Year in Review: 2018

15Dec18

Time once again for my annual look at the books I count among my favourites in the last year. All the graphic novels are available through the Toronto library if that particular system can be put to work for you too.

Fiction: Mrs Bridge (Connell) is a remarkable portrait of a character and an era, told in precise chapters sometimes short enough to fit on a postcard. So Much Love (Rosenblum) is as compelling as it is well written and Pockets (Stuart Ross) was poignant and beautiful. Sister Carrie (Dreiser) is a novel I didn’t finish as an undergrad, but I found it immensely readable this year. It’s hard to think of another novel that had me cheering for the main character more than this one, even as there was a growing sense of apprehension.leonard

The Moon and Sixpence (Maugham) is apparently based in part on the life of Gauguin, and it’s a story I found fascinating as an examination of societal expectations and the self. I also really enjoyed The Sense of an Ending (Barnes), which manages to capture something meaningful about life’s struggles to be self-aware and find meaning, even if the accompanying cynicism is fairly pervasive.

Nonfiction: One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery (Karyn Freedman) has great value, not only because Freedman is a skilled writer but because rape is so often mentioned in passing it’s meaningful to have an account of the impact on a life.

What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (Dan Rather) should be requited reading in America and elsewhere given that Rather has a thoughtful and noble way of detailing all that matters, in terms of keeping society civilized and functional.

A couple of thoughtful meditations are well worth tracking down: Birds Art Life (Maclear) and One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness (Medaglia) which takes the form of a graphic novel guidebook and attempts to show the reader the path to greater wisdom.

Essays: Moranifesto (Moran) collects work that ranges from light pop culture analysis to very poignant and passionate (not to mention articulate) attacks on more significant societal problems. Through the Window (Julian Barnes) is a set of largely literary but very well written and insightful essays. Me Talk Pretty One Day (Sedaris) needs no promotion from me, but I enjoyed it.

Mystery: The House of Silk (Horowitz) was a pleasant surprise given that I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan. Horowitz has managed a novel that reads like Doyle returned to tell another story that’s a little more biting and meaningful. Aside from that, it’s a really enjoyable mystery.

Graphic biography: Pablo (Birmant) takes a look at the life of Picasso. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman (Voloj) is excellent. Superman is ultimately an immigrant story undoubtedly inspired by the lives of his creators, but beyond creating the character the rest of the story is quite interesting too. The Arab of the Future (Sattouf) is an autobiographical tale and very compelling reading.

More graphic biography: It’s a Bird (Seagle) is a different kind of Superman graphic novel, telling a personal story of a period of time the author was contemplating an offer to write the Superman comic. Laika (Abadzis) tells the story of the charming dog the Russians sent into space, back when they did that sort of thing.

Christophe Chaboute: I thought his graphic novel The Park Bench (with its focus on one park bench over time) was charming, but I also read his gripping, short adaptation of the Jack London story To Build a Fire. Certainly planning on reading more by him.

Graphic novels: Sabrina (Drnaso) is the best graphic novel I read all year, capturing feelings of dread, disorder and paranoia. In short, our modern malaise. Poe (Hinds) adapts stories and poems by the great man. Killing and Dying (Tomine) is an excellent set of stories in graphic form. Essex County (Lemire) tells a fairly simple tale elegantly and manages to capture something about the Canadian spirit.

Speaking of Lemire: Black Hammer (two volumes, so far) is a compelling twist on the superhero story, with some unique and troubled heroes trapped in a place they don’t quite understand. It’s dying to be a mini-series of some kind, though the art in these comics is wonderful, and I only hope it wraps up in a satisfying way at some point instead of going off the rails or going on forever.

And yet more graphic novels: A Thousand Coloured Castles (Brookes) is a tasteful examination of Charles Bonnet syndrome and the accompanying hallucinations. Out of Nothing (Blandy) is trippy, philosophical and inspired, making it perfectly suited to graphic novel format. Coyote Doggirl (Hanawalt) was a stylish and thoroughly fun story. And finally How To Be Happy (Davis) is a set of sharp, brief and worthy stories with an impressive range.

Poetry: I really enjoyed The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (Chris Banks) Know Your Monkey (Friedman) Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (Harvey) The Wellspring (Olds), Rue Du Regard (Todd Swift), Be Calm, Honey (David McFadden) Blue Horses (Mary Oliver) as well as Penelope in the First Person (Goyette) and Complete Physical (Neilson).

SF: Embers of War (Powell) tells the entertaining and inventive story of a living ship and its crew in the aftermath of a great war. Borne (VanderMeer) had me sold on it as soon as I knew it was about a giant bear ruling a city in a post-apocalyptic future. Speaking of a fairly troubling portrayal of the future, True Born and True North (Sterling) are the first two volumes in a trilogy I plan to finish reading for the compelling story that skillfully keeps the reader engaged with its characters and themes.

Finally, Child of Fortune (Norman Spinrad) is a trifle long, but Spinrad (who wrote an original Star Trek episode before this was published in the 1980s) develops a futuristic language and finds unique moments in the story of a young woman leaving her home planet to find her path in life.

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