Tag Archives: reading

Best Books 2016

So in 2016 I read a couple hundred books (not including books I didn’t finish, books I reread, literary journals, newspapers, articles, magazines, etc). As usual, it was not nearly enough. Now, I’ve narrowed it down to the twenty books that most made me go “WHOA.” As usual, these were books read in 2016 (so not necessarily only ones published in 2016) and as usual the order is meaningless.

Some things I noted about my overall reading: 52% were written by men and 48% by women. And 39% were authors from the US, while the other 61% were authors from outside the US. I don’t usually break my reading down into statistics, but I thought it would be interesting to see these two in particular.

In a few places, I’ve reviewed or written about the book elsewhere and I’ve included those links.

 

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by: Victor LaValle. I love LaValle. His writing is beautiful and his pacing is stunning. This novella is no different. I reviewed it at Nerds of a Feather and I wrote a column on it at Ploughshares.
  • The Regional Office is Under Attack! by: Manuel Gonzalez. Fun and dizzingly pced and also achingly smart and well written. I reviewed it here!

3-4.) System of Ghosts by: Lindsay Tigue and Blood Song by: Michael Schmeltzer. These were the two best poetry collections I read last year. Each is exquisitely written and the language feels so precise and yet so natural. I wrote about both of these poets at Ploughshares: here and here!

  • Happiness, Like Water by: Chinelo Okperanta. Whoa. That’s what I said after reading the first story in this collection. Okperanta’s writing is so tender and so lyrical.
  • What is Not Yours is Not Yours by: Helen Oyeyemi. Oyeyemi makes me seethe with jealousy, she’s so damn good. These strange stories are wondrous and gorgeous and filled with sharp edges. I reviewed it here!
  • The Underground Railroad by: Colson Whitehead. If you’ve been a reader of this blog, you might know that Whitehead is my favorite author and that I’ve read his other novels over and over and over. This one is just as beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking as the rest. YES AND IT WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD AS WAS JUST AND GOOD AND NOW I CAN FINALLY BE QUIET ABOUT HIM NEEDING TO WIN. I reviewed it here!
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by: Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s essays are as generous as one would imagine they might be and his storytelling makes everything he’s passionate about practically leap off the page. I reviewed it here.
    • Damned if I Do by: Percival Everett and Big Picture by: Percival Everett. One of my goals this year was to read every Everett that I hadn’t yet read. I did and I was not disappointed. WHY IS HE SO FRAKKING GOOD?
  • Where We Go When All We Were is Gone by: Sequoia Nagamatsu. I loved these stories. Each one is a gem. Lovely writing and dazzlingly strange plots.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by: Anthony Marra. Another “whoa” after each section. It’s also an interlinked story collection, so come on, it basically showed up at my door with chocolate and a coffee.
  • The Hidden Keys by: Andre Alexis. How do I love Alexis? Let me count the ways: HE IS PERFECT AND I DON’T NEED TO COUNT THE WAYS. This novel is funny, and weird, and wonderfully written, and there were some passages that were so good I thought I might have forgotten how to breathe while reading them. I reviewed it here.
  • Under the Harrow by: Flynn Berry. Smart and well written and talking about women and violence in ways both intelligent and emotionally true.
  • The Calling by: Inger Ash Wolfe. I can’t resist a good mystery. This was a really, really good mystery with sharp, evocative writing, an excellent protagonist, and, FYI, it was made into an actually well done movie (with Topher Grace in it!).
  • The Private Lives of Trees by: Alejandro Zambra. I’ll basically read anything Zambra writes. His writing makes me feel like I’m in a fugue state after I’m done with it. He’s basically just doing magic and putting it on the page somehow.
  • Known and Strange Things by: Teju Cole. What I love about Cole’s writing is that it always surprises me. He thinks about things in a way that makes me rethink them as well. Particularly, I loved his essays on photography.
  • Why Did You Lie? by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Even when it’s not top-line Yrsa, she still manages to write a mystery that keeps one so engrossed that “oh look, its one am, and the books done and didn’t I just started reading at ten??”
  • Scholarship in the Digital Age by: Christine L. Borgman. This book is on here for two reasons: one it made me think about scholarship and the collecting of knowledge in new ways (which on its own is a pretty cool thing) and two I think it solved a problem for a novel I’ve been trying to write for over ten years. So I’m now like indebted to this book forever.
  • End of Watch by: Stephen King. I debated including this one. It was solid but it took this series in a direction that I thought was unnecessary. But, ultimately, I think it did right by its protagonists to complete the trilogy and they were damn fine characters.

 

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Essential SFF

Today at Nerds of a Feather, I discussed my list of 24 essential SFF books. You can read the list here!

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Best Books of 2015

Well, hello, Dear Readers,

It is time now for my list of my favorite books that I read in 2015. I read a good amount of books (*by good, I may mean an extremely large number of books). Some were published in 2015 and some were not. The only books I deemed ineligible were ones which I reread in 2015 but had read for the first time in a previous year. I also decided to only select one book per author in cases where I read multiple books by the same author over the course of the year.

The numerical order is (as always) irrelevant. I just really enjoy putting numbers in front of things.

1.) Lock In by: John Scalzi. This book not only does something brilliant with narrative voice and a reader’s perceptions, but also is a clever and fun mystery that also has an extremely brilliant sci-fi premise.

2.) Trigger Warning by: Neil Gaiman. This isn’t my favorite overall Gaiman story collection, but there are some stunning gems in here and, honestly, even just “good” Gaiman is still pretty awesome.

3.) Voices in the Night by: Steven Millhauser. Now, yes, I love Millhauser. I love Millhauser times one million. But, I REALLY loved this collection. Millhauser might be getting even better as a writer, which is somewhat mind blowing that that is even possible.

4.) Ways of Going Home by: Alejandro Zambra. This is a slim book. Yet, it seems like it was overflowing with pages (in a good way). Nine months after reading it, I’m still thinking about how beautiful this book was.

5.) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of the Afterlife by: Deborah Blum. Yes, this subject matter is to me what catnip is to a cat. However, Blum’s writing makes this also an excellent and compelling read for anyone.

6.)  The Skeleton Road by: Val McDermid. I’d never read McDermid before and went in expecting a good, but maybe light mystery. What I got was an extremely well-written novel about the weight of guilt and the lasting effects of violence.

7.) Ghosts: A Natural History by: Roger Clarke. Enjoyable and expansive. Just what I was looking for.

8.) Unbecoming by: Rebecca Scherm. I have some qualms with the end of this novel, but up to that point this was a brilliant and unsettling character study.

9.) Baba Yaga by: Toby Barlow. This book is perfect. I need say no more.

10.) Finders Keepers and Bazaar of Bad Dreams by: Stephen King. Neither of these Kings were perfect, or even top-King, but each had some parts that were top-King and, dammit, I love Stephen King. So, I’m including both, because together the excellent parts added up to some quality reading.

11.) There’s Something I Want You to Do by: Charles Baxter. Man. Man. This writing was exquisite. One of my favorite collections I’ve read in a long time.

12.) Wallflowers by: Eliza Robertson. If you haven’t read a story by Robertson, I suggest you do so RIGHT NOW. If she’s not on best young writers lists soon, soon, soon, then I will be appalled.

13.) Three Moments of an Explosion by: China Mieville. Let me count the ways I love Mieville. Or, maybe, I shouldn’t because there are thousands. He is all that is perfect.

14.) Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by: Marina Warner. It is short, but it’s also dense. And, as always with Warner, the writing and scholarship are excellent.

15.) Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views by: Matteo Pericoli. Just lovely little snapshots into writers.

16.) Wonders of the Invisible World by: Christopher Barzak. Barzak just keeps on impressing me. His writing is lovely and filled with heart in  a way that many writers can’t accomplish without feeling treacly.

17.) Slade House by: David Mitchell. I’ve had Mitchell issues before. But I loved this one: creepy, evocative, and a read in one sitting book.

18.) Fifteen Dogs by: Andre Alexis. Alexis writes so beautifully that I often feel intensely jealous. And then I just feel happy that I get to read his work. Warning: I’m not someone who cries during reading (except for rare moments. JK Rowling, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID), but I had to put this book down several times because I was actually shaking from how heartbreaking some of it is.

19.) Half an Inch of Water by: Percival Everett. Everett’s writing always shines and in these short stories that shine comes through even more. Lovely.

20.) The Buried Giant by: Kazuo Ishiguro. I debated including this title. It was wonderfully written (which shouldn’t be a surprise with Ishiguro at the helm) but it was by no means my favorite of his works. It’s flawed, in many ways, and yet, months later I continue to go back to some of the ideas and images.

 

And here’s to a hopefully equally brilliant 2016 in books!

 

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A Winter Reading List

I recently put together the list of books I plan to read over winter break. As always, it is a long list. I have three weeks or so and so it seems doable, though.

If you’ve read any of these and want to say: “Oh, yes, make sure to read that one!”  or “Oh, no, do NOT read that one!” let me know. or, most importantly, if there are any titles I must add to the list immediately!

(I also am planning to reread Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil. One of my favorite novels of all time!)

Welcome to Braggsville by: T. Geronimo Johnson

The Shapeshifters by: Stefan Spjut

The Library at Mount Char by: Scott Hawkins

The Poser by: Jacob Rubin

Songs of a Dead Dreamer by: Thomas Ligotti

Undermajordomo Minor by: Patrick DeWitt

The Blondes by: Emily Schultz

A Head Full of Ghosts by: Paul Tremblay

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by: Stephen King

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by: Claire North

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by: Stacy Schiff

The Undesired by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Pudding: A Global History by: Jeri Quinzio

And, of course, as always, I’m sure I’ll end up rereading a few other beloveds and/or find some other titles that I’d forgotten on this list!

Happy winter reading!

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Brontë Wieland: The Interview

Hello Dearest Reader! Pints is back with a new EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person) interview. This time, I’m talking with writer Brontë Wieland.

I first met Brontë when I was working on the planning committee for UW-Madison’s very first literary festival (Madison Lit Fest). Brontë was only a freshman but was already getting involved on campus (maybe this is only surprising to the me, the queen of not getting involved). I remember being struck with how motivated he was as well as by the excellent ideas he brought to the planning table.

Because of this, I remained curious to see where Brontë ended up. He was writing, so I encouraged him to send me some of his stuff. He sent me a play at one point which I still think about years later. There was an originality and skill that I almost couldn’t believe. Later, I also read some of his short stories and was equally impressed. His writing was polished, engaging, and utterly original.

Since first meeting him, I’ve expected big things to come from him. And, I think, after reading this interview, you Dearest Reader will as well!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

Tough question.

Romantic version: I always had the heart of a writer and reader inside me and began writing short fiction in childhood. I had the insatiable urge to send a message and show the world my voice.

Real version: The first story I ever wrote was plunked out in all caps when I was ~9. A ship sailing through the Bermuda Triangle was wrecked on an island inhabited by fairies who saved the travelers and who many of the travelers eventually fell in love with. My second story was maybe a year or so later, written when I pulled a Pokémon book called Go West, Young Ash from my bookshelf and began copying it word for word, changing some words for their opposites so it wasn’t plagiarism. I stopped after about half a page. I was bored. The novel was called Go East, Young Klash. Luckily, it was never published. Then I didn’t write again until sixth grade when there was a short story competition my teacher forced us to participate in. I wrote about an average earthworm who always wanted to grow an afro. One day, he did grow an afro and eventually sacrificed himself to save life on Earth from a supervolcano. Mrs. Schroeder thought it was shit. Everyone’s a critic…

I didn’t start writing seriously until just before college. I’d always loved books, but that summer I read A Moveable Feast and learned to appreciate prose. I wanted to make something beautiful like that.

Why? Let’s go story by story.

Story 1: I had a tale to tell and it needed telling.

Story 2: I wanted to write something great.

Story 3: I wanted to have fun and do something that had never been done.

I think that accurate summarizes the motivations that keep my pen moving still.

2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

Every story is a little bit different. Sometimes I see a scene, an image, or a character. Sometimes I sense a story, a plot, an arc. Or maybe I feel an emotion. The first step has always been to let it ruminate. Gestation period varies. Sometimes months, but occasionally just hours.

My second step is usually to scrawl endlessly in a notebook in a script I can barely read. I get clips and blips of words and phrases and I jot them all down. Later is when I reorganize and then sit in front of my computer to agonizingly hammer it out at 1wpm over the next couple weeks.

I think that’s the most common, but there’s a lot of variance. On occasion I do just sit down and type until there’s nothing left to say.

3.) You write a lot towards the speculative and fabulist realms of fiction, what draws you to those kind of story elements? What do you think is the most important aspect to get “right” in this kind of writing?

I do, don’t I?

To me, these types of stories have always been the most real, the most Ur. Storytelling, from its infancy, has often been fantastic, grander than life, stretching the boundaries of existence. What I’m trying to do is tell the truest story possible. Real life has never been necessary to do that.

I feel like there’s something special, reverent, and liberating to tell stories in a way reflective of how they may have been told 10,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago. It feels like connecting with the minds that came before me, joining the ranks of hundreds of previous generations and thousands of previous storytellers. We’re all cut from the same cloth. We’re all telling the same stories starring the same people. It’s magic.

Or maybe I’m just scared my depictions of real life won’t be sufficient.

4.) You also write drama, did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find in your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?

Fiction came first by far. I don’t remember reading or seeing a play before high school. I didn’t write a play until college.

As it turns out, my process is exactly the same. The main differences is I don’t usually write plays in LibreOffice.

They’re both beautiful arts and, you know, I can’t decide. I’m trying to think of moments I’ve had writing each that would sway my decision and keep finding examples for both and flip-flopping. That said, I think playwriting has informed my fiction more than fiction has influenced my playwriting. Stage constraints that I faced in playwriting changed my perspective of fiction completely. I had to learn how to make magic with just bodies, I couldn’t do any prosaic handwaving and neither could I weigh myself down with overexplanation. And I learned.

5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

I don’t think I’ve found that yet. I’ve been experimenting and I have a lot of experimenting to go. The best I can do is say that I usually write in 1st person and I think a lot about culture, identity, and change.

6.) In your story “Empty Head, Flat Nose” (which can be read HERE), you write a science-fiction story that seems both absolutely futuristic and, yet, somehow still rooted in today—it’s one of the most brilliant aspects of the piece, I think. How did you achieve that balance? What sort of world-building went into this story?

My dad is a real down-to-earth guy. He sees things like they are, no illusions, and in a lot of ways has always kept me rooted while encouraging me to push forward. My mom tells me ridiculous things constantly and she always believes really wholeheartedly in what she says. One time my mom told me she heard about a guy walking home on New Year’s Eve. So, this guy, he was just minding his own business when a stray bullet fired celebratorily across town smashed through his noggin and got stuck in his brain. The guy survived. He was otherwise unharmed. No permanent damage. Obviously, sitting in the airport, listening to my mom tell me that is where and when “Flat Nose, Empty Head” was born.

I wondered what the chances were of surviving something like that and figured, they’re a lot higher if you don’t have a brain.

Anyway, I feel like the present day, real aspects of the story are my dad. The strange, futuristic ones are my mom. In terms of how I went about creating and maintaining a balance between these forces, I knew instinctively that this story needed to be as close to the present as possible or it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing special about a mechanical brain in a future that’s infinitely advanced. If this were in 1000 years, people would be rockin’ empty heads all the time and our skulls would be more a fashion statement than a body part. I kept that in mind constantly. I put as much of 2011 into the story as possible and only let the future seep through slowly. Another important chore was to make sure Sunny and especially Matt (since it’s his voice we’re hearing) felt completely comfortable in their world except for Sunny’s surgery which was a shocking innovation. Anything can feel like the present if the people you’re listening to believe it’s the present.

Part of all of this, of course, was the world building. Because I needed to feel comfortable in this near-future too. To gather the rhythm of the world, I wrote about the doctors who performed the surgery and their marriages and vices. I wrote about the company who financed the research and their intentions. I wrote about the lab techs’ hating their jobs. I wrote a bit about Matt’s parents. There was also an accompanying story about the time Sunny killed Matt’s cat when they were toddlers.

7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?

We should all know what Junot Díaz said to an Atlantic reporter about gender and representation.

“I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you’re fucked up, admit to yourself that you’re not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It’s so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who’re like, “Well I was inspired. This was my story.” And I’m like, “OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male’s inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service.” There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it’s truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I’d say, cultural asymmetry.”

What we should do with that knowledge is realize how broadly it applies and constantly question our cultural structures.

8.) Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing:

An elevated heart rate. Because they liked it, because it made them think, because anything. If my work makes someone question their assumptions, I’ve succeeded. If I ever found out someone felt a  sense of wonder at my writing, I’d probably cry.

9.) In many of your pieces that I’ve read, you incorporate folkloric ideas, along with ideas about the nature of storytelling. What draws you to these themes? What are some of your favorite folklore tropes or stories?

The nature of storytelling is something I’m obsessed with. I always love finding a new story or a story told in a new way. Like I mentioned above, I’m fascinated with how folklore and storytelling link us to the past and how they create a connection between cultures and peoples. The only thing more astounding than the Aarne-Thompson classification system is that we, over thousands of years, developed a storytelling framework robust enough to support it. The similarities, the differences, they’re impossibly complex. It says to me that storytelling has been foundational in our development as a species.

In my writing, I’m often trying to learn more about these traditions and do my part to extend and continue them.

Favorites are so hard. I think in general, my favorites are always stories about deception. Either being deceived or deceiving others. I also like talking animals.

10.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet:

China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Ursula K. LeGuin, Angélica Gorodischer, Junot Díaz

Sad fact: Could’ve met Miéville at Socialism 2012 in Chicago but I ended up not going. Terrible idea.

Then, there’s a list of writers that, because I follow on Twitter and occasionally interact with, I feel are people that could in some alternate reality be my peers. They’re doing the type of fantastic work I like to pretend I’ll be doing some day. I’d love to meet some of them.

They are: Sofia Samatar, Aliette de Bodard, Usman T. Malik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu

11.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?

Two things.

  1. That I’ve stuck with it.
  2. That other people have enjoyed it.

12.) Question you wish I would have asked?

Favorite thing I’ve read this year and favorite thing I’ve written this year.

Read: definitely Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan, which I reviewed on my blog. It’s outstanding.

Written: a story that you and about three others have read so far called “Bilingual Cooking Night #1, Banana Bread.” I will optimistically say, be on the lookout for this one in the next year!

13.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Editing. Forcing myself to write. Not using the internet.

14.) What is up next in the world of Brontë Wieland?

A lot less writing than usual, actually. From now until June, I’m trying to live as much in the moment as possible. In June I’m leaving Spain, so I want to take in everything I can until then. In June I’m flying to Singapore, then Tokyo, then Manila, then Melbourne. So I’ll be trading writing time for experiences until August when I fly back to Chicago and work my way down to Iowa, where I’m starting in the Creative Writing and Environment program at ISU. From there, who knows? Hopefully fame, fortune, and glory.

To find out more about Brontë , visit his website here or follow him on Twitter @BeezyAl

Brontë Christopher Wieland is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Raised in Wisconsin, he’s living in Spain until August when he begins the Creative Writing and Environment MFA at Iowa State University. 

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The Great Summer Reading List (well, some of it)

So, I’ve been preparing my summer reading list (along with a list of things I want to bake/ cook over the summer).  Some of the texts are for my thesis (although, essentially, I would have read these all anyway just, perhaps, not in a bunch), some will be rereads (hello Harry Potter, I am prepared to sob for the umpteenth time), and many will be completely new (and a lot are from this year. This is a phenomenal year for books coming out by authors I love. So, well done 2015, well done).

Here is a small sampling of the some hundred+ (yeah, that’s not a typo. I HAVE TO HAVE MY DREAMS) books on my list. Obviously, this isn’t by any means all the books (and the fun thing about book lists is that, inevitably, I’ll go off list and pick up random books at the library or read a reference to a book that I then just have to read), but it is an eclectic sampling of the BOOKS. (Oh gosh, summer, I’m so looking forward to you).

A Very Incomplete List of Some of the Books I’ll Be Reading

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure by: Samira Kawash

The Buried Giant by: Kazuo Ishiguro

The Tusk that Did the Damage by: Tania James

Phantom Waters by: Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Ghosts of Iceland by: Robert Anderson

The Grace of Kings by: Ken Liu

Lock In by: John Scalzi

Voices in the Night by: Steven Millhauser

Religion and the Decline of Magic by: Keith Thomas

Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America by: Christine Wicker

Ghost Hunters by: Deborah Blum

Girl on the Train by: Paula Hawkins

DNA by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir (if I can get my greedy paws on an international copy, since the US IS VERY BEHIND IN TERMS OF SIGURDARDOTTIR)

Chinese Ghost Stories by: Lafcadio Hearn

A God in Ruins by: Kate Atkinson

Oof and now I need to stop before I decide to just forsake the end of the semester and start reading all of the things. So, dear readers, what’s on your summer reading list? You know, I could always use more book recommendations (it’s a sickness. I’m okay with it).

 

 

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An Alphabet of Books

I saw this thing passing around Tumblr, in which people make an acrostic using the letters of their names and titles of favorite books. Being me, I toyed with the idea of adding random letters to my name, but instead to go full greed and do a similar version with letter of the alphabet! Genius, I know. I made one rule for myself, so that I didn’t spend seven hours coming up with this list, and that was I would use the first beloved title that came to mind instead of trying to comb through all the titles beginning with each letter. The only cases where I didn’t follow this rule, were where I’d come up with a title by an author who was already on the lit. So here are 26 books that are worth reading immediately.

Archer’s Goon

The Beach

Carter Beats the Devil

The Driftless Area              

 The Ecstatic

Fooling Houdini

The Gamal

A     History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters

I’m Not Scared

Jesus Son

Kingdoms of Elfin

Lost City Radio

The Ministry of Special Cases

Nervous Conditions

Once the Shore

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and Other Stories

Q & A

Rashomon and Other Stories

Station Eleven

True Grit

Un Lun Dun

View from the Seventh Layer

Wizard of the Crow

Xo Orpheus

     You Remind Me of Me

     Zone One

 

And now, I shall return to grading. This was a needed break, but did mostly serve to make me want to go reread a bunch of books. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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