Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 finally dies!

Despite this being a horrible life year, it was a very wonderful reading year. Not included in my tally are the many books I started or collections I picked through over 2015, many of which were also good but not for me, not right now.

This has been the first full year I've lived without my father after two years of his frightening and terrible decline. I was deeply involved with my father's end of life and death, the details of which I am still reckoning with and will be for quite some time. Being faced with admin tasks that are not only relentless and boring, but suffused with such powerful hurt has been exhausting and lonely. Luckily for me, cartoonist Roz Chast went through some similar things and decided to write a funny, informative and just SO TRUE book about it called Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? This book was loaned to me by a great friend. When I read it I cried, but with relief.
There are books that take you away and books that make you stay and the three novels in The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer accomplish both. The first, Annihilation, is a missive from an inhospitable land, filled with beautiful natural details and almost unbearably tantalizing mystery. The second, Authority, is about juggling identities and becoming oneself, and while the main character wasn't all that interesting to me there were enough other things going on in the story to carry me though. The final volume, Acceptance, follows a character present in the previous two and brings many of the mysteries of the Southern Reach to a satisfying close, without solving a single thing. Vandermeer created a world with endless frightening possibilities and endless frightening beauty that I still think about; this trilogy is an excellent reminder that life is complex and not simply a trial, no matter how much horror gets served up.
Speaking of horror, I returned to an old favorite this year The Haunting of Hill House, after recommending it to a friend. Turns out that Jackson's sure voice and teasing plotting were exactly what I craved at the moment, and it is always worth taking another look at what the desire for acceptance will do to a person. Plus, Theo, always Theo.

To balance the many terrible surprises of the year, the mail at least was peppered with some lovely ones care of my subscriptions to four comics presses: Ley Lines from Grindstone Comics/Czap Books, Kus, Retrofit/Big Planet and Frontier from Youth In Decline. I wrote about some here on try harder, some I just sucked in. Two stand outs I didn't write about, both from Retrofit/Big Planet were Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa and Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger. I loved Sakugawa's quiet story about stopping giving any fucks and creating oneself. Sakugawa's work always speaks to me, but this one came at exactly the right time. I've been following Knetzger for awhile, and just got her all ages tome Bug Boys from Czap Books. Sea Urchin is decidedly adult autobio about depression and what we think about when no one is watching.

I listened to many fewer SFFH podcasts the second half of the year than I usually do, mostly because I fell victim to Fallout 4's immersive charms. However the casts from The District of Wonders, Escape Artists, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Uncanny and Apex, continue to expose me to exciting short story writers and take me places I never could have imagined.

And no 2015 survey would be complete without talking about twitter. Besides the usual dog jokes, book news, essay recommendations and author process notes that twitter always provides, this year the service was one of the only and best ways I could connect with my own grief. That meant posting photos and thoughts, as well as meeting (or further developing relationships) with others that have been through similar stuff or are just empathetic souls. Invaluable stuff.

I know I'll be thinking about the stuff I read in 2015 for many years to come. What about you?

Friday, January 08, 2016

As longtime readers know, I love mail. It is such a simple thing, available to most people, and yet so few of us take advantage of a reliable postal system that sending a letter can feel like magic.

One of the things I've tried to do with friends' kids is show them how cool it can be to send and receive stuff in the mail. I'm no longer the letter writer I once was, but as 2016 is here now, I'm adding getting back to letter writing to my short list of resolutions.

Won't you join me?