novel to feature Raylan Givens (the focus of the brilliant TV show Justified) sees the U.S. marshall trying to protect a Miami bookmaker who flees to Italy after being targeted by a mob boss. The character of Raylan really shines through in this book, but when he wasn't present I felt something was lacking and actually found this a little bit disappointing: B-
03. The Very Best of Dick Tracy: Bullets, Battles and Bad Guys by Chester Gould - A lovely collection of classic Tracy strips that makes you realise just how groundbreaking and brutal Gould's work was. The book serves as more of an introduction to the strip rather than a genuine best of collection, but it worked in that it left me wanting to read more: A
04. Power Pack Classic Volume 2 by Louise Simonson - The second volume of one of my favourite eighties comic books finds the Power Pack kids continuing to get to grips with their abilities, and includes the beginning of the story arc I have fond memories of as a kid: B+
05. The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 by Charles Schulz - The first volume of this series that I've read for two years, and every bit as wonderful as I remember. Beautiful art and longer ongoing storylines really draw you into Schulz's classic, life-affirming comic strip: A+
06. Star Trek Volume 1 - Collected edition of the new Star Trek comic that retells episodes of the classic original series in the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie universe, in this instance 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and 'The Galileo Seven.' An enjoyable read, but if I'm honest these two tales don't differ significantly enough from the original episodes to make them an essential read - an indication perhaps of just how good those 1960s stories were: B+
07. Driven by James Sallis - gritty sequel to Sallis' novel Drive (the basis for the Ryan Gosling film of the same name) which picks up Driver's story seven years later when his attempt to fade into anonymity is cruelly ripped away from him with with the brutal murder of his girlfriend. It's a quick read - just 147 pages - but a worthy follow up for fans of the earlier book: B+
08. Son of Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne - Book VII in Payne's ongoing Youth in Revolt saga sees the spotlight fall on Nick Twisp's 15 year-old son, Scott. The protagonist may have changed but the formula - the lust-fuelled adventures of a journal-writing teen - remains the same. However, while it was an amusing read, I felt this latest instalment in the series lacked the deft comic touch that made earlier volumes so memorable: B+
09. John Carter: Movie Novelization/John Carter of Mars - A Princess of Mars by Stuart Moore/Edgar Rice Burroughs - A nice hefty volume containing the novelization of the 2012 John Carter film and ERB's original 1911 story. The novelization is a perfectly good adaptation of the movie, while A Princess of Mars is a wonderful pulpy action adventure story: A
10. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim - The story of two young men who shared a harrowing experience as children, leading one to believe he had been abducted by aliens, and the other to enter into a life of dangerous sexual encounters: B+
11. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - Thoroughly enjoyable story of a young man playing college baseball and the lives of those around him. A solid story, well-written characters and a wonderful end, but I must admit I did get a little lost in the parts that were baseball-heavy. Still, worth a read: A-
12. The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez - A slight, quickly read collection of all-ages stories focusing on Beto's Venus character. Not his best work, but charming nonetheless: B
13. Love and Rockets: New Stories #5 by Los Bros Hernandez - The latest L&R annual sees Beto's return to the fictional town of Palomar, and a new Vivian 'Frog-mouth'-centric story from Jaime. This issue was lacking in Maggie action after Jaime's stellar tales in the previous two volumes, but nevertheless remains a brilliant read: A-
14. The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati - The latest entry in Rabagliati's ongoing series of semi-autobiographical Paul graphic novels documents the latest developments in the character's life (moving his family to the suburbs) and the heart-wrenching final months of his father-in-law's life. Wonderful: A+
15. God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls by Jaime Hernandez - Fantastically enjoyable superhero romp filled with the same depth of character and charm as the author's more familiar Locas stories: A
16. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - An engrossing and insightful, often painfully honest, biography of the founder of Apple. Jobs' had an incredible life and Isaacson has written a fascinating glimpse into his world that does not shy away from revealing every aspect of his complex personality. Well worth a read: A+
17. Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard - The sequel to Leonard's earlier novel, Pronto, finds U.S. marshall Raylan Givens searching for bookmaker Harry Arno, who's become the unwitting hostage of Palm Beach playboy Chip Ganz. A far more enjoyable and breezy read than Pronto, with some great dialogue, although I found the plot somewhat slight: B
18. Raylan by Elmore Leonard - Leonard's latest novel returns to the character of Raylan Givens following the success of the TV series Justified. While I enjoyed it for the most part, the book seemed to follow a number of plotlines that have already been covered by the show, making this feel more like a lightly padded novelization than an original work: B
19. Star Trek Volume 2 - The second collected edition of comic book stories set in the new movie universe tackles a retelling of the classic episode 'Operation: Annihilate!' and an original work entitled Vulcan's Vengeance. The retelling is a by-the-numbers revision of my favourite Star Trek episode, and suffers by failing to bring anything new to the table save for a little conflict between Kirk and his brother; Vulcan's Vengeance, meanwhile, at least expands upon the storylines and general universe brought into being by the 2009 movie. Two volumes in and as readable as it is, I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this series is: B
20. Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd; art by Dave Taylor - Beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written graphic novel that finds Batman investigating a series of architectural disasters in Gotham City. By far the best Batman story I've read in a long time: A
21. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire - Haunting graphic novel about a young man trying to reconcile the loss of his father 20 years earlier as he faces the imminent arrival of his own son: A
22. I Just Want My Pants Back by David J. Rosen - Enjoyable story about a young guy coming to terms with what it means to be a responsible adult in the wake of losing his favourite trousers after a one-night stand: B+
23. Star Trek: That Which Divides by Dayton Ward - My first Kindle read was a decidedly average Star Trek novel. Maybe it's just me, because this has glowing reviews on Amazon, but I felt the story was overly long and lacking in excitement, there was too much explanation of technology and dry descriptions of locations, and the characters felt like pale imitations of the vibrant originals I'm used to from the TV show. Also, very odd, absolutely pointless hint of romance between Chekov and M'ress from the animated series. Meh: C+
24. Power Pack Classic Volume 3 by Louise Simonson - The third collection of Power Pack comics from the eighties contains the storyline that first got me into this series all those years ago. A fun, nostalgic read: B+
25. Superman: Kryptonite by Darwyn Cooke; art by Tim Sale - Enjoyable graphic novel recounting Superman's first encounter with the one element that can kill him: B+
26. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 7 by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley - Another fine collected edition of the most enjoyable superhero comic out there. If you want to see alien heads being ripped off left, right and centre in glorious fashion amidst an intergalactic war, this is the book for you: A

There you go then: some awesome books, some not so awesome books, and some decidedly average books. And as is usual for me, I've already got a load sitting on my bedside table just waiting to bung up the first few months of next year's list. 2013 is definitely going to see me getting some more Kindle action too; I can't wait to read some more stuff on my little glowing friend, and with a bit of luck they'll be better than the book I chose to pop my Kindle cherry with.

Happy New Year you cheeky little buggers.

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