December 15th, 2008

Making a list

Lately, there have been a lot of lists floating around the print media, the blogosphere, and every place else–something about the calendar year drawing to a close makes people want to enumerate what they’ve loved, liked, hated, eaten, read and watched; where they’ve been and what they’ve done.

It’s the book lists that I care about, obviously, though this year as most I don’t get as much confirmation/argument of my own opinions as suggestions. I (should I be embarrassed to tell you this?) don’t read very many brand-new books. If people are talking about something that sounds like the sort of lit-fic I enjoy, and people I respect are enjoying it, I will eventually read it, but not necessarily the year it gets published. I am reading more new books than I used to, but what with that whole 500-plus years since movable type came on the scene, I have quite a backlog from years past to get through.

The nice thing about books is that they stick around–almost everything I read this year is still in print and available, if you are reading these lists with an eye towards gift-buying. So while I’ve tried to stick to the best of the newer texts on this list, it’s been supplemented from other years. As well, I wouldn’t say these are the “best” books I read this year, rather those that stuck with me the most, that hit me the hardest, made me the happiest. A very personal list, but then, aren’t they all?

The notes are transcribed from my reading journal, the first-impressionistic semi-articulate paragraph that I write as soon as I finish anything. In case you were dying for a peek inside my reading process.

Books I Loved in 2008

The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper
Deeply disturbing and profoundly well-written, a murder mystery about writers + how they maybe steal souls. If there weren’t so much genuine artistry to the prose, and so much writing about writing (my favourite thing) I would’ve found the violence too much. As it was, horrifying, but worth it.

Stunt by Claudia Dey
Wow. A sparkling, sparky, utterly new sort of book. Beautiful language provides a balm to the sadness of the plot. Slightly hard to follow the second half, but even if you miss a beat, the language and emotion carries you on. Lovely, aching work.

The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels
It is something to read every short story a writer has ever written, starting in wild youth into elderly. When he was *on* he was brilliant and that was often: “Making Changes” (a really romantic orgy story), most of “Journal,” almost all of the Nachman stuff. Both comforting + alarming to find a few duds. I loved it more than I’d thought I would, + I planned to love it some.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
A graphic novel about a homosexual dad’s relationship w his lesbian daughter, and with books. Fun, sad and beautiful. And wildly smart.

Various Miracles by Carol Shields.
Oh, I did love this. She makes formal constraints look like nothing, yet the stories are tight + spare + perfect. And warm + generous + just…oh.

Muriella Pent by Russell Smith.
Amazingly hilarious depictions of banal things–book club, Skydome, lit classes. Amazing dialogue, natch (boy banter!) Amazing sexuality (mainly). Can’t believe I hadn’t read this one until now.

Making Bones Walk by Alex Boyd
I am so used to working hard for my poetry–and when it’s worth it, I love to, but when poetry as accessible and urgently personal as this, it feels like a gift. Love poems, sleep poems, work + subway poems–my kind of poems.

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About” by Mil Millington .
Hilarious lad-lit, both genders behaving dreadfully. Plot makes no sense, but set pieces + dialogue made me laugh aloud. Enormous (336 pages), v. satisfying.

My White Planet by Mark Anthony Jarman
Deeply challenging, yet repays all energies tenfold in insight and genuine pleasure. “Bear on a Chain” is like a blown-open story, still breathing and working brilliantly though you can see into the heart. Some terrifying violence you can’t look away from. Some great humour. Astounding achievement.

Flirt: The Interviews by Lorna Jackson.
Reputedly “difficult,” but I didn’t find it so. Funny + interesting + occasionally challenging, but mainly entertaining. Certainly a superlative act of imagination–a series of them.

Pardon Our Monsters by Andrew Hood
As good as expected, and then some. Very very honest + weird + violent, but also a real love of + joy in language. Also, hella funny.

Tom Thomson in Purgatory by Troy Jollimore
Very funny, wise, human. Stylistically tight, wild verb conjugations (don’t see that every day!), lovely to see sonnets that I can love heart and mind, and loved the characters behind it all, too.

The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams
So brilliant + bizarre, sadness of characters not at all cloaked by the absurdities that surround them. Hilarious tragedy. Didn’t understand the ending, but don’t care.

The angels wanna wear my red shoes

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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