THE LIBRARY 2017
part one of two
Two remarkable things happened in 2017. We somehow didn't perish in nuclear holocaust brought on by the global dumpster fire that was 2017, and I turned 30. I never expected either of these to actually happen because, to cut straight to the quick and be real about it, I never thought I'd make it to 30, but here we are.
Yesterday was January 20, 2018. The president shitposted. The government shut down. On the macro scale, shit was fucked.
But here in Baltimore, I was eating toast with bone marrow alongside a cocktail that was mostly basil at a charcuterie bar we walked to for Dean's 30th birthday, and our little party was a wild web of connections spanning brothers and boyfriends and college roommates and childhood friends and two derps who met on OKCupid (that's us!). We rambled around for most of the day and our little wannabe-shotgun apartment was full of beer and dogs and friendship and many improvised renditions of The Birthday Song. If only we'd had a cake! (There was a cake, but I binned it.)
I offer to you, dear readers, in too much personal detail and self-psychoanalysis, a year of reading mostly devoid of All Those Increasingly Unbelievable Headlines. We're here to talk books, babies, and I'm going to memoir the shit out of it (blame my MFA), because this first half is dedicated to the Past. I'm looking backwards, turning around, moon-walking, but--spoiler alert--the door does not hit me on the way out. And I hope I can say the same for the rest of us, too---we're going to be okay. In the meantime, books!
Join me all year long for reading shenanigans on Goodreads. I love me some Goodreads, almost as much as Twitter.
There are more than Ten Okay Eleven books in the following assemblage. The format was just too heckin' restrictive for this year's Library, but I can't go without my beloved Categories. So, in the spirit of Paris is Burning which I think I watched twice this year, the library is open!
Most titles below are links to better writing about these books, so get clickin'! It's like an Easter Egg EXTRAVAGANZA!!!
I read the following 2 books as ARCs in a desperate attempt to conquer my horde of galleys from my 2.5+ years as a bookseller. R.I.P.
Fish! So metaphorical. This made its way to the top of the Arc D'ARCs because it was heavy, because it's in color and printed on paper way too nice for a galley. The book is replete with lovely plates of tropical fish, the same adored by our protagonist, 12-year-old Caitlin, and the kind stranger she meets at the Seattle Aquarium. He's an elderly man who tells Caitlin he loves her, and if your alarm bells are ringing, you're not wrong, but I won't spoil the surprise of this book. Aquarium is brutal and unsettling, violent and tender and angry, and I loved it.
Oh but I have a Hamilton-sized hole in my heart for all things Small Liberal Arts College-based, and The Ghost Apple is such a book. Are entitled children reckoning with their privilege? Yes. Is the microcosm of college accurately portrayed for the clusterfuck it is? Yes. Is all of higher education taken to town, satirized by someone who clearly also ate fresh-rolled made-to-order sushi but bitched about how long the dining hall line was? Absolutely. And! It's told in time-hopping documents, letters, blogs, a kaleidoscope of voices that set my formalist heart all a-flutter.
COMIC AND COSMIC MINDFUCKERY!
I have lost jobs before. Graduating college in 2009 with a degree in creative writing didn't make for sunny financial prospects, so in 2011 I thought I could be a super-person. For a month or so, I had two full-time jobs and a full roster of MFA classes and a raging drinking problem to maintain. And a puppy!
I dropped a job but the rest remained. That particular Jobbe of Yon involved making promotional materials for the campus cultural arts organization--moslty PowerPoints set to music burned to DVD with the season's approved hues (teal) plus a lot of emails. One of these events that I made posters and spray-painted bedsheets and waddled sandwich signs onto sidewalks in front of the Student Center fountain for was this dude's. Lo and behold, he wrote a comic book about Adolf Hitler and Aleister Crowley, titled aptly, Aleister & Adolf. Cool?
The gist: the swastika is a sigil, and Nazis totally used sex magicK in their nefarious schemes. It's a headscratcher of a book, but not as scratchy as reading a comic about NAZIS AND THE OCCULT and thinking wait, I know this guy's name.
Dr. Ian Malcolm did not mean "the narrative of your life will sometimes overlap" when he said "Life finds a way," but in the context of this year's Library, re-encountering Douglas Rushkoff was as psychologically profound as seeing all them dinosaurs.
You want just regular old mindfuckery? May I present THE INCAL?
Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky of El Topo and Holy Mountain and other movies I never did enough drugs to understand and illustrated by the incomparable Moebius, these three books--The Incal, Before the Incal, and Final Incal--are serving sci-fi psychedelia space opera mythic technicolor realness. John DiFool is just your average private investigator in an anti-gravity future where society is ruled by cybernetic android policeborgs, genetically mutated hunchbacked henchmen under the command of a body-swapping transgender president, plus a legion of technopriests, all of whom answer to a disembodied electronic brain. That's the basic premise. Oh, and there's a concrete seagull that kind of looks like a pterodactyl. And nudity!
Speaking of titties! HONORABLE MENTIONS to Junko Mizuno's trippy interpretation of Hansel and Gretel for being gross and sexy and terrifying and adorable all at the same time and giving me a new artist to obsess over. Also an honorable mention for Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples's perfectly-named Saga. I'll undoubtedly mention volumes 7 and 8 in next year's Library, so just go read them, and peep this Ghus pin I bought at Comic Con.
WRITERS ARE PEOPLE TOO!
These 3 books are by people I know and love in the real world! The number of these persons is always increasing, a fact I find wondrous and heartening and invaluable. I'm looking forward to some dozen upcoming books and publications in 2018 and beyond by Writers Who Are Also Friends. How is that real? Here's a trio from 2017.
MAN, I wish I'd written this book. In addition to the most amazing press packet I've ever personally handled (it came with PEEPS), this book is so funny and quick and heartfelt and everything, everything! The name of our heroine, young Elvis Babbitt, should intrigue you enough. Whimsical! Whip-smart! Winning! Charming! Absurd! All this and more, and those are just adjectives pulled from reviews.
A tour-de-force hybrid of personal essays and scholarship, a bibliomemoir that satisfied the same brain chunk that makes me love nonfiction podcasts--you're being told really intelligent secrets. Though I'm more of a Wuthering Heights girl myself, this book cements Seal Press's place in my keep-an-eye-on pile (they published the indomitable Jes Baker's Things No One Tells Fat Girls AND this stellar collection that will someday contain my legacy!). I'm eager to see what Pennington puts her mind to next. Here here and brava!
This memoir is about trees, the trimming and pruning and competitive climbing of, and God and faith and family, and a Waffle House. A book rife with so many passages to be underlined and returned to, like this one:
Do you need a snack? Go ahead and get one! We're almost to the end, kittens, and like all good awards shows, I've saved the best AND WORST for last.
I had a lot of great reads this year and most of Part 2 of this year's LIBRARY is devoted to gushing over them. But there was one book I read before the Summer of a Century, before we relocated and jobs went missing, before I careened through all those states, when I had this glorious free armchair that my small dog Lucy still mourns, a book that made me excited about reading and writing and the stars themselves. That book was Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar.
This book is about space. There's an alien who loves Nutella. There's real history and imagined futures and a lonely astronaut, and this writer smartly defends the novel's place in modern science fiction. But this is the part I typed out:
OH, I did not know how prophetic this passage would be. Congratulations, Mr. Kalfar. This Library has probably been read by all of 13 people, so to be named the 2017 BEST GOSHDARN BOOK is an achievement indeed.
But you, dear 13 readers, must tire of all this praise. Where is the snark? Where is the fury? Where is the adorable ball of rage you came here to witness?
I can't justify the amount of hours I logged sitting on the couch in our apartment in Baltimore and making myself dead to the world except to say that moving to a city you've never seen is hard, and moving when your life has changed profoundly in ways both shocking and remarkable is also hard, and when you are a person prone to depressive moments that quietly whisper "You are very bad at this whole life thing, may I suggest you turn in your chips and cut your losses because it's only going to get worse, kiddo, trust me, I am a sound and rational series of thoughts and not a psychological disorder that is made of lies"--when all that's running around in your head as you're swamped by cardboard boxes and all those ARCs you didn't read and your mega-dog Pinto is 80 lbs of golden anxiety, well. In that case, yes, by all means queue up Netflix and binge away. This is exactly what I did.
The Confession Tapes is a deeply unsettling documentary series that sent me down a true crime tunnel. While it's tempting to name Joel McGinniss's Fatal Vision as my year's worst book, I have to credit that particular behemoth for sending me to Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and Murderer, a slim book dutifully mocked (along with Fatal Vision) by Errol Morris in A Wilderness of Error. These three made for a really strange few weeks of reading and though all three have ample problems, they're not quite the worst.
That incredible honor goes to a book that's been adapted into a show that I also binged. The show is great. The book?
2017's Netflix exclusive series MINDHUNTER follows FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench as they build a psychological profiling program in hopes of gaining new insight into serial killers. It's 1977 and there's been a rash of seemingly motiveless murders, forcing the Bureau to reconsider its Hoover-era tactics. Ford's ideas are controversial, and at season's end, it's unclear whether he'll be able to reconcile the immorality of his job--he's talking to murderers on their level, acting as an almost sympathetic ear to society's genuine villains--with being a Decent Dude. Holden Ford is a conflicted, complicated character.
John Douglas? Not so much.
John Douglas allegedly wrote MINDHUNTER. I say allegedly because this book is not so much written as it is a transcription of what feels like an endless night stuck in a booth at a bar with a very, very drunk John Douglas who wants to tell you all his FBI exploits. Maybe this is what happened to co-author Mark Olshaker. Hopefully Douglas picked up the tab.
It's a lot of rambling self-congratulation with a nice layer of Old White Dude chauvinism. Moments from the show are there in the form of cases seen in both, but what Ford portrays as shrewd and deft, Douglas describes with braggadocio as blatant as a word like braggadocio. Ford never names the effect he's seeking with his interview techniques, but Douglas does on page 203.
"What we needed to create," writes Douglas, "was what I call the high ass-pucker factor."
Three pages later:
"I wanted to get that 'ass-pucker factor' as intense as I could."
TWO HUNDRED pages later:
"...a subject is usually most catchable. He's concerned, he doesn't know what to expect, the 'ass-pucker factor' is at is highest."
Congratulations, John Douglas. Ass I mean as the originator of the term ASS-PUCKER FACTOR, I hereby award your crappy book MINDHUNTER my worst book of 2017. It was a year of assholes and yet your fixation on the actual, physical sphincters of your subjects truly brought a new meaning to the word shitty.
To be fair, the show MINDHUNTER is not without flaws. I leave you with the promised musical interlude courtesy of Paul F. Tompkins.
COMING UP: PART 2 of 2 OF THE LIBRARY 2017--the future!
Get up and stretch. Stay hydrated. Take a selfie. Are you ready?