5 Favourite Reads [2012 Edition]

Condensing 69 books into 5 should probably be hard, but it was an obvious game when I sat down and gave it a thunk. I’ve read a lot of good stuff. To be honestly the majority of everything I’ve read has been really good. Or at least interesting enough on some level to warrant my attention till the end. The duds never made it past hundred pages before they were abandoned and quickly pushed into the hands of anyone willing to accept them. However the stars, the ones that shine so bright Rihanna’s diamonds should feel ashamed, they can easily be counted on one hand. And maybe that’s the way it should be. If every damn book was literary perfection then reading would maybe lose some of its charm. Much like life in general. Also it’s not always a matter of quality, because perfection is much more subjective and a helluva lot more nuanced than that. So here we go, a quick breeze through the 5 gems that stood out and will linger in my mind for a long time to come.

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5.) Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

I researched queer themed fantasy and this one came up. So I looked it and its author up. At first it sounded great – fantasy based on Nordic folklore with a lesbian protagonist (who just so happens to be a blacksmith!). Who wouldn’t love that?! But then I found out the author was a white American man of middling age and my hand froze in mid-movement. I’ve got nothing against white American men of middling age (I do however have a great something against their privileges, but that’s another story for another day) but I am more than a little doubtful to letting them handle cause this felt both surprisingly real and affectionate. It’s obvious the author loves his heroine just the way she is even if she’s still coming to terms with who she is while trying to deal with her internalised homophobia. So for me personally it was a nice little slap on the fingers  and a reminder to not let my assumptions run wild. Also the content of the novel is just…it was so much fun. Not the tightest plot or characters, but my level of enjoyment of their adventures was enough to bridge the gaps of a debut novel in a genre where quality often seem to be a side-order. Awesome, enjoyable urban fantasy with both a lesbian protagonist and queer content. I strongly recommend it if you love dungeons and dragons and strong female characters.

4.) The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

Nothing beats a good dystopian novel with dinosaurs and cunnilingus. At least not in my book. And this was my kind of book in every sense of the word. It was also the first time I read anything by Winterson. I was pleasantly surprised and a little blown away at the way she works her trade. The way she uses the English language to paint a poetic and prophetic picture of a culture that sways on the edge of a bottomless pit of depressing disgust had me swooning. This is equal parts poetry, science fiction, satire and cautionary tale. It’s an acid trip where you marvel at the beauty as you shiver in paranoid impotent rage while monsters chew at your reptile brain. Brilliant subversive writing. Sharp, witty, cruel. Unapologetic and erratic. Yes, brilliant.

3.) Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf

Wow. I had no idea. I like Virgina Woolf, a lot. But there is something about this book that’s been a little…off-putting. I’ve seen The Hours, I’ve heard so many people rave about how this is their favourite, but for some reason I’ve always rolled my eyes and walked away rather than be inspired. Is it the hardcore feminist in me that shies away from the loaded use of Mrs or what is it? I don’t know, I still don’t know. But what I do know is that once again I am proven that the best books are discovered when I decide to fuck over my silly assumptions and simply throw myself head first into the fray. This was just perfect poetry. Gorgeous streaming poetry across page after page of flowery and almost ridiculously descriptive prose. Stream of conciousness writing is not for everyone, writer or reader. But it works so very well for both Woolf and me. This was a lilting adventure of being allowed to flow inside of numerous different people. Eaves dropping on their souls and moving on, never stopping. Breathing poetry along the way and feeling empowered through complex and gorgeous constructs that feel so much grander than what we expect to see in a sentence. A vague skeleton of existentialism holding up a network of loosely connected poems whose greatest common denominator was nostalgia and beauty. Fucking hell this was a good read, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

2.) The Circle by Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Mats Strandberg

This was one of those weird books that was both a righteous bitch slap and an affectionate full body hug. The story starts with a young queer boy committing suicide in the bathroom of his High School. From this incredibly tragic event we’re slowly introduced to a Swedish small town and a group of young women who seem to have little more in common than the town they live in and the High School they’re all attending (and even those things look so different from their various points of view that they’re barely recognisable). Then something happens, something out of the ordinary, as far out of the ordinary as you can get. An event which connect this group of very different young women whether they want it or not.

This is Young Adult Urban Fantasy where the authors’ love and admiration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer shines bright through the writing. But it doesn’t stop at that. This is so much more than an homage. And despite its paranormal themes and events, this is by far the greatest and most realistic Swedish coming-of-age story I’ve ever read. Their world might be lined with the fantastic, but their lives are so real it literally hurt to read at times. With impressive force it slung me back to the time when being an overweight queer kid with glasses and a love of learning defined everything, when you had hope but your horizons seemed to be so close you could reach out and touch the barbedwire that kept you caged in norms. These beautifully crafted characters grabbed you in a firm choke-hold and held you hostage as they themselves had to endure that feeling. Like I said, it felt a lot like getting slapped in the face hard enough to leave a lasting mark. But, and this is the beauty of this book (trilogy actually), there is always a but. The realism and the hurt of puberty and the shift into young adulthood is there, but so is the hope and the empowerment you needed then and are still grateful of today. Because this is a feminist manifesto as much as it is urban fantasy or Swedish small town portrayal. It’s a tale of becoming a woman, of the dangers and possibilities you’re faced with, something that can at the time be hard to separate because both promise you so much glory. And the characters – oh my dear gods they’re spot on. So different from one another, yet so true, so flawed and so strong. One of the most beautiful things though is that even if they’re all shown as strong and independent young women (or on their way of becoming), they’re also allowed to be each other’s heroes. This isn’t simply a novel about a group of friends, it’s a novel about a group of women who respect, admire and help one another become greater not simply because of selfish reason but because they’re learning compassion. But it is always a mutual give and take. Strength isn’t merely individual, it grows through community and is cemented through social safety nets. Like I said, a feminist manifesto disguised as young adult urban fantasy.

Don’t be frightened by how much I praise the subtextual politics of the book, because it also reads as a tight and suspenseful adventure you’ll enjoy as pure entertainment before you have a chance to ponder the underlying themes. Fun, fast, feminist and phenomenal.

1.) Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

The reason this ends up as number one is not only the book’s lasting impact, but also the fact that China Mievillé was my biggest discovery this year. He instantly went from being China Who? to being one of my absolute favourite authors. The playful way Mievillé works and moulds the English language is a massive turn on and the content of his novels is so deliciously subversive you imagine you feel the norm crumbling under the pressure of his aggressive literary litany. The fact that he works in genres such as Science Fiction and Fantasy only makes it better.

Perdido Street Station however was…problematic…everything…amazing. I read it and spent the entire time on a prosaic high. Gorgeous world building, disgusting details, complete dominion over the language and with characters that made you sit up and take notice because you had never seen these archetypes in these roles before. I spent the majority of the book in a daze, gagging and swooning, loving and hating and just feeling a lot. Then the last twenty pages happened and I realised what the actual theme of the book was. I’d been blinded by the nuances of his actual language to such a point that I had completely missed the theme that permeated every sentence and event of the entire book. I don’t want to spoil and shape your view of things before you’ve had a chance to explore on your own. But lets just say the theme is there in everything from characters, to the politics and even shapes the architecture of the world we’re in. The theme is also one that makes me angry, incredibly so, mostly because it is something we are forced to endure and accept in way too much fiction. Which meant I hated the book for at least a week after I finished it. I was so torn and so angry, because I somehow felt tricked into once again sitting through this bullshit. Eventually I calmed down and the book isn’t in any way being apologetic or romanticising the subject, rather the opposite, it is very firm and unyielding in its beliefs. Still…

Reading it was an experience and so was the aftermath. And I still haven’t decided exactly what I think and feel about it. But what I do know is that it was one of the most memorable books I read last year. Actually it’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read period, and I know it will stay in my mind for a very long time, because of the way the author mixed their mastery of sentences with their subject matter.

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Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise reading through this list and realising each one of these books contain themes of queer love and life.

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~ by Ape on January 1, 2013.

3 Responses to “5 Favourite Reads [2012 Edition]”

  1. I read Mrs Dalloway in 2012 and was completely blown away! Isn’t she wonderful, our Woolf? I am generally not a stream of consciousness fan,but I adored this story and the glimpses we get into the minds of the characters. I also thought she had some great insight into mental illness, which was surprising & raw. It was fantastic.

    • She really is/was/is. It’s a shame it took me this long to read this one, because it was such a true gem. And it feels like one of those books you should probably reread once a year. At least. Good stuff. Any other favourites from this past year? I need to find new literature and recommendations to fill 2013 with.

      • Hmmm, standout books for this year? Good question.. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby; The Spare Room by Helen Garner; 11.22.63 and Bag of Bones by Stephen
        King. those are the first that come to mind. I would also say IQ84 by Murukami, but I got distracted half way through & haven’t finished it. It’s unique though!

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