Hey! So, everybody’s doing these posts at the turn of the New Year, but you know what?
People like reading them, as evidenced by the fact that you clicked on this post and the fact that:
- you clicked on this link, and
- more people read my Best Books I Read in 2018! post from last year than any of my other posts.
5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is the weirdest book I’ve read (in some ways).
I first heard of this book at MidSouthCon a few years ago. On a panel, Ellen Datlow (well-known horror editor) described it as this book where you had to start
Most of the book is a series of essays written by a guy named Zampanó. The essays are about a documentary made by a filmmaker Navidson, who discovers his new house is…strange. The inside dimensions are a fraction of an inch larger than the outside dimensions, which is impossible. From there the house grows stranger and Navidson becomes obsessed, at the expense of his relationship with his wife. Also, while you read the essays, there are footnote commentaries by a guy named Johnny, who is reading Zampanó’s essays about Navidson’s documentary.
Okay. It’s hard to explain. Even harder to describe is the text layout. See below for some examples. In the first picture, the characters are wandering through a frustrating maze while the reader is reading through a frustrating footnote-laden maze of text. SO META, AMIRIGHT?
If all of that interests you, then GO READ THIS BOOK. If it doesn’t, then DON’T GO READ THIS BOOK. It’s not for everyone. But it’s weird and strange and awesome.
4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
This is the other weirdest book I’ve read (in other ways).
This book was everything I secretly wished Children of Blood and Bone would be. To be fair, CoBaB is YA. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is very not YA. It was an unfair expectation.
The book is a hard read. The plot winds, many things that happen are distorted through the beliefs and prejudices of the narrator, and many stories are told for unclear reasons. But it’s so good.
When novel., our local bookstore, asked community members for shelf-talkers (recommendation with little description) last year, I wrote one on this book:
This book is weird (in the best way). It’s African. It’s queer. It’s violent (insert all the trigger warnings here). It’s epic fantasy that pushes me as a reader beyond the traditional Eurocentric fantasy tropes of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones toward something fresh and new. Infused with African mythology, the book follows Tracker and his companions as they search for a mysterious boy and discover that those they trust are not what they seem.
It’s billed as the “African Game of Thrones,” but it’s not. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is its own beast.
Also, book 2 of this series will cover the events of book 1, but from the perspective of one of the villains from book 1. Book 3 will be from the perspective of the boy they’re trying to find. I’m pumped to see how Marlon James plays with perspective in the rest of the series.
3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Surprisingly, this book had nothing to do with Noah’s rise to fame as a comedian and Daily Show host. It’s all about him as a little boy trying to find his way during his childhood during Apartheid.
We read this as part of novel. Book Club, and it was one of a few books that literally everyone liked. At the end of the year, several cited it as their favorite book of the year.
His stories range from trying to find a girlfriend to getting in with a bad crowd selling bootleg CDs, to finding out his abusive stepfather shot his mother. Parts are hilarious, heart-wrenching, informative, and beautiful.
And unlike my first couple entries on this list, it’s very accessible. I’d recommend it to anyone!
2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
When I heard Hank Green (who I know from Crash Course and brother of famous YA author John Green) was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it.
The premise is this: late one night, April discovers a huge robot statue thingy in the middle of the city. She records a video and uploads it to her YouTube channel. As more of these huge, inexplicable robot statues are discovered around world, April becomes internet-famous as the first person to document them.
The rest of the book is about how this fame affects April and her relationships as she and others around the world work to figure out what the heck these things are. Aliens? An elaborate prank? A secretive art installation?
I also appreciated that it was centered around a college-age protagonist. It’s not quite YA, but more post-YA (sometimes called New Adult). But it was awesome. Page-turner that also explores some relevant themes about internet fame, divisive politics, and humanity coming together to solve a problem.
Before I reveal my number one…
These were great and definitely could have made this list:
- The Book of Isaias by Daniel Connolly
- Strange Weather by Joe Hill
- The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr. David S. Sparks by William F. Aicher
- We Have No Idea by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson
- Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
…and my least favorite book of the year!
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
There’s a reason you’ve not heard of Whitehead’s first novel. He somehow took the zombie horror genre and mashed it up with nothing-really-happens literary fiction and created the most horrifying reading experience of the year:
Having to finish a book I suggested for book club and feeling bad that I inadvertently subjected a book club of people I really like to this wordy piece of garbage.
Luckily, I had it on audiobook, so I could let the second half of the book bounce against my tympanic membrane for long enough that I could count it in my list of books that I read. It was excruciating. It left me with a bad case of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD). That was Whitehead’s term, not mine.
For the record, some folks in book club did like it. So take my words with a grain of salt. And I’ve heard his other books are good…
And finally! My number one book of the year!
1. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
I love short stories. As a writer, it’s a way to explore an idea quickly, to provoke a visceral emotional response, to surprise and entertain in a short time.
If you have never read a short story collection, I recommend you start with this one. Adjei-Brenyah does all the things I mentioned above in a way that will stick with you. Here are three that stuck with me:
In “Zimmer Land,” a young black boy navigates what it would be like to work in an amusement park where patrons get to shoot a black kid in a hoodie as part of a fantasy on the pretense of protecting their family. Disclaimer: Many (not all) of these stories deal with triggering themes. These particular stories are not “fun” or “entertaining” in the traditional sense, but they are powerful and will affect how you think about the issues they explore.
In “The Era,” the world has changed so that everyone says exactly what’s on their mind. In the past, people used to lie just for the sake of being nice or polite. It’s a jarring premise, but fascinating, making me evaluate the line between honesty and not being a jerk.
In “How to Sell a Jacket As Told by IceKing,” the protagonist is a hotshot jacket salesman selling clothes to literal consumer zombies (a hilarious concept) in order to win a brand new jacket for his mother.
All that being said, here’s the biggest compliment I can give this book: It made me want to be a better writer myself by showing me what a short story can really do. A short story can take a crazy idea (or crazy fact about our society) and use it to make someone see the world differently.
Here’s to another year of reading!
Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2020! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read in 2019.