Dec 16, 2010

Monkey droppings - the year in review. Book-wise, anyway.

Well, it's been a helluva year, hasn't it? Seems like every day there was a new travesty on the scene, whether it be physical, political, climatological, theological, sexual, ideological, scatological, or a mix of some or all of the above.

And we never did get Roy Scheider up into space to rescue Hal and the Discovery from their decaying orbit around Jupiter.

Something wonderful, indeed.

Myself? Busy year. New jobs to start, new books to edit. But I did manage to read a few books now and then, to take the edge off. And as this is a blogosphere, an electronic entity made up of equal parts cats, pornography, uninformed comments, and lists, I thought I'd add to the shebang with a quick look back at some of my most memorable reads.

The year isn't over quite yet, and I'm not sure if my current read will make the list - China Mieville's
Kraken. Greatly weird, sort of a kitchen sink approach to fantasy, just throwing in everything, but I'm enjoying the ride. Might make a good double-bill with Clive Barker's Weaveworld. On my TBR pile in the next year? Charlie Huston's The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, Andrew Pyper's The Guardians, Liz Jensen's The Rapture, Chris Benjamin's Drive-by Saviours, Jeff Bursey's Verbatim, Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero, Michael Van Rooy's An Ordinary Decent Criminal, Craig Davidson's Sarah Court, and many, many others.

Plus my own
Husk. Over and over and over again.

Not all listed were published in 2010, not all were reviewed in the 'pages' of this blog (I have gotten so lax of late), but all affected me in one way or another.

Best twisted novel - Peter Darbyshire's gloriously weird
The Warhol Gang, a vicious satire of consumerism and identity that easily one-ups Palahniuk at his own game.

Best short story collection - Douglas Smith's
Chimerascope. A sterling set of tales spanning the triple genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Echoes of Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Clive Barker haunt the halls of Smith's work, but the end result is completely original, and always enthralling.

Runner-up, short story collection -
A Sharp Tooth in the Fur, by Darryl Whetter. Sex runs rampant in these tales of lust, love, pain, and tree planting, but aside from the raunch, Whetter displays an able craftsmanship and an ability to twist the world into new shapes.

Best mystery/fantasy (double winner!)- China Mieville's
The City and the City. Just an amazing piece of work. How Mieville managed to keep his two cities (both occupying the same space yet somehow different) is a marvel of talent.

Runner-up, best fantasy - Andrew Kaufman's
The Waterproof Bible. Gentle, weird, and full of frog people. Lovely in all the right ways.

Runner-up, best mystery - Douglas Glover's
Precious. A Canadian Hammett, a noir as hardboiled as they come, and as chilled frozen as only a book set in northern Ontario could be.

Best overreaction by critics - Yann Martel's
Beatrice & Virgil. Not near as accomplished or memorable as Life of Pi, but hardly the failure some made it out to be, and nowhere near worth the sputtering vitriol some unleashed upon it.

Best reread -
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. Not his best, but if I have to explain to you why Vonnegut is special, then you just don't get it, and never will. And I pity you.

Best comedy - YOU comma Idiot by Doug Harris. A lackadaisical narrator belies the talent behind this book, an always-grinning jaunt through the lower levels of society. Great dialogue akin to Elmore Leonard, a warmth of character on par with Nick Hornby, and surprising twists kept me smiling when I wasn't laughing. Which was most of the time.

Best out-and-out masterpiece - Lesley Choyce's
The Republic of Nothing, an intimate yet epic bildungsroman that marks Choyce as an obvious Canadian counterpart to John Irving (who is not Canadian, but earns high marks for his love of this country).

Runner-up, best masterpiece -
Elle, by Douglas Glover. A historical romp through Canada's early years that should serve as full notice that historical fiction does not have to be staid and plodding, but can be vibrant, sexy, scatological, and bold.

Best book set in an ethereal plane -
Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz. For Schultz, Heaven is a publishing company. She had me at hello.

Best dystopian satire -
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. The future five minutes from now is bleak and crumbling, but that doesn't mean there can't be any fun. Shteyngart crafts a believable May-December romance out of a stark world where everyone is linked electronically, books are obsolete, and the yen rules supreme. Like I said, five minutes from now.

Best horror (tie) - David Moody's
Dog Blood and Stephen M. Irwin's The Dead Path. One genre, two wildly different books. Moody goes the Romero route, bleak, bloody, and exceedingly nasty. Irwin takes the higher road with a King-esque tale of past tragedy and forest hauntings and goopy spider mayhem.

Best others - I cannot find a title for these, but they have each stayed with me since I closed their covers.

And now, the other end of the spectrum:

Worst 'twisted' novel - Chuck Palahniuk's
Tell-All, a limp, soggy, misbegotten waste of a satire on celebrity from a novelist I used to adore. After this, Palahniuk has quite a hole to dig himself out of. I still hold out hope for rehabilitation, but he needs to take a break.

Most disappointing -
Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey. I usually worship at the altar of Carey (go read The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith immediately), but despite obviously monumental research and a great character in Parrot, I was left cold. Hardly worthless, but disappointing, especially considering I loved his previous novel His Illegal Self. Figures that this one got nominated for awards.

Runner-up, most disappointing - Denis Johnson's
Nobody Move. I really wanted to like this one. I'm not familiar with Johnson (please, I know, and I promise I will read Jesus' Son), but this looked to be a mean little thriller with a literary pedigree, like Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance. But while it had the moves, that doesn't mean it could dance. Put this one next to Martin Amis' Night Train in honourable failures in hardboiled fiction.

Second runner-up, most disappointing - Miguel Syjuco's
Ilustrado. Came with all the right pedigree and acclaim, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a single sentence that wasn't amazing. But boredom reigned.

And finally -

Worst book of the year -
The Murder of King Tut, by James Patterson & Martin Dugard. Yes, it took two people to craft the most godawful piece of tripe ever to drip moistly out of the Patterson pipeline of crap. That this ridiculous, inane, poorly researched pamphlet masquerading as a 'non-fiction novel' ever got released is testament to how poorly James Patterson thinks of his fans. He hates you, people. If this book is any indication, he wouldn't cross the street to kick you in the groin if your balls were on fire. He hates you so, so much.

So, kind of a long year, some highs, some lows, one low so low it made me re-examine my definition of the word 'low.'

See you in 2011, fellow chimps.

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