Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018, and List of the Decade

I read 58 books in my annual quest of reading 50 books a year.  Another good year, on the world landscape, to hunker down and read.  Might have helped if I hadn't read so many dystopian novels.

This year my Top Ten favorite reads were:

Severance by Ling Ma

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

November Road by Lou Berney

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

I first undertook this internet challenge with some friends way back in 2008, and since then I have read 598 books, or an average of 54 a year.  I didn't make it in 2013 and 2014, being a span of time when both my kids got married and a grandson was born, and I read an astounding 81 books last year, because obviously it was 2017.

I grabbed the top from every year, and some others I didn't rank as highly but have stayed with me over time; that initial list was 20, and here are the Top Ten.

I'm too close to this year's batch, but I think Severance might be there somewhere in the long haul.

The first two I have recommended to everyone, and in fact when I shot my debut feature film The Girl in the Crawlspace earlier this year, they were two of the books I gave to my lead actors as a thak you for their roles.  The next two were also a heavy influence on my movie, as a character reads them during the action.

I had to include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it started my now ten-year love of Scandinavian crime fiction (as well, I suspect, as quite a few other people).

The others I would just say were mindblowers in some way that sent my thinking in different directions. 

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

 Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 The City and The City by China Mieville

 Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Here are the next five that I had to think hard about before excluding:

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Embassytown by China Mieville

Maybe this list would be slightly different if I did it again tomorrow, but maybe not.

A couple of times I have picked goals for the year; once I read a year of all women writers and once I did a year of people of color or people in translation.  If I have a goal for this coming year, I think it will be read harder and smarter; we shall see.  I hope you see something here you'd like to read!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

#57: Fargo and the Texas Rangers by John Benteen

Gun-for-Hire Neal Fargo owes Pancho Villa a favor, and ends up in the middle of a land war between Mexican-Americans and a crooked Texas Ranger in John Benteen's Fargo and the Texas Rangers.

Benteen was really Ben Haas, and one of my favorites of the prolific paperback writers.  Fargo is a series character--and despite the book's cover--this actually isn't a true western but more of a Men's Adventure novel, an early 20th Century story set square during World War I on the Texas-Mexico border.

Benteen knows how to write hard-nosed action, and plenty of it, and this one doesn't stint, including a memorable knife fight on horseback and a street fight between two tripod-mounted machine guns.

I got this in a big stack of John Benteen novels from a friend trying to turn me into a fan (he was successful), and I read it quickly.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

#56: The Fugitive Gun by Jory Sherman

A cowboy goes on the vengeance trail when an owlhoot--who looks just like him--steals his name in Jory Sherman's The Fugitive Gun.

This western plot of a villainous double strains a bit--it also involves a bullet crease to the skull that causes amnesia, and a few other convenient elements--but the writing is really above average.

Sherman had a colorful writing career, a Beat poet in 50s San Francisco (and a friend of Charles Bukowski) who had a literary life outside of his prolific paperback output.

I got this in a big chunk of goodbye paperback westerns and was pleasantly surprised by the writing, and would like to stumble across more of Sherman's work. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

#55: The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

A woman's husband is killed in a hit-and-run, and on a whim she goes ahead with his plan to attend a film festival in Havana, only to catch a glimpse of him there in Laura Van Den Berg's The Third Hotel.

Although this thumbnail description sounds more like a straightforward thriller, the novel is more a meditation on the mysteries of lives and marriages, with the unreliable narrator as elusive as the unexplained sightings of her husband.

Van Den Berg is a very literate writer, which sets some of the genre trappings--including an ongoing discourse on horror movies and how they relate to the main narrative--into the background. 

Interesting and rewarding throughout.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, and read it quickly.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

#54: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

A security cyborg on a remote planet hacks his control system, though instead of going on a rampage decides to slack off and watch a lot of soap operas; but when his team comes under attack, he reluctantly goes on the offensive in Martha Wells' All Systems Red.

Wells' novel comes built for moviedom--it's hip, cinematic, and fast, with likeable characters under the thumb of one of those giant unnamed "corporations" featured in sci-fi movies like the Alien films.  The protagonist, who calls himself "Murderbot," is written in a fun and fresh style.

I don't think All Systems Red plows any fresh ground, but it is eminently enjoyable and readable.  Wells has already written several more featuring Murderbot, which I am interested in reading.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and read it quickly.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

#53: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Greg Sestero is a struggling young actor in San Francisco when he meets the mysterious, larger-than-life figure Tommy Wiseau.  Their unlikely friendship spawns the cult movie The Room, and Sestero lives to tell about it in The Disaster Artist.

The making of the movie is interesting, but Wiseau looms over all the proceedings, a giant personality both generous and miserly, a great friend and a terrible enemy, an angel and an ogre, all with a fractured vocabulary and worldview.

But Sestero is ultimately kind to Wiseau--perhaps more so than the movie version of The Disaster Artist with James Franco--and acutely notes how his own loneliness, and eagerness for fame, played a role in all that transpired.

Even if you haven't seen The Room (I haven't) it is still a worthwhile read that shows truth is stranger than fiction, even when the fiction is strange.

I listened to a great audiobook reading by Sestero, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.  Recommended for film fans.

Friday, December 14, 2018

#52: The Secret of Apache Canyon by Richard Telfair

An Easterner finds out he is getting swindled in a mining agreement, but has to throw in with his enemies when they realize they are under attack by hostile Indians, in The Secret of Apache Canyon.

Richard Telfair wrote across the genres, and it shows here, as this novel has western trappings with plenty of mystery elements thrown in--such as who orchestrated the mining scheme, who is hiding a secret identity, and who killed a pretty young woman's parents.

Full of unlikable characters, and not shaded for contemporary readers, but bangs right along and never lets up on action and suspense.

I got this in a big giveaway lot of western paperbacks and read it quickly.

Monday, December 10, 2018

#51: The Horse Trader by Wade Everett

A cowhand's kindness leads to a surprise inheritance of a large spread, putting him square in the gunsights of others who want the land, in Wade Everett's The Horse Trader.

Everett was originally Will Cook, and when he died young Giles Lutz took over the pseudonym.  Several times recently I have thought I had discovered a new author, only to find Lutz lurking behind the name.

Happily, I like Lutz's style quite a bit.  I think this one is especially unusual for its time (late 60s) as it features an African-American protagonist and a Native American deputy, both drawn in a well-rounded way.

I ended up being gifted a big stash of westerns that had this one in it, so I didn't seek it out particularly, but found it an enjoyable surprise.  A good read for western fans.

Friday, December 7, 2018

#50: The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A young man who loves grindhouse movies, and is living in New York just at the bad old end of the 42nd Street era, finds b-movie life bleeding into real life when a young woman dies next to him in a theater in Ed Kurtz's The Forty-Two.

This leads him into an even seamier world full of gangsters, sex workers, adult filmmakers, and ultimately a deadly collection of films everyone is trying to either find or hide, culminating in an especially violent denouement.

Kurtz writes very sure-handedly about the grimy world he depicts, the dirty and dangerous landscape of early 80s New York City.  Bonus points for including a character clearly based on cult film director Andy Milligan, one of my faves.

Recommended for those interested in very gritty noir, or the grindhouse movie era in New York, or both.

I read this on my beloved Kindle by recommendation of another crime author.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

#49: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Comedian Amy Schumer talks straight about her volatile upbringing straight through to feature film success in The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.

I happened to catch Schumer's Inside Amy Schumer television show and became a fan.  I was eager to listen to the audiobook version of her autobiography, read by her and borrowed from the library.

Schumer has some breezy passages, like a lot of these essay collections from comedians often do (Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey) but is probably more unflinching in its portrayals of addiction and abuse than many readers may be ready for.

Schumer is always raw, frequently shockingly so, but the honesty in this collection sometimes caught me by surprise.  I would rate it as very rewarding for fans, but the casual reader might want to know what they are getting into.

For my part, I liked Amy Schumer more after listening to this audiobook, and will continue to look for her work.