Year’s Best Books

The very idea that there might be a “Year’s Best” book list is an activity in hyperbolic absurdism, but it has become an annual tradition all over the internet, and it is some small way to help authors get the word out in this crowded market, where we are all writers, now.

I had turned to Twitter to source my recommendations from interesting people, and will begin by listing the books they suggested.

The Country Of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman was recommended by Felix Gilman, and it does look sort of amazing.

‘s Magonia which comes out next year was recommended by Bo Bolander, who also said “Anthology-wise, I read the shit out of Long Hidden and lo, it was good, so good.”

“On a lighter note, ‘s A Kiss With Teeth. I don’t know how yas does it, Gladstone,” she tweeted.

Wendy Wagner “loved SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, by Caitlin Doughty. . THE BROTHERS CABAL, by Jonathan Howard, rocked, too.”

Jenn Brissett tweeted, ” I really enjoyed “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker” and was not alone. Many others listed this is one of their favorites of the year.

The howling head of Raw Dog Screaming Press suggested D. Harlan Wilson’s “Primordial” as her favorite of the year, but points off for suggesting a book she worked on.

Two other popular titles include Jeff VanderMeer’s widely-acclaimed, very successful trilogy “Area X” (or merely the first of the trilogy of which that is the omnibus, including “Annihilation” “Authority” and “Acceptance”) as well as Robert J. Bennet’s “City of Stairs” which will be placed in critical comparison to VanderMeer’s work by respected literary critic Jon Ginsburg-Stevens. I thoroughly agree with the judgment on Area X, and it is no surprise to see that trilogy lauded across the literary book-o-sphere.

Larry Nolen, another respected critic and reviewer, will be posting his year’s best, but teases us with this early peek: “Celeste Ng, Johanna Sinisalo, Jenny Erpenbeck, Blake Butler, Ali Smith, Robert Darnton, John Darnielle, Roxane Gay, Jeff V…”

John Horner Jacobs, an acclaimed author of both YA and Regular Dark Fiction and Horror, enjoyed Graham Joyce’s “The Man in the Electric Blue Suit.”

A.C. Wise, editor and writer, loved Genevieve Valentine’s “The Girls at the Kingfisher Club” and the anthologies “Kaleidescope” and “Long Hidden”.

Personally, two of my favorite books of the year have not appeared on any year’s best list, that I have seen, and that disappoints me. Now’s my chance to correct that problem.

My favorite new discovery of the year is an author whose book genuinely delighted me with gorgeous prose and a subtle use of the magical real inside a literary framework of historical fiction that truly supported it. Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson, out from Small Beer Press, is a much better book than it should have been, and full of rich characterizations, difficult subject matter, and a deft touch creating a myth of America’s foundation that suggests both the constant Biblical Fall of racism and slavery, and the hope of all the religious utopians that kept failing and failing again. I had never even heard of Susan Stinson before, and discovered her book sitting on the shelf at work, one day. I picked it up and read it, and then I started telling everyone I know about it.

My other otherwise unheralded favorite book was Felix Gilman’s “The Revolutions” which is a distinct animal from his other weird westerns, and more true to the steampunk subgenre. I loved the innovative space travel, and innovative approach to machinery. Often steampunk is a genre of set design, and all the sets bleed together. The way science worked through the mystical arts was absolutely fascinating and brilliant, and it worked well with the population of well-made characters that were all inspired by the rash of mysticism and spiritualists colliding with scientists in the late 19th century London. I can’t wait to read the inevitable duology conclusion. Gilman is reinventing duologies as a literary thing, and anyone who wishes to write multiple novels set in the same universe are well-advised to read Gilman’s work. Each book stands alone, absolutely. Also, each book doesn’t. It’s hard to explain unless one is familiar with his innovative bag of tricks.

My favorite short story collection this year – of which I admittedly read very few – was also not listed on many year’s best lists, that I have seen. I truly enjoyed the dark and imaginative humanism of Gina Ochsner’s stories in “People I Wanted to Be” where a middle-aged couple in wintry Russia is haunted by the mischievous ghosts of children they didn’t have, and still must find a way to be happy together. A trebuchet is used to hurl away broken hearts, and tragedies, literally by removing the heart from the body and placing it on the trebuchet. The stories all revolve around a core of deep emotion that would be sappy if handled just a little off. Not every story was 100% successful avoiding that sense of sap, but when it worked, it really worked, and I’m okay with a sappy ending when the craft and style and author all intended such a thing and worked towards it with skill.

Of debut novels, my favorite of the year just came out from Aquaduct Press. Jenn Brissett’s beautiful novel deconstructs genre tropes around an emotional core. It is nominally a computer program left behind on earth, long after we are gone, corrupted and misconstrued by aliens that run the program to understand what happened to us. In each section, some new and wildly different version of the earth’s future appears, with two lovers. One is fading away. The other is struggling to find their beloved. Names and identities shift with the landscape, but it is deftly handled, and, in the end, what we learn is that what will remain of us is love. Eternally, we will be remembered for our love. It’s the sort of novel, where I can tell you that, and it isn’t really a spoiler, and the execution of the art is what matters.

Of individual short stories, the one that stuck with me all year was “The Illuminations” by Terry Eicher, read at AGNI Online. It is just a gem, and a tragedy, and a surreal expose of any situation where flesh is cut for faith. It’s a beautiful and sad tale, and speaks to so many horrors that are currently happening, and just seem to keep happening.

No links. You know how to find and buy yourself some books, right?

 

 

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