I’ve been lucky enough these last few months to get to know (in the internet-sense of knowing, at least) a few writers. I’ve been writing about quite a bit about my favorite books, both here and for Bookriot, but I thought I’d ask a few of these writers what their favorite book of 2012 was. I mean, if anyone knows good books, it’s the people writing good books.
These are their responses, the best books they read in 2012. Enjoy.
1 Felix Gilman | Red Plenty by Francis Spufford
Felix Gilman is the author of a number of hard-to-categorize books, including the Locus-award nominated Thunderer and The Half-Made World, about which Ursula K. Le Guin said “we haven’t had a science-fiction novel like this for a long time“. His latest book is The Rise of Ransom City.
I think I read this in 2012, though I lose track at the end of the year. Red Plenty by Francis Spufford. It’s a unique and wonderful hybrid of historical fiction and SF only not really very much like either of those things tends to imply, about economic theory in Soviet Russia in the 50s and 60s (or more precisely perhaps about theory running aground on politics). It’s a very moving and human and exciting and quite fast-paced novel in which the main character is the concept of shadow prices. You should read it. Also, I just re-read The Hobbit, in lieu of seeing the film, not out of any strong feelings pro or con the film but because it was too hard to arrange babysitting. Anyway it really is a lovely well-made thing; you can see why it’s lasted.
2 Barry Napier | The Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli
Barry Napier is a prolific writer of mostly self-published books, and winner of the Write a Dead Man Novella contest over on amazon. His shorter work, poetry and short stories both, has been published in a great number of magazines.
If I’d been asked this question in November, I would have said The Girl That Played With Fire, as a big reading milestone of my 2012 was reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Series and I believe the 2nd book was the strongest. However, near the beginning of December, I picked up The Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli. I’d had it for months but sort of forgot about it. I’ve only read two other books by Piccirilli and this one is, by far, my favorite.
A recurring line through the book states: “The meeting of yourself is the meeting of a stranger. The man you are becoming has less in common with the man you were.” It’s a great reflection of the story itself…a man that devotes his life to hunting down the man that killed his 6 year old daughter, a serial killer of children called Killjoy. Through the hunt, Killjoy taunts him with a series of letters through which the two become almost intimately linked. Beyond that, the central character may or may not be going insane as he has conversations with a doll version of himself that resides in his dead daughter’s dollhouse.
A novel about revenge, desperation and grief, it’s a great glimpse into the sort of para-crime dramas that Piccirilli is so skillfull at. This one lies on the slaughterhouse floor that resides between the counties of crime fiction and psychological suspense. A great read.
3 K.T. Davies | Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
K.T. Davies is one of those annoyingly likable writers I’ve had the great fortune of getting to know on Twitter. Her book, Red Knight, is getting great reviews everywhere, including having one of her characters being chosen character of the year. She uses an androgynous acronym for her pen name, and will therefore soon be swimming in JK Rowling and EL James money. It’s simply a matter of time.
Lawks, this is a toughie. Not counting books by people I know or those that I’ve read but that aren’t out until next year, the book I enjoyed the most this year was a YA novel! I know, how old am I? Anywho. The novel in question was Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (Tor) Free download here. I picked it up after hearing the good Doctorow read from the sequel, Homeland, at Eastercon.
Taken From the cover of Little Brother:
“Marcus is only seventeen years old, but he figures already knows how the system works — and how to work the system. But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught up in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison, where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.”
After this San Francisco becomes, to all intents and purposes, a police state. The book details Marcus’s use of actual and near-future possible tech to fight back against the DHS. And who doesn’t love a David and Goliath battle?
Not only is Doctorow’s prose fast paced and eminently readable, but the book is instructional too. As someone who’s been playing on the internet since dial-up modems and MUSHes it was nice to find out what the kids of today and tomorrow might be getting up to. And as a bit of a tree-hugging liberal, a book about sticking it to the man or as in this case, a sadistic woman representative of ‘Da Man’ was right up my street.
It’s not something I’d give to a young teen to read. Doctorow isn’t shy about depicting some rather adult themes like sex and torture as well as a good dollop of violence, but older yoofs will love it. It’s a dystopian novel, but not the usual, grimdark, kill-your-best-friend-and-eat-them kind that seems en vogue at the moment. It has a positive energy —despite the subject matter— that I think anyone would find appealing. Okay, I’m not going to go out and join the cDc or Anonymous, (they wouldn’t have me), but I’m pretty sure it could light a fire under younger and less jaded arses than mine. If a novel can provoke thought and positive action as well as entertain, as I’m pretty sure this book will have done for some frisky young hipsters then that’s all three cherries lined up as far as I’m concerned.
Did I just write ‘jaded arses’? Yes, yes I did. Peace out.
4 Colin F Barnes | Last Days by Adam Nevill
Colin F. Barnes straddles the traditional and indie publishing divide. He’s had a number of short stories and novellas published as well putting out some of his work through his publishing company Anachron Press. His latest work is Artificial Evil, a cyberpunk thriller.
2012 was a fairly barren spell for me with regards to reading. For one reason or another my schedule meant that I didn’t get chance to read as much as I hoped. However, there were a few gems, and chief among them was Adam Nevill’s ‘The Last Days.’
Adam is in my opinion the cream of the crop of current British horror writers at the moment after four successful novels. The Last Days being the fourth. They all follow in the traditions of M.R James in that the supernatural and occult feature heavily, and this is no different for my pick of 2012.
The book starts out with Kyle, a struggling indie film maker, being given a seemingly ‘too good to be true’ offer to make a film on his terms for a great deal of money. The film itself is about a Manson style cult from the 60s and 70s. The man hiring him, Max, has a vested interest in the success of the documentary, but his motivations are not particularly clear in the outset. And as Kyle digs further into the story, weirder and more frightening discoveries await him.
It’s a book that evolves and changes in quite different tones, and this for me is one of its outstanding positives. At first we seem to be in a traditional haunted house scenario, which Nevill handles brilliantly, giving you genuine chills, but then we start to see more of the conspiracy, and then ultimately, it’s a story of survival. The transition between these modes is considered and logical and you’re pulled through by the personality and struggles of Kyle, our protagonist.
The underlying threat and menace is also perfectly measured. You’re given just enough to see behind the curtain, but not enough to know exactly what’s going on—until you need to. Nevill clearly did a lot of research for this book; both on the occult side of things and on the technical parts. We get great description of the filming process as Kyle and his cameraman, also his best friend, go deeper into the story of the cult, and later in the book the revelation of what the big evil is and where its coming from is handled nicely. There are few sections that perhaps could be streamlined, but that’s being incredibly picky.
It’s a testament to this book that even a few months after I still have very strong images of the scenes within the book and think on it fondly.
I’m rather desensitized to horror these days, but Nevill managed to elicit some bonafide chills from me with this book, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest accolades I could give it. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Adam Nevill yet, but this is right up there with the best of horror literature.
5 Alden Bell | Building Stories by Chris Ware
Alden Bell (pen name of Joshua Gaylord) wrote one of my own favorite books of the year, The Reapers are the Angels, which won ALA Alex Award, and was nominated for the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award and the 2010 Shirley Jackson Award. His latest book is a sequel / prequel of sorts, Exit Kingdom
I’m a big believer in the idea that stories are everywhere around us—not just in books. There are stories to be discovered in traffic patterns, in data streams, in the way dust settles and is unsettled, in conversations overheard through open windows, in the disdain with which your cat looks at you from across the room. Actually, I think I prefer those stories that I have to go out and find rather than the ones that are handed to me neatly wrapped between the covers of a book. Yes, I like to be a hunter of stories rather than the self-satisfied recipient of packaged goods. And that’s one of the reasons that my favorite book of 2012 is Chris Ware’s graphic novel Building Stories.
Chris Ware is the kind of writer who, rather than giving you a clearly defined story-path to follow, creates a landscape for you to roam freely—assuring you all the while that there are many stories to be found, but that you need to dig for them yourself among colorful but complicated panels, confounding graphical signposts, long stretches of wordless pages, odd combinations of the real, the surreal, and the hyperreal. He is best known for his multi-generational epic Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, a graphic novel in which the stories literally fold over on each other and need to be navigated, mapped and interpreted before they can be understood. It’s a daunting task for many readers, but it’s a journey that I’m more than willing to undertake.
Building Stories isn’t even one book: it’s fourteen distinct documents, including comic books, graphical newspapers, pamphlets of all different shapes and sizes. They can be read in any order (I read them from largest to smallest—that was my gambit), but together they create a narrative territory that invites you to wander it freely. There are traditional stories to follow, but intertwined with those are the equally mesmerizing stories of our protagonist’s neighbors (who are, of course, the protagonists of their own lives), of the bees buzzing in the flowers in the background, even of the building itself which has a longer and more varied life than any of the animate characters.
To hunt your way through all fourteen documents is a gorgeous labor. You get the impression that Chris Ware has imagined a world larger by acres than what he actually shows you on the page—as though beyond his frames are other frames that tell other stories just out of your reach. And you begin to believe it is purely happenstance that you are reading these particular stories as opposed to others going on just to the left of this one, or just to the right. There is a kind of magic in Chris Ware that makes you wish you had his eyes—so you could see behind all the mundanities of your world to the glorious colors of the stories he would discover there.
To quote Harry Crews, “Stories was everything, and everything was stories.” Reading Chris Ware, like reading any great author, makes me feel that I want to be a better diviner of stories in a sometimes inscrutable world.