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Posts Tagged ‘Jacqueline Baker’

I’ve decided to do a top 20 fiction list this year with 6 additional books in other categories (a children’s book, 3 non-fiction, and 2 graphic novels).The fiction list is split into halves:
THE TOP 10 (in no particular order, because frankly they each have their individual charms)

These were my 10 favourite reads of the year. Some of them were published in 2014, some not.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco: A quiet but incredibly powerful book (a pair of linked novellas). The prose is lovely and deceptively simple. It is like looking into a pool of crystal clear water. You can see the bottom, but once you dive in you realize it is much deeper than it appears to be. It is the story of a writer vows to never write another book, and instead becomes a copyist, producing intimate “portraits” of people in writing.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: A book I regret not reading sooner, but that I doubt I would have appreciated had I read it sooner. A near perfect book read at the perfect time.

No One Writes Back by Jang Eun-Jin: One of the Library of Korean Literature titles from Dalkey Archive Press that (full disclosure) I edited while working in Dublin as an unpaid intern there. This was my favourite of the series of 10 Korean novels that I edited. It is an unusual and moving story about the need for communication and connection and the ways we cope with tragedy and grief.

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant: I loved this book about an indifferent rent collector who is unable to remain indifferent to the suffering of his tenants and embarks upon a comical and desperate scheme to improve their lives.

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken: Hands down, my favourite short story collection of the year. Each story revolves around grief, loss, and ways in which the ripples from those emotions affect others.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: My description of this book to friends is mostly expletives followed by, “Just buy it.” Authority is also awesome and I’m sure the entire Southern Reach Trilogy would be on this list, but the flu kept me from getting to Acceptance, so I’ll just put the first book on here and let you discover the rest on your own.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Intense, terrifying, moving, imaginative. Basically, it is Gaiman. Just read it.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli: Polyphonic and fragmentary. Narrative worlds weave in and out of one another in surreal ways. A woman in Mexico City writing about her past in New York and about an obscure poet from the 1920s, Gilberto Owen, who comes to life through her reflections. Masterful. Excellent translation.

Sweetland by Michael Crummey: A story about landscape, identity, community, and the tragedies and truths that shape our lives set on an island off the Newfoundland coast. Also about the things we can’t leave behind. Funny, haunting.

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki: The story of a small Angolan beach community threatened with destruction by the Soviets for the sake of the construction of a monument to a dead dictator. Contains a memorable cast of characters: the children with a cunning plan, a mad Cuban called Sea Foam, a ghost, a lovesick Russian, and a gangrenous granny, among others. Excellent translation by Stephen Henighan.
The Next 10 (again, in no particular order)

I read too many really good books this year to limit myself to a top 10, so here’s the next 10 good reads on my list.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker: Atmospheric, creepy, and elegantly told tale of Arthor Crandle, a fellow down on his luck who takes a position as an assistant to none other than H.P. Lovecraft., the godfather of weird fiction.

A Fairy Tale by Jonas T. Bengtsson: An intense and moving story of a father-son relationship. The imagery is incredibly vivid and almost magical realist or fabulist in the first half of the book. The narrative shift in the second half changes the tone but manages to maintain the tension in the narrative. Excellent read, excellent translation.

Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes: Another book that’s been around for ages, but that I’m only getting to now. I’ve worked my way backwards through Rhodes’ catalogue and can say with confidence that no one can write about the macabre and the melancholy with such humour and wit. Ultimately, Rhodes writes about love, and ultimately, his books are uplifting, but prepare to have your heart broken in the process. (You will also laugh, and cry, and probably chuck the book against the wall. This is all normal.)

The Martian by Andy Weir: Think MacGyver and Castaway and Apollo 13. Space is awesome. Stylistically, the prose is not going to blow you away, but somehow that doesn’t even matter. The story is so compelling and so cool, because space is cool, and NASA is cool, and Mars is cool, that you won’t be able to stop reading.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: Post-war Welsh-English border. Country estate. One terrifying ghost. Tiffany Murray is an excellent storyteller. I may never forgive her for the moth thing though.

A by André Alexis: A book reviewer from Toronto obsessed with an elusive poet tracks him down in an attempt to understand the creative act. The meeting of critic and artist/hero changes both lives and provides an interesting read/meditation on inspiration and literary creation.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Structurally very innovative. Incredibly moving. Looking forward to A God in Ruins which continues Teddy’s story.

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill: Portrait of a marriage in vignettes. Moving and insightful.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher: Hilarious (but also painfully close to the mark) academic satire told entirely in the letters of reference from one faculty member at a small college. I laughed a lot.

The Age of Magic by Ben Okri: While this novel left me colder than some of Okri’s other works, it is full of ideas and Faustian allusions, and some of the passages in the middle of the book are quite marvellous.

The Children’s/YA Book (but awesome for everyone even grown-ups; start with the first in the series)

I usually read a few more children’s or young adult books, but for some reason or other, I just ran out of time this year. I do have a couple of Jonathan Auxier’s books on my nightstand though, and they look great. However, I think everyone should read the Iremonger trilogy because it is the best. THE. BEST. (Which is saying something, because it currently only has two books in it).

Best. Kids' Series. Ever.

Best. Kids’ Series. Ever.

Foulsham (book 2 of the Iremonger trilogy) by Edward Carey (or, if you live in North America, Heap House (book 1 of the Iremonger trilogy), which was published over here in 2014): Continuation of the Iremonger trilogy. One of the most original stories I have read in years. Includes Carey’s marvellous illustrations of the characters and settings.
The Non-Fiction

I’m only recently coming around to reading non-fiction. These ones really grabbed me this year.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund: I loved this book. It is an absolute blast to read. Conversational, debate-provoking, visually stunning.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison: Insightful essays about fascinating topics from an engaging personal perspective.

Youth: Autobiographical Writings by Wolfgang Koeppen: Post-modern memoir. Fascinating stuff.

The Graphic Novels

I’m also new to graphic storytelling (aside from some Dark Knight Returns etc in university), but these two were supercool and I’ll be seeking out more like them at Happy Harbor.

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll: Stunning art, 5 original dark fairy tales. Good luck sleeping.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins: The title alone should be enough to make you read this.

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Broken Hours

Last week, I wrote briefly about five children’s books that scared the bejeesus out of me. Now, I’d like to share some of my favourite spooky books for grown-ups, just in time for All Hallow’s Read. The idea is that you give out scary books to people on Halloween, so that they have something suitably atmospheric to read. To learn more about All Hallow’s Read check out the website: http://www.allhallowsread.com/

My recommendations are going to run the gamut on this one, from atmospheric ghost stories to postmodern genre mashups to Lovecraftian stories of cosmic dread.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker: An atmospheric and creepy tale about Arthor P. Crandle, a young writer down on his luck hired as a personal assistant to none other than H.P. Lovecraft, wizard of the Weird. The prose is incredibly eloquent and Baker manages to create an atmosphere of tension and gloom, but also of loneliness and loss. You can find hauntings, tentacles, and clever twists in this beautiful book.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: Chilling and tragic. Tiffany Murray is a marvellous storyteller. Drawing on local tales, Murray builds a world in which tragedy echoes through generations and is connected to a dark family history. The story is set in 1955 on the Welsh/English border, but a malevolent spirit has been on the premises of the declining estate for much longer than the current occupants. The story takes its inspiration from the legend of the Black Boy of Littledean Hall. Super creepy. Also super creepy? This new book trailer for Sugar Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTQTL7_S-Wk

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: I wrote my Master’s thesis on this novel, and while it definitely has some pretty big problems, there is no denying that the Navidson house story line is absolutely terrifying. The Navidson’s discover that their house is bigger on the inside than on the outside, manage to cope with the sudden appearance of a door that leads to a dark passageway that changes shape and size, and then embark upon an expedition to explore the passage. Bad things ensue. Add to that the absolutely brilliant and utterly disorienting layout of the book, and the spooky qualities of the accompanying “soundtrack” by Danielewski’s recording artist sister, Poe, and you have all the makings of a freaky read.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill: Written as an exercise in genre, this novella is conventional but exceedingly effective. The isolated and dreary landscape, the imposing architecture, the restraint of the characters, the palpable fear of the townspeople, the repressed grief of the protagonist… all of the elements of Victorian Gothic are here. The film version is also very well done, managing to avoid the gore that so many horror films are dependent upon now.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: I’m not usually one for reading crime stories, but this is the story of a time-travelling serial killer and the one woman who survived him. It’s an absolutely cracking read, and I must say that during the climactic scene in the novel the sense of dread was so visceral that at many points I wanted to put the book down because I wasn’t sure I could face what was coming. Despite my desire to escape the inevitable horror, I was compelled to continue reading and couldn’t make myself look away. So, even though this isn’t a horror novel, per se, I found it absolutely horrifying (in a good way).

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: This was a single-sitting read for me. It’s got that “unity of effect” that Poe (old E.A., not the musician mentioned above) wrote about, and it’s got that Lovecraftian sense of cosmic dread. A team from the Southern Reach organization embarks on an expedition into the mysterious Area X. The story is intense and uncanny, and will leave you breathless in anticipation of the second book, Authority, which will in turn leave you breathless for the third book, Acceptance. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

I also have a pile of books I intend to read over the dark winter months here in the frozen north, many of which have the potential to be terrifying. And who knows? They may make next year’s list:

The Winter People by Jennifer Mahon

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The House on Haunted Hill by Shirley Jackson (don’t ask me why it’s taken so long to get around to this one)

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

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