Read These Things: A Year in Reviews

Rather than recap the year in events, I’m going to give you recaps of a handful of my favorite reads for 2014, including re-reads. In no particular order:

OMG Look at This!

  • Sandman Graphic Novel Series – This is a well loved favorite series of mine, one that I’ve read at least five times through, and in the same way that American Gods is my WTF do I read, I hate everything book, this is my equivalent for graphic novels. Following Morpheus, the Dream King, and his unique siblings. Death, who may be solely responsible for the appearance of the Ankh on goth ladies in the 90’s, is always a treat. Desire is androgynous and delicious. Really, if you like speculative fiction and comics, you’re selling yourself short by not reading all of these.
  • Saga Volumes 1-4 – You guys, there is a reason that this is making books of 2014 lists all over the place. Irreverent, with stunning art by Fiona Staples, this is the story of Hazel’s star-crossed parents, who flounder through the universe in an attempt to create a safe home for their daughter. Told from Hazel’s point of view, the first four volumes available cover her infancy and early toddler years. I have been on the edge of my seat waiting for each new volume to be released. Another spec lit darling, just go read it now, damn it.
  • Sex Criminals – If you could orgasm and stop time, you would totally use those powers to rob a bank and save a library, right? Yup, me too.

Tell me that story again, but this time…

  • Black Apple – I found this while I was trawling for places to submit a short story, and could not be more pleased. An incredible collection of new fairytales, it has a permanent place on my bedside table. Ranging from macabre to chilling to bizarre, there’s something magical in every story chosen, with my favorite being Snow Child, the opener by Molly Pinto Madigan.
  • The Penelopiad – Meet Penelope – ghost and wife of Odysseus. Margaret Atwood chose to tell a version of events taking place in the Odyssey from the point of view of the twelve hanged maids and Penelope, and the result is new and beautiful, and honestly, more endearing. Atwood asks the question, “But why were they really hanged?” and goes from there. Another repeat offender, this is a tremendous book.
  • Song of Achilles – I read this the other night from beginning to end, after checking a quick excerpt in the under two dollar section of the Nook store on my phone. Dear friends, I ignored my family and read the whole thing on my phone, rather than missing a beat and picking the Nook up on the table next to me. I have no idea if there are historical or mythological inaccuracies in this, because I didn’t check, because I didn’t care. While this may not have the cleverness displayed in The Penelopiad, it has an engaging voice right from the start. Patroclus, mortal exile, weaves the history of Achilles, his half-god lover, in with the relatable fears and hopes of any relationship. There’s a wealth of tenderness here, without the tendency towards overwrought weeping that can happen in a story, and it’s worth devoting a single sitting if you can. Even though the end is foreshadowed right from the start, I found myself hoping for a different ending all the way through.
  • Deathless – Ungh, you guys. Catherynne Valente is my jam. I mean, sure, she’s also a person, but her writing style is so lush, without passing into overdone. This was the book that spawned my spiral into embarrassing fan-girl style love of her writing. Deathless features, Koschei the deathless, Marya Morevna, his troubled intended, and Baba Yaga. Set in St. Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad, this is both a new look at an old tale, and a clever look at turmoil in the Soviet Union. I should mention that I have suggested this book to others, but I can’t seem to gauge who will or will not love it, which I think sort of speaks to the tumultuous nature of the work itself.

It’s Magic! Sort of!

  • The Loves of Judith – Every time I look this book up I incorrectly want to call it My Three Fathers, because essentially the book examines Zayde’s relationship with his mother, and the three men who could be his father. This is a graceful story, gentle, as it navigates Zayde’s relationship to his fathers, and Judith’s past. If you are looking for something written in an elegant hand, this is an beautiful start.
  • Practical Magic – It was years and years after seeing the movie that I first read this book, and Alice Hoffman’s written tale is so much more than the film. The darkness that inhabits the story is a little less whimsical, but the whimsy itself is still there in the details. For over two hundred years members of Owens family, the women in particular, are held responsible for every little thing that can go wrong. Gillian and Sally do what they can to escape their town and their crazy aunts, but find that fate will not let them go so easily. This is a go to beach read for me. It has enough depth to stay engaging after all this time, but is light enough that you won’t get lost after a (few) beer(s).

Tell Me About your Mother

  • Dora: A Headcase – Lidia Yuknavitch has taken Freud’s famous case-study and turned it into a contemporary masterpiece. This is a raw, open-wound sort of tale, that especially resonated as a former teenaged disaster. This is the book I never knew I wanted when I was drowning through high school. Dora isn’t a perfect representation of Freud’s study, and this will require a suspension of disbelief beyond the usual, but Yuknavitch weaves the story so well that it doesn’t feel like she’s asking much when it is required. It’s interesting to read the reviews on Amazon, because this is a love or hate book, hands down, it would seem. You’ve been warned.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – this is the book I most recently finished and whooooo buddy, it’s incredible. And heartbreaking, and unforgettable. Between Yoli and Elf, Yoli is the messy one – mid-divorce, juggling lovers that she’s not really that into, raising two children with different fathers, and so on. But it’s Yoli that Elf wants to help her really, finally end her life after multiple failed suicide attempts. And Yoli begins to consider it, despite having already lost her father and a cousin to suicide. Miriam Toews takes a subject she has written about before, in an account of her father’s manic depression from his point of view, and makes it touchable, rather a point of failure on the part of the characters. This is a heartbreaker, no question, but worth every tear you’ll have to choke back in public. If nothing else, this is a fictionalized look at depression as a terminal illness, and it will make you think.

Sad Ladies in Love 

  • Glaciers – I very nearly passed this up because the description in the flap is shit. Forget what Amazon says – this is a quiet story, and yes it’s about a girl who works with damaged books at a library, and has a thing for the former-soldier who is responsible for the IT issues in the building. But it’s also a reminiscing, a collection of small stories that serve to show us who Isabel is, without rushing from beginning to end. Simply lovely, I recommend this slim paperback if you like your love stories to be ever so slightly unfulfilled.
  • The Seas – So, this was on the list of books that Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers, recommended as a favorite read, and it absolutely hits the mark. Undine, nineteen, believes she is a mermaid, because her father told her so before he disappeared into the sea. Undine’s unreturned love for Jude is an endless complication, as she watches him drink his way through post-Iraq War depression. A sad, gorgeous retelling of The Little Mermaid, this features lean, fine writing.

Size Doesn’t Matter OR Go Read these Short Stories Now

As I’ve been writing more and more, and have been active on Scribophile (highly recommend, perhaps a review on that another time) I’ve had the privilege of reading some just stunning flash and short stories. Many of the ones I would list now are not yet available online, so these are only a few of my absolute favorites, of which there are so many.

  • The Raven’s Sister If you liked Deathless, which you have now read on my recommendation and looooved, then you actually have to read The Raven’s Sister, by Natalia Theodoridou, to be happy in life.
  • The First Last Mermaid Porno Queen Yvonne Yu’s story about the only mermaid porn star in the history of the world is pure, gritty magic.
  • Nine Facts from the Kuiper Belt Nolan Liebert’s story of loss and loneliness is a perfect combination of language and spareness.
  • The Magician Bite-sized with a punch, this micro-fiction piece will not disappoint.
  • Munitions Anton Rose’s experimental piece is beautiful and industrious at the same time.
  • How is it Supposed to Feel? Jon McGill masters stream of consciousness in his flash fiction work about addiction and love.
  • Etiquette for a Bioluminescent Red Tide Brief and stunning, this is single mouthful of leggy wine.

I know I have forgotten something, or someone, but I’m sure it will come to me at night, when it is least convenient, and then I will forget again by morning. Happy Holidays and see you around the bend.