I’ve felt extremely fortunate for various reasons this year. Not only have I been granted the rare luxury of free time, I’m also lucky enough to live across the road from a ridiculously well-funded library.
At the time of writing this, I’ve read 99 books this year, and working my way through two others. I’ve collected an interesting batch of stats on what I’ve read, but we’ll save those for another day. Below are my literary highlights of the year, in no particular order. Some were published in 2015, some were not.
A Monster Calls may be the book that made me cry the most this year. It was so beautiful and so human; it just ripped a hole in me. On the surface, it’s a story about a young boy dealing with his mother’s cancer, but the story is completely unconventional. It will take you about two hours to read it, and the illustrations are beautiful. Just brace yourself to be quite severely moved.
If that doesn’t convince you, here’s a trailer for the forthcoming movie.
Ness’s 2015 release was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which is a fantastic spin on the onslaught of sub-par zombie, vampire, werewolf movies which have popped up over the last decade or so. Except this book focuses on the “normal” people in these crazy scenarios, and how supernatural warfare can effect “the rest of us”. It’s insanely brilliant and very clever.
I devoured A Head Full of Ghosts (Paul Tremblay) in a single day. It was like Ghostwatch meets The Exorcist, but with a very modern twist. It was absolutely terrifying for various reasons.
The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley) is such a perfect British, unsettling novel. The whole thing is just tinged with a sense of unease that you can’t really explain. It’s been nominated for various awards, for good reason.
The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Keith Donohue) has been on my radar since last year, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s so bizarre, and I couldn’t really work out what was going on most of the time. But when things became clearer, it was just so perfect. And one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Haunting.
I’ve also been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson, and the short stories of Daphne du Maurier. Du Maurier’s story, The Old Man, instantly became my favorite short story ever. Seek it out if you can.
I’ve read more graphic novels than I normally would this year, largely due to the fantastic selection at the library. Highlights have been Wilson by Daniel Clowes, who I have loved since I was a teenager. Clowes’ sense of humor is just so bleak. I appreciate him more than older I get. I’m very excited for his new book, Patience, which will be released in a few months.
I have also discovered the wonderful artist Lucy Knisley, and have managed to get hold of three of her books this year. Displacement, about a cruise she took with her grandparents, was very sweet and honest. And An Age of License is about Knisley’s travels around Europe. Knisley’s illustrations are colorful and clean, and she’s a hell of a writer.
I’m drawn towards odd fiction. If a book review contains the words “unsettling” or “unnerving”, there’s a chance it will make it onto my “to read” pile at some point. Here are my favorite weird books of the year.
Whilst reading Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh), I spent a lot of time not really knowing where the book was heading, but very much enjoying the ride. The eponymous character is such an enigmatic misfit that I was happy to follow her.
I’d attempted to listen to the audiobook of Wolf in White Van (John Darnielle) a few times, but for some reason found myself tuning out. So I’m glad I was finally able to give it my full attention. It’s like a dramatic monologue, requiring your full concentration to follow the twisting plot. The intentions of the protagonist aren’t always very clear, but it’s one of those books where everything just falls together, and you want to go back to the start and experience it all over again.
Our Endless Numbered Days (Claire Fuller) is about a young girl, Peggy, who is kidnapped by her survivalist father to go and live in the forest. Peggy’s father convinces her that the world has been destroyed, but Peggy soon finds evidence to the contrary. It’s very weird, and quite similar to Room, and I still think about parts of it now.
The Best of the Rest
A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) – Epic, heartbreaking, completely engrossing. The author created a world I didn’t want to leave. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth the effort.
Redshirts (John Scalzi) – I almost described this as a Star Trek parody, but I think that devalues the beauty of this book. It’s funny, with lots of sci-fi references, but very moving in places.
Not My Father’s Son – I’m not too keen on autobiographies, but I made an exception for cheeky Scot Alan Cumming. Plus, it was about two quid on Audible, so definitely worth a punt. It’s such a shocking and intensely personal account of Cumming diving into his uncertain family history. It’s incredibly well-written, and consistently surprising.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Eimear McBride) – Poetic, disturbing, vital. I have a quote from this saved in my phone because it’s just so beautiful.
What a fantastic year. What have your favorites been?