The end of the year is almost upon us, and I find myself fifteen (yes, fifteen) reviews behind schedule here at ye olde blog, and with two freelance projects on the go for the holidays, it looks like I won’t be getting caught up until the new year. So instead, here are the books that really stood out for me this year. The list is not in any particular order.
The Waterproof Bible, by Andrew Kaufman
Clever, light in tone, and yet broad in its emotional appeal, I had more fun with The Waterproof Bible than with any other title this year. I’m definitely going to track down All My Friends Are Superheroes. It was so short that I lingered longer than perhaps I should have, not wanting to let go. Always a good sign. I’ve got a review of this in the works for the blog.
Cities of Refuge, by Michael Helm
This one was almost a given for me, as Helm’s sophomore novel, In the Place of Last Things is my favourite Canadian novel of all time. Despite the brutal sexual assault at the centre of the novel, Cities of Refuge manages to be a more cerebral, and more subtle, book than his first two. It works for Helm here, but I hope it’s not indicative of a shift in his overall approach, as his ability to balance intellect and the rough-and-tumble of overt physicality is a large part of what makes The Projectionist and In the Place of Last Things so incredibly strong. Also, while there’s nothing particularly flashy, it felt to me like Cities of Refuge had more invested in its language than nearly everything else I read this year, rarely dipping into Canadian Lyricism, nor confusing flat-eared informality with an individual voice. I’ll be reviewing this here hopefully right after new year’s.
Zero History, by William Gibson
I actually did review this one, in Quill & Quire, but you’ll have to go here to find it. After the slowness of Spook Country, Gibson was back at his best here, both in terms of the techno-thriller genre, and his ideas.
Girl Crazy, by Russell Smith
This caused a lot of controversy, and I don’t really want to get much into it until I can write a full review in the new year, but I will say this: Smith has addressed in a very direct way, without necessarily condoning them, some aspects of male sexuality that are extremely difficult to discuss openly and honestly.
Bedtime Story, by Robert J. Wiersema
This is another one that I reviewed for Quill & Quire, so if you want my full take, mosey on over. But I will say that Wiersema reminds me a lot of Stephen King (in a good way).
Sarah Court, by Craig Davidson
You can read my full Quill & Quire review here, but one thing not mentioned in that review was that I found Sarah Court so intense that I literally lost sleep over it. Highly recommended.
It’s a very straight white male list, isn’t it? That wasn’t really on purpose, and there’s some part of me inside that makes me think I should apologize for something, but in the end I don’t really give a damn about that sort of thing. Even though I read more new books this year than I have in a long, long time, I still didn’t read very many, and these were the ones I liked best. Period.
Had I been able to finish it, I’m sure that Bragi Ólafsson’s The Ambassador would have made the list. I’m about halfway in, and I’m loving every word, but I don’t feel right including a book I haven’t finished reading. Likewise Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?, which I have been looking forward to for ages.
Honourable mentions for books I read this year, but were not published this year, or at least not first published this year, go out to Amy Jones’ What Boys Like (review pending), Stacey May Fowles’ Fear of Fighting (full review), Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski (full review), and of course Ray Smith’s Century (full review).