2016 has not been a good year. The passing of several much-loved and respected artists and musicians (starting as early as December 2015 with the death of Lemmy) seems to have to engendered a general sense of gloom and sadness for many. Additionally, the stressful and ultimately depressing preparations and results of both the UK EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election has meant that many now feel as though they are being suffocated with a sense of alienation, paranoia and anxiety. Continued reports of racial hate crime in both the UK and US, as well as the seemingly increasing frequency of worldwide terror attacks and the tragedies involved in Aleppo’s very recent recapture has made for an extremely turbulent year for humanity.
2016 has also been a strange year in my life. In spring, I found myself dealing with some very unpleasant mental health issues that had been brewing for some time. As a result of this, I took steps to change aspects of certain situations in my life, and I also started this blog, which has been a huge help for me. Thankfully, I found enough time to read as much as I could (though I’m sure I could have read more), and I’m looking towards 2017 with a sense of cautious optimism.
The Best Books I Read This Year
I read a lot of incredible books this year, and in no particular order, the best ones were Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Robert Aickman’s Cold Hand in Mine, Albert Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Glyn Jones’ The Water Music and Other Stories. You can find the individual reviews in my blog archives. I was expecting a few of these to be fantastic before I started reading (Jackson and Conrad in particular), but others, like the Camus and the Jones books were pleasant surprises. I recently picked up the Complete Short Stories of Glyn Jones and I’ve been amassing a small collection of Camus paperbacks as well, so I have those to look forward to next year.
The Worst Books I Read This Year
I made an effort to read books I really thought I would enjoy this year, in an effort to avoid the annoying situation of realising a book is no good when you’ve already read about half of it. Unfortunately I did end up reading a few things that left me cold. Specifically, two of the graphic novels I read this year, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Neonomicon and Garth Ennis and Michael DiPascale’s Rover Red Charlie were very disappointing.
Neonomicon is essentially an interesting contemporary Lovecraftian idea wrapped in layers of racism, sexism and sexual violence. I don’t doubt that Moore, who is a dedicated Lovecraft scholar, has irrevocably changed the path of comics and graphic novels over the last thirty years, but ultimately the narrative of Neonomicon just felt like a really cheap way to shock and offend, when I think the story could have been presented in just as effective a way without relying on the gory and graphic depictions of violence and assault. I might sound precious saying this, but I’m not one who shocks easily – it’s just that I expected to find a sense of cosmic mystery and doom, but it just ended up feeling exploitative and misguided. My full review of the comic can be read here.
Rover Red Charlie is the story of three canine friends who try to cross the United States in the middle of the breakdown of humanity (the story is based in Ennis’ Crossed universe). I am a huge fan of Ennis’ Preacher series, and I have also read other stories of his which I have really enjoyed (Goddess in particular) but this was just kind of forgettable. It almost felt too cartoonish (yeah, I know it’s a series about talking dogs…), especially considering the crumbling, chaotic world that the mutts inhabit. I read this because I am a fan of comics about dogs (I highly recommend Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden series if you too are slightly odd and like comics about canines) but in the end Rover Red Charlie just felt boring and protracted.
I also Jack Kerouac’s Scattered Poems this year, which was my first time reading any of his poetry. I find it hard to judge poetry as it can be such a subjective read, but I didn’t find this very enjoyable. Like a lot of Beat literature, the poetry often seems deliberately obtuse and abstract, which can be a huge distraction when you’re trying to decipher and interpret the verse. As an aside, I feel much the same about Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, though I have read and enjoyed some of his poetry in the past. It was interesting to read how Kerouac composed his verse, but I think I’ll remain a fan of his prose only for now.
I’m just on 59 books out of my planned 60. I’ve started reading my 60th book of the year that I expect to complete over Christmas, so if I work a little harder I might be up to 61 or 62 books by December 31st. You can check my progress and see my Goodreads profile here.
Reading Plans for 2017
I’ve certainly gone overboard with my book buying this year, thanks to frequent visits to the legendary town of Hay on Wye and regular searches for second-hand and charity bookshops wherever we go. I don’t have a set plan for what I’ll be reading in 2017, but I would like to read the last two books of the Space Odyssey series and I may try to finish Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy (I tried and failed with the second book, The Twelve, twice. If I fail again, I think I’ll just give up). I’d also like to read Jack Jones’ Off To Philadelphia in the Morning (the story of Merthyr Tydfil-born composer Joseph Parry and his emigration to America in the 1800s), as well as a few other “Library of Wales” books that I found in a Cardiff shop recently.
I would like to focus on reading more Shirley Jackson books, especially as Penguin are reprinting one of her short story collections, Just an Ordinary Day, in February. I’m also planning on reading every single Robert Aickman short story in 2017, though that might prove tricky as at the moment, not every one of his stories is in print. I’ve heard that Centipede Press will be printing a complete collection next year, so we’ll wait and see.
I’d like to finish reading the complete fiction of H.P. Lovecraft also. I started that this year but got sidetracked by the sheer amount of books I wanted to read. There’s only so much existential cosmic horror a man can take in one sitting.
I’ll sign off for now. Have a great Christmas, whatever you’re doing, and I’ll be posting again in 2017!