brandon graham

Behold my 2015 book list

Here in our nation’s capital the weather has taken a turn for early fall digits, with 70 degrees on Saturday (21C for those of you in the rest of the world). People were walking around in shorts. I was reading outside on the grass.

If you are wondering how widespread the year-end book ranking is, take a look at this aggregated list. Basically everyone, including the Obamas, is making best of 2015 lists. Some of those are odd. ‘Best AP calculus books’? Nothing says ‘happy holidays’ like ‘I hope you don’t fail a test’. Some are important and amazing, like ‘Overlooked books by women’.

Well, I am going to be boring and confine my choices to top few. Because guilt and free books propel my reading habits, most of what I’ve read this year was actually published this year.

Reading trends in 2015:

  • More graphic novels/comics, and definitely more comics in floppy/single issue form.
  • More YA than last year. It’s not a lot, but I didn’t read any YA in 2014 at all.
  • More mainstream fiction, with genre being confined mostly to graphic novel form.
  • More audiobooks, by which I mean ‘any at all’.
  • More poetry, which is once again ‘any at all’.

biggreententSo here we go, the most amazing books I’ve read this year are (in genre order):

  1. Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life. What a hard book. What an astonishing book. I will probably never read it again, but I am absolutely certain I’m a better human and a better reader after this book.
  2. Lidia Yuknavitch, The Small Backs of Children. This book was strangely overlooked by every award list in the world, for reasons that elude me.
  3. Lyudmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent – cheating a bit here, since it was published in Russian in 2010. For all your sprawling modern Russian novel needs.
  4. Kevin Barry, Beatlebone – I talk about it here. 
  5. Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown

SorcererI feel like I went full literary prize committee here, with 3 out of 5 being ‘serious’, emotionally intense books.

Poetry:

  1. Kate Tempest, Hold Your Own

Non-fiction:

  1. Joni Tevis, The World is on Fire
  2. Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
  3. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
  4. Sarah Ruhl, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write

Fascinating, they are all essays. Not sure what that says about my non-fiction reading.

Graphic novels/comix:

  1. Warren Ellis, Trees (trade exists)
  2. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Wicked + The Divine: Fandemonium (I thought the first volume was pretty amazing, this one is even better)
  3. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Bitch Planet (yassss! out in trade)
  4. Noelle Stevenson, Nimona (if you like your comics standalone)

Tbitchplanethere is some really good stuff out in single issues as well: 8house: Arclight by Brandon Graham and a bunch of other people; The Spire by Simon Spurrier, Carlos Magno, and Jeff Stokely, Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chang, and Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

And finally, in the ‘Did I Read The Same Book?’ category we have Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. So many people loved it, so many award committees thought it was amazing. I had to give up after 70 pages.

If you want to see the complete list of books I’ve read this year, here’s the page.

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What I’ve been reading: the comics edition 

Not too much time to write and read this week, as we are in full National Book Festival mode, but there’s always time for comics! I’ve mentioned a few in my previous post about depression/dysphoria reading (a friend of mine called this using books ‘as defense against dark arts’), but I don’t just read comics when I’m in the dumps. I read them… a lot. This year, it might have been most of the time (or it might mean I’m in the dumps most of the time, huh).

So here’s what I’ve been reading:

Couv_aama_14mm.inddAama series by Frederik Peeters.

It is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Well, perhaps ‘terrifying’ is not quite the right word. It looks as if it’s from another time and another place. To me, it feels like some remnant of 1970s-80s European pop culture that has been living in my subconscious and is now coming into view. It’s like watching some disturbing family movie you vaguely remember seeing as a child. It might be all the bizarre alien flora and fauna in it, or might be the colors and the way Peeters does faces.

If you’re around DC in September (read: if you’re coming to SPX), Peeters is going to talk about the series at Politics & Prose at Busboys & Poets Brookland on September 17th. I’m quite curious to meet the man whose mind produced these books.

Island02_900px_362_550_s_c1

The most beautiful magazine cover you’ve ever seen

Island magazine

Brandon Graham started it with Emma Ríos and a few other people (here’s an interview with them). It is so pretty. The second issue has a cover by Ríos, and it’s so beautiful I would have spent my money even if it were blank. Reading and subscribing to a comics magazine gives me a strange nostalgic feeling, like I’m in Japan and it’s Shonen Jump. Not that I ever read Shonen Jump on any regular basis. In fact, I don’t remember ever being subscribed to a comics mag. It’s nostalgia for something that never happened.

By a completely unplanned coincidence, Brandon Graham is also going to be at Fantom Comics on September 18th. They have a few other people coming, it’s going to be amazing.

Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido 

Damn my weird phobia of talking animals. I avoided Blacksad forever, and it was my loss. I honestly didn’t expect a comic involving talking human/animal hybrids give me a commentary on race, offer a great noir reading experience, and feature some of the best art I’ve seen. It’s a must, required, all that jazz.

Reading my way out

I shared with him a healthy skepticism and a deep belief that we could somehow read our way out. – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Part of making this blog’s content broader means also opening it up to more personal matters. Matters like my trans-ness, my queerness, my depression, my struggle to make life more meaningful creativity-wise.

I am a trans man (if you need more info on trans people, you can start here). I am recreating my own body to fit what is in my mind. It’s a project. Sometimes I feel as if I’m sculpting a new David, chipping off marble bit by bit.

Gender dysphoria is a bitch. After being on T for 15 months now and being read (mostly) as male, it still comes out of nowhere and bites in the most unpredictable ways. The strangest things set it off. Arms, shoulders, shape of my hands, neck. Any body part is suspect.

It comes and goes, and right now it’s in the former part. I feel like I’m going nowhere, I’m angry at my facial hair, I’m angry at cis people. Even well-meaning ones. They have no idea. Books, being the general remedy for anything in my life, are what I turn to first for mental health needs.

Here’s where you expect me to give you a list of inspiring and uplifting trans memoirs. And perhaps reading these is a way to go, but mostly trans memoirs dig into my soul and make me cry. They helped me immensely in the early coming out period, and I still seek them out, but other people’s experiences with dysphoria are, oddly enough, not what I need right now.

karenmemoryWhat I need is good fantasy. This doesn’t happen often any more, since I somehow migrated to the hard sci-fi end of the pool in the past few years. Except this time I am going in the opposite direction, and so my current dealing-with-dysphoria pick is Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Incidentally, there is a trans character in this one, accepted as such with no fuss – bonus. So far it’s greatly entertaining. I thought I was done with steampunk, but wait, apparently not. I think it’s because the book is not about goggles and divers steam-powered gadgets (there is a licensed Mad Scientists guild, though). It’s most definitely about people first. Badass women, more specifically (I know it will surprise the Sad Puppies contingent that women are people. If you have no idea who Sad Puppies are, read this pretty good summary of the Hugos kerfuffle.).

My other pieces of dysphoria/depression battle armor are comics. Here are some great ones that are out in trade: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie; Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe; Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory (it appears I only read Image publications? Seems wrong somehow.).

A few other series I am reading in floppy/single issue form are:

arclight8house Arclight by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland. I call it ‘the genderqueer Prophet‘. It has a distinct Graham feeling to it, and Churchland’s art is beautiful (read her Beast, it will blow you away). There is a goose. And if you’re in the DC area for SPX next month, Brandon Graham is going to be at Fantom Comics (my home away from bookstore) on Friday, September 18.

Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. This remains one of the most beautiful series art-wise, mostly due to Nguyen’s use of watercolors. It’s a space opera with robots. It’s out in trade on September 9, so you can get your hands on issues 1-6 of this pretty thing at once.

Kaptara by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod. Oh Chip, your mind is a wacky place. A fabulous wacky place.

And now, The Shocking And Unforeseen Conclusion: looking at this list, what we discover is that at this time in my life I really need comics and books that fly in the face of everything Sad Puppies stand for. Books with awesome women, books with genderqueer/queer characters, books with not just white people. Isn’t it amazing that those kinds of books can also be both therapeutic and entertaining?

And if you still need some trans memoirs, here’s a couple:

Man Alive by Thomas Page Mcbee. He is a great writer. It will dig into your soul. It will make you cry.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. She is amazing and so is her book.

And finally, a non-book item for you: Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! It’s a little known fact that I was a punk kid in my previous life.