Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Books Read 2012

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

The past couple years on my Twitter account, @gregakers, I've kept tally on each book I read, with a tiny review of each and a link to where readers could get more information on the work in question. (Here's my list for 2011 and my list for 2010.)

Now here, for your ease of browsing, are the books I read in 2012, listed in reverse order they were Tweeted, which is to say chronologically with the most recent first.

My favorite book of the year was Habibi, the gorgeous new-ish graphic novel from Craig Thompson (Blankets, another masterpiece). Habibi swallowed me whole; I'm somewhere in its snake esophagus still. So I was a little surprised when I looked up the critical response prior to this blog post and found that it got panned by The New York Times and derided as racist by Racialicious.

To me, Thompson was clearly and knowingly wading in Orientalism and fantasy Arabia. (If he wasn't, well, that'd be a problem.) I suppose only Joe Sacco-type documentarians are allowed to consider the Middle East and Islam? And when such subjects are broached, one must do so at an emotional remove and with equal time given to all possible perspectives? And only by non-Westerners?

No. Habibi is a work of fiction, not a textbook. And, though artistically beautiful in general, it depicts the brutalization and exploitation of women, children, and men. If it included such acts but fled from the scenes without showing them/showing them demurely, that is what would be worthy of criticism. No one escapes Habibi unscathed, and Thompson achieves a baptismal degradation: It's a human coming-of-age story both universal and specific, taking place over millennia, where hope is achieved only after swimming a river of shit. Sounds to me more honest about the human condition than 99 percent of anything else I've read.

On a completely different line of discussion, an interesting thing happened to me as I was reading book #28 of the year, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I struggled to an almost existential degree to keep reading it. It was the opposite of a page-turner. But it had nothing to do with my lack of interest or dislike of the writing. Quite the opposite. I had to make an effort to read the book because it was so powerful and thematically upsetting.

I had seen the movie and cried a fair bit about what happens in it (no spoilers), so I knew what the bad juju going on was. But I was unprepared for how upsetting it would be to read it. Ishiguro has created a novel that's relentlessly nostalgic for a sci-fi alternative 20th century that never existed. He managed to make me despair for a loss of humanity's soul that never happened. And somehow made that feel like nostalgia. It's almost uncomprehendingly brilliant. I still struggle to process the novel.

Anyway, it took me a long time to read it — far longer than the novel's length would suggest. Hence, part of the reason why my total number of books read is pretty low.

A housekeeping note for the list: I've aired out the entries a little since I'm not as limited in space on the blog as I was on Twitter.

Books Read 2012

32. Pistolwhip by Jason Hall and Matt Kindt. Loopy chronology-addled noir, dig it.

31. Right State by Mat Johnson and Andrea Mutti. Better in concept than execution, maybe 15 pages too lean. Love Mat Johnson (Incognegro) though.

30. Dare Me by Megan Abbott. The latest from my new favorite author, who continues to amaze with her versatility. With this one, a cheer noir, she creates a character who's every bit as dangerous as the head of a fictional crime syndicate. It just so happens that the ostensible villain is a danger-making high school cheerleader. Luv.

29. Shakedown by James Ellroy. My Memphis Flyer review is the 7th one down in the end-of-the-year wrap-up here.

28. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book obliterated me (see above). Took me for a ride on the destructo comet.

27. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. III: Century: 2009 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Three volumes of Century would've been better released as one/consumed in one sitting. Century as a whole is fairly disjointed, but there are some brilliant ideas. I particularly like how Moore ropes Harry Potter into the mythology with the 2009 volume.

26. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Well-written but mildly disappointing. Want a sequel set at that mall.

25. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott. Coming-of-age as criminal loss of innocence. Love.

24. Transmetropolitan, Vol. 2: Lust for Life by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. Enjoy it more on issue/micro level than as a series as a whole so far, but excellent.

23. B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 2: Gods and Monsters by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, and Tyler Crook. Hillbilly cults and psychics!

22. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. A five-tool novel, brilliantly conceived and executed.

21. Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman. Personal meets political.

20. Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott. I'm in love, a noir that doesn't ape the greats, it joins them. It seems far more graphic than it really is. It trades the facts of the material for the truth of it.

19: Queenpin by Megan Abbott. Rough-stuff noir, delightful. I suspect I’ll be an Abbott completist.

18: River-Horse: America By Boat by William Least Heat-Moon. Simply a great book. From the book: "Brevity does not make life meaningless, but forgetting does."

17: Hellboy, Vol. 12: The Storm and the Fury by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo. Brilliant climax, soooo worth it.

16: B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 1: New World by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis. Daimio and Daryl the wendigo return!

15. Dark Entries by Ian Rankin & Werther Dell’Edera. Reality-show hell; good ghost story, average art.

14. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Thoroughly enjoyable. Made me like the show better, and the show makes me like the book better.

13: 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Upper-echelon work. Suspenseful but warm, history as immediacy.

12: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Average finale but, final verdict, protag is frustratingly passive.

11: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Kind of a piece of crap. Condenses to 30 good pages.

10. Savages by Don Winslow. Reasonably exhilarating crime novel until too-quick wrap-up.

9. Habibi by Craig Thompson. Artistic masterpiece. Just ... staggering. Best stand-alone comic in years. Frequently non-narrative, combos an original tale of 2 orphans in Arab world w/ retelling of heroic Koranic stories. And Thompson's art is stunning. Calligraphic and ornate, but doesn't shy away from examining human emotional spectrum.

8. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. 1.7 billion people can't be wrong. Entertaining mass murder of children.

7. B.P.R.D., Vol 14: King of Fear by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis. Hyperboreans and Nazis!

6. B.P.R.D., vol. 13: 1947 by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon. Hecate and tyke Hellboy and French aristocratic vampires!

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Harrowing adventure bio about American World War II POW. Brutally good.

4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It's all there, but movie is 8 percent even more awesome than the book.

3. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. Horror noir at its absolute finest. Couldn't put it down.

2. Love and Rockets: New Stories 4 by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Jaime breaks me every time. The conclusion to "The Love Bunglers" is an all-time great. Tears in my eyes, destroyed emotionally.

1. Under the Dome by Stephen King. Above average but 2D villains and could cut middle 700 pages out.



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