I’m a sucker for these blogging-meme games; you may have seen some of my Let’s Talk Bookish posts, and I’ve signed up for Bloganuary this year and encourage you to do the same. (Side-note, the social aspect of blogger-culture and the WordPress community’s hospitality and good nature is something I hadn’t even considered when starting my site, and has been a huge factor in continuing to blog here.)
So needless to say, I saw this shit and said ‘Yes, I will win this list that quantifies something I’m supposed to be doing for fun, a thing that is both possible to do and normal to want’. I am, at least, proud that I managed to resist my urge to design and implement and Experience Point system where you could get a multiplier based on whether you’d already tagged an entry in a given category and a bonus for titles that hit more than one category, etc.; that’s probably a little much, he said, hoping someone would jump into the comments and ask him to do that.
Birdie was pretty clear that there are no real rules per se, and at commenters’ requests clarified a few things like re-reads being perfectly valid for list-hits as long as you read them in ’23, comics being valid (GUESS WHO ASKED THAT ONE), that you can count a given book for multiple categories if you like, and that a fun thing to do might be trying to ‘lap’ the list by completing it more than once, stuff like that. For my part, I’m going to allow myself one comic per month, and I’m not allowed to tag the same category more than once until/unless I’ve already tagged them all, what I’m thinking of as Round One.
Join in, and add whatever rules and modifications would make it for fun for you!
1. Animal Sidekick
1.15: How To Invent Everything: A Survival Guide For The Stranded Time-Traveler – Ryan North
The animal sidekick in question is North’s beloved and, sadly, only just recently departed doggo Noam Chompsky, and if you find yourself asking “Can an author’s real-life pet really count as an ‘animal sidekick’ for the purposes of a scavenger hunt?”, I will rebut:
-1. What are you, a cop, and
-2. At one point in the book, Chompsky appears and has a Socratic dialogue with another speaker about whether water wheels are superior to windmills as a source of steady, renewable energy. The winner gets belly-rubs, and you’ll have to read it to find out.
This book is rad and I recommend it for anyone who, like myself, loves to learn but doesn’t actively read a lot of nonfiction, because it’s laid out very intuitively, the explanations are detailed and chunky enough to leave you satisfied and pulling bits out of your teeth later but not enough to overwhelm or bore (and extensive further reading notes are included), and it is hilarious, in case the bit where the author’s dog–who once stole a live fish out of a fisherman’s bucket and fucking hightailed it for Ottowa–engages in one of the oldest forms of rhetorical education didn’t clue you in. This book taught me that my pinky finger is just about six centimeters long! And also how to make lye, set a broken bone in what seems like the most painful way possible, and eventually build a computer!
2. Inspired By A Culture OTHER Than Any In Western Europe
4.19: Bolero – Wyatt Kennedy, Luana Vecchio (Comic Selection For April) –
Wyatt Kennedy’s comics premier is simply astonishing: he combines the universally relatable themes of identity and the path not taken, proves that a story can have an entirely and belligerently LGBTQ+ cast without making it unrelatable to the squares (duh), and manages to straight up, shamelessly steal half of the visual language of Neon Genesis Evangelion and make it all completely his own; it is just one of the wildest, most ambitious, most heartfelt stories about love and loss and self and smoochin’ and also a magic cat that you’ll ever read.
If you could jump timelines–make so many quantum leaps, if you like–and live the lives where you took all the chances and made all the choices and chased all the Ones That Got Away, how many do you think it would take to find one that made you happy? Or would those fail to bring you any closure or satisfaction because you hadn’t built them yourself? Also, magic or not, cats don’t have thumbs, how does he handle that key to the doors between worlds? And what is that darkness creeping from the edges of your vision that seems to be closer every time you see it? You’ll have to read to find out!
4. Merlin Character
5. Green Cover
2.11: Dog Man #2: Dogman Unleashed – Dav Pilkey Care of George & Harold (Comic Selection For February)
There are three instances in which my long practice with words has failed me completely, leaving me only vague but emphatic winking and interpretive karate with which to express myself:
1. My wedding-day, when my vows–carefully written in my head during hundreds of showers across many years–escaped me, and I could only say “OOGA BOOGA BIG, OOGA BOOGA STRONG, IF YOU MARRY ME, LOVE YOU WHOLE LIFE LONG”.
2. When a caller at my job tried to convince me, with complete confidence, that he “carried the germ that causes bacterial vaginosis in women” (not a thing), was “capable of passing it on to them” (even less of a thing), and required a “female UTI test” (somehow the opposite of a thing).
3. Anytime I attempt to express the depths of my love for Dog Man.
This second volume really sets the path for the series by veering away from the unconnected-vignettes format of the first and really giving the story and characters room to move around, resulting in an evil fish, Petey being one of the most genuinely terrifying villains I’ve encountered recently in any medium, and I shit the gentle reader not, a Billy Don’t Be A Hero joke that also manages to settle once and for all the pronunciation of one of the most contentious and delicious offerings found in Mediterranean cuisine.
The series continues to be one of the most wholesome, sincerely hilarious, goodhearted works for any age group I’ve ever read, and manages to play with the ‘graphic novel’ framework in a refreshingly inventive and exploratory way that leaves the reader–me, hi–genuinely unable to figure out whether these are comics or heavily-illustrated novels and at what point that distinction becomes both academic and an impediment to appreciating whatever they hell they actually are, which is AWESOME and honest and belligerently kind. I’ve been buying them not only for me but for the small human children in my life and they’re an instant hit, sinking the reading-hooks deep into their tender young mindmeats and ensuring that they calcify there.
Dog Man is GO.
6. Female Villain
7. Time Travel
Like Ryan’s How To Invent Everything above, this is a practical, layman-level scientific text within a fictional framing device, in this case that the world is a mess and you just need to rule it already, and how you would go about doing that; it covers everything from starting your own country to building underground bunkers to sea-borne self-sustaining flotillæ, building superweapopns, ensuring your own immortality (for various definitions of the term), creating your own custom computer viruses, AND YES, even time travel, about which there is a surprising amount of real science.
In terms of enjoyment and reading experience this was a step down for me from How To Invent Everything, not due to any flaw in Ryan’s writing or the quality of the science, but because of the inherently sinister uses to which the science is being put; there’s a lot of faffing around about how citizens would be better off under your rule, etc., but at the end of the day practical villainy as a perspective is just less interested in discovery and creation than it is in control and destruction, and that’s just less fun to read about in the context of “you could do this in the real human world we live in”. Still a great read and I still learned a lot; I particularly enjoyed the section about the Biosphere experiments and what the day-to-day practicalities of that fascinating nightmare adventure was like. (Spoiler: turns out people in isolation get weird and cliquey fast (HAHA WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED), and several members of the team went the entire year-long experiment without speaking to each other and still haven’t.)
8. Final Book In A Series
9. Sword On The Cover
6.28: Oathbringer: Book Three Of The Stormlight Archive – Brandon Sanderson
Listen, there’s only so much I’m going to be able to meaningfully convey about the third 1,200-page book in a series to someone who hasn’t read the other two and/or the interstitial novella1 that takes place between Book 2 and this one. I don’t know that I could even really explain why the thing Jasnah Kholin is holding on the cover is a sword2; all I can tell you is that this is the book where The Stormlight Archive stops being just High Fantasy bullshit and starts getting weird; you’ve got your eldritch abominations, you’ve got people exploring a haunted house the size of a city that might be a giant computer and also a prison for said abominations, you’ve got people back from the dead and people going to the dead and one girl with more damn personalities than you can shake a stick at3, and I recommend all of it.
10. Found Family
1.28: The Locked Tomb Series, Book Three: Nona The Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
I’ll be honest, figuring out which category Nona should go under has been the most challenging part of my day by a significant margin, and I think Tamsyn would and could only nod in approval if ever she heard me say that, like Neil deGrasse Tyson when he hears something that’s technically correct in a way that sucks the joy out of it.
Found Family is the absolute simplest way to describe the social configuration in Nona; there is what you could describe as a family unit, comprised of two people who each have two souls (of various genders) and rotate wearing the body (having conversations with each other/themselves via notes and a tape recorder), and a young woman who doesn’t have two souls, but might be two people’s souls somehow.
Anyone who enjoys them will tell you that the Locked Tomb books don’t make any sense until you finish and re-read them (and even then, woof), but that the relationships are so delightful and well-fleshed-out that the actual plot takes a significant backseat, and that remains true with Nona; she loves [CENSORED] and [REDACTED] and Camilla and [FOR THIRD-HOUSE EYES ONLY] so damn much that you can’t help but do likewise, to say NOTHING of her loyal gangmates like Born In The Morning, Noodle, Beautiful Ruby, and Hot Sauce. Nona sees everyone and everything with the eyes of a child (not a metaphor, kinda?) and carefully slots every person in her life into a special and very particular place around her, aggressively nesting and surrounding herself with love, it’s amazing and heartbreaking.
11. Title __ Of __
12. New To You Author
Just a nice comic about two kids who CAN’T DANG SLEEP and are also kind of socially awkward, although I imagine the insomnia can’t help with that; it doesn’t help with much, in my experience. Anyway, they realize that somehow, being together makes it easier for them to be sleepy li’l guys, and they reestablish their school’s derelict astronomy club for the explicit purpose of takin’ hella naps in its disused observatory. I’m sure it’ll catch a case of Plot at some point, but if you’re in the mood for a nice little slice-of-life comic with low-to-no stakes and a couple of weirdos sleeping in refrigerator boxes, you could do a LOT worse.
14. YA Book
3.23: Cross Game, Vol. 1 – Mitsuru Adachi (Comic Selection For March)
Alright, TVTropes assures me that while “YA” is a relatively recent term and that not everything matches up exactly, I can use “Shonen” as a replacement due to the overlap in the younger and older halves of their respective age-ranges. THOUGH YOU HAD ME THERE, DIDN’T YOU RULES LAWYERS. THOUGHT YOU WRONG. BAHHHH NO THINK-RIGHTER, YOU.
Okay my lawscoffery and joie de vivre and cordon bleu aside, I wanna be serious for a second, because this book is sincerely incredible, it is extremely special and I want to give myself every chance of actually encouraging you to read it. If you want someone you can take more seriously than you can take me, 1. Fuck you, 2. I don’t blame you, 3. Same, and 4. Give this episode of Mangasplaining a listen and hear actual manga-industry insiders and also Chip Zdarsky discuss why they couldn’t get enough of this story of two houses both alike in shop-ownership, spaghetti Napolitan, and bases-ball.
These two kids, Ko and Wakaba? They love two things in this world: baseball, and each other, though admittedly only Wakaba knows that part yet; being eleven-year-olds, Ko hasn’t been able to expand his emotional inventory-screen enough to accommodate both Stickball and Girls. They’re perfect for each other! One’s family runs a small sporting-goods store, the other a batting cages and snackbar, and they even have the same birthday! SURELY, ‘TIS THE FEATHERED FINGER OF FATE. SURELY, NOTHING HORRIFYING WILL HAPPEN THAT WILL CHANGE BOTH OF THEIR LIVES FOREVER.
This is about many things, several of which are baseball, and is simply one of the best things I’ve read in years. The art is subtly realistic and thematically deft while remaining pleasantly cartoonish with adorable character-models, the slow-burn characterization is masterful, and I have never encountered anything else with such a grasp of pacing, of knowing when to let moments breathe and let the world of the story be a character; man, I live for those rainy-day shots. Let me put it this way: I don’t give two hoots in West Heck for baseball, but I’ve read over a thousand pages of this very baseball-centric manga; it’s like how even people who hate gangster movies love The Godfather because it’s an incredible movie about family, a signed confession-note from toxic masculinity and patriarchy, dressed in gangster-movie pants. If you ever take one of my recommen–well, if you ever take thr–if you take five of my reading recommendations, make this one of them. (And bonus, the english release is only available in triple-volumes, so you’ll be getting three for the price of one!)
15. Set On A Space Ship
16. Magic House
17. Urban Fantasy
3.12: The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – Grady Hendrix
I hope Grady, wherever he is, appreciates that I’m spending my First-Round Urban Fantasy slot on this, not because it doesn’t qualify, but because I read a lot of this genre and this space could’ve had a loooot of names on its dance-card that’ll now have to wait until she comes back ’round the room for their chance.
Patricia’s got it made in the sultry Southern shade! A successful husband who sometimes remembers she exists, kids that hate her to the appropriate mindless teenage degree, and a book club fulla gal pals to crack open the Zin and discuss true, horrible accounts of soul-destroying violence with. Yes: she and her squad of fellow early 90’s housewives are perhaps the original murdergirls, it’s the greatest, and they have a fantastic time until a mysterious—and mysteriously handsome–stranger moves in, bringing a danger their reading hasn’t prepared them for, and that no one is prepared to believe Patricia about, possibly until it’s too late.
I find it reductive and sometimes disrespectful to describe works in terms of other works, but in this case the pieces of the story are big and clear enough that they fit together nicely without losing their identities: this is Fright Night by way of Desperate Housewives and Fried Green Tomatoes; it makes no claim of mythical Pure Originality, openly being a loving homage to these kinds of stories and using that love to tell one of its own very, very well.
18. More Than Two Women
2.22: Wyrd Sisters (Discworld #6) – Sir Terry Pratchett
I considered tagging this one under Witches because it frankly doesn’t get much witchier than this, book is a friggin’ Hex Girls concert, but it’s just chocka with dames and passes the Bechdel Test almost all the time.
The king has been hella murderated, and wouldn’t you goddamn know it there’s nobody fit to solve it but Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Magrat Garlick, who represent three of major faces of witchraft: the matriarchal wise woman folk-healer, the Classic Witch, and the New Age/Faux-Wiccan archetypes, respectively. (Wicca is of course a real-world belief system, and while this book makes fun of the character occupying that position, it doesn’t make fun of the beliefs themselves; at least, no more than it makes fun of the other two archetypes.)
As many Discworlds are, Wyrd Sisters is a patchwork of references turned upside down and inside out and everything everywhere all at once, using all of their parts and organs in ways they were never intended for and accomplishing astounding things with them, in this case nearly the entire Shakespearian canon, so that specific kind of nerd will just chomp this down like caramel corn.
(Fun fact, I also considered tagging this one under Time Travel, but that’s not exactly right; the incident concerned doesn’t involve moving through time, but time…being moved around something? Fuckin’ Terry Pratchett, man, I miss that rascal.)
19. First Person POV
20. Hugo Winner
21. LGBTQ+ Main Character
3.17: Legends & Lattes: A Novel Of High Fantasy And Low Stakes – Travis Baldtree
This has been the talk of the bookosphere since it hit like a light, fluffy muffin-meteor in November, studded with pecans and iridium deposits, and RIGHTLY SO. Not since The Kaiju Preservation Society has a book said so clearly “Hey, come on in and relax for a bit, just enjoy at your own p–oh you’ve already completely devoured half of my pages, neat!”; it is exactly what we needed as the reading public and what I needed as a very tired man who just wanted a nice book where nice things happen to nice people and ohohohoho BOY does the one asshole get what’s coming to them.
Know who Viv is? She’s a big tall burly Orc. Know what she’s sick of? The Adventuring Life, especially what it has to offer her people. Know what she’d rather do? Move to the City and open the first coffee shop the continent has ever seen. AND THEN SHE DOES, with the help of a grumpy Gnommish carpenter whom she befriends, a Succubus barista whom she MIGHT end up smooching, and A SOFT-SPOKEN WEE MOUSEFOLK NAMED THIMBLE whom she hires to bake them delicious, impossible treats because he is a pastry genius. This is a Thimble-appreciation site now. ALL HAIL THIMBLE.
If you’ve been alive more than seventeen seconds, I don’t need to tell you about the relationship humankind has with coffee–the things it represents, the feelings it evokes, the ways it brings people together–and this story shows what it would be like to see those things developing in real-time, and to know the feeling of being a person who abandons a thankless life of conflict and brings that small but profound goodness into the lives of the people who gather under her roof. These were so relatable and engaging that a prequel has already been announced centering on a bookshop, and holy SHIT is that gonna be cozy. Book fuckin’ rules, it’s sweet and comfy as hell with just a dusting of romance, and citizen you ARE gonna want a beverage and maybe a cinnamon roll while you read it.
(A note on the Succubarista: the…tendencies inherent to her heritage are handled in a really interesting, mature, non-gross way; there is nothing gross in this book except the pieces driving the narrative conflict.)
6.23: A Confederacy Of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
If you look up this book, anywhere–even accursed Bing! Spit!–you’re gonna see two things about it pop up prominently over and over again: that it’s got a very sad history due to its author being unable to get it published and subsequently excusing himself from the Big Stage, and that it’s one of the smartest, funniest books ever written in the English language, to the extent that you can say that’s what they speak in New Orleans.
ACOD is the story of one man out of time, Ignatius J. Reilly, and his crusade against the many perversions of the modern age, including but not limited to: color television (especially that teen dance show he never misses), canned food, democracy, optimism, communism, his mother’s new boyfriend, his own girlfriend, and Greyhound Scenicruiser buses, the last of which he believes move at speeds injurious to both body and soul.
ALL HE WANTS is to be left alone in his room to write his polemic plea for geometry and theology, but NO, he’s gotta go get a JOB AT A PANTS FACTORY and ACCIDENTALLY STEAL FROM A NAZI PORNOGRAPHESS and MAYBE, if there’s time, HELP ALL OF HIS GAY PALS FROM THE FRENCH QUARTER INFILTRATE THE MILITARY. It’s incredible, stop what you’re doing and invest in a copy immediately, you’ll thank me, the Bageler, and then have to explain to people who that is. I re-read this to She Who Is My Wife at least once every couple of years, and we discover new layers and clockwork brilliances every single time.
Fair warning, considering that it was written in the early 60’s ACOD is shockingly progressive but does still use almost entirely outdated and mostly offensive language for almost everyone, although pointedly only by bad guys.
23. 2023 Release (A Fun Coincidence!)
6.18: Insomniacs After School, Vol. 1 – Makoto Ojiro (Comic Selection For June)
This is just a nice, low-pressure, easy read about a couple of misfit youths who can’t friggin’ sleep, and find comfort and solace in one another by hiding and dozing together in their school’s mothballed astronomy club observatory; eventually of course they get found out, and in order to stay in their snooze-station they have to actually re-found the astronomy club, and in the process they learn about the stars, each other, and themselves. There’s no real drama or danger, and everything is nicely grounded with enough dumb little touches of weirdness to add some flavor.
I find that Western comics rarely–not never, mind you, but rarely–have an equivalent to this kind of series, where nothing much happens but it’s nice, and you can just pick up the next chapter or volume and see what these characters are up to without the fate of the friggin’ world being in the balance, and ever since I finished Cross Game (see above) I’ve been in dire need of a replacement for my low-stakes hangout-comic jones.
My comic buying habits have changed since the loss of my job, but if I were still in a position to purchase things frivolously without an immediate plan to read them, I would absolutely have hit ‘buy now’ on Vol. 2 of IAS.
24. POC Author
4.13: Indian Lake Trilogy, Book Two: Don’t Fear The Reaper – Stephen Graham Jones
JADE IS BACK in Proofrock for the first time since the Fourth of July Massacre at the climax of My Heart Is A Chainsaw, and also SHE IS NOT CALLED JADE ANYMORE, she is Jennifer to you chuds. She has matured and gotten her GED and been exonerated of several murders and does not think in horror movies anymore, thank you very much.
And we are very proud of her and she does a great job of being a traumatized grownup for the roughly four hours before as many as three??? serial killers kick off their simultaneous Murder Spree ’23 Exsplatvaganza Spectaculars; in this, she learns perhaps the one true lesson of adulthood: it’s just one goddamn thing after another until someone cuts you in half with a plow. Yes, I’m having home maintenance issues, why do you ask.
I could write a fucking term paper (for Mr. Holmes, not this ~Armitage~ clot) about the relationship between these books, but their dynamic is clear: MHIAC is the raw, scrappy, maybe magic maybe mundane love-letter-to-the-genre horror movie, and DFTR is the sequel we never expected (and neither did Stephen unless he’s playing an amazing long-game) that’s ready to get weird, so buckle up because I spent a month reading this to my wife at bedtime and we still aren’t entirely sure what happened in it. But that’s clearly intentional; a good first movie stabs your meats, a good sequel sees your meat-stabbing and raises you the stab of the mind.
25. Space Opera
10.29: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, Book 1) – Arkady Martine
<Nothing empire touches remains itself>
-Yskandr Aghavn, Lsel Station Ambassador To Teixcalaan
1.3: The Nightmare Stacks (The Laundry Files, #7) – Charles Stross
Cold-blooded, murderous elves from the earth next door finally run out of reasons not to invade ours and murder us all! Did I mention the murder part. Also, one of them wants to date our main character, a wampire on a government leash! Will she show up to meet his parents for dinner on one of their brontosaurian basilisk-dragons?! What if they ask what she does for a living, she can’t just say “Genocide-Princess”! It’s frowned upon!
The basilisk-dragons in question, BTW, do turn people to stone, as long as you agree that “converting 1/10th of all carbon molecules in anything organic into silicon molecules, causing instant petrification and the release of horrific heats and energies” meets the definition, and whether or not I’m actually prepared to accept that definition, I’m certainly not prepared to argue against it.
1.24: A Journal Of My Father – Jiro Taniguchi (Comic Selection For January)
This is not a “true story” in that it didn’t, how you say, “happen”, but it’s a true story in that “shut up”, it “made me cry”.
Set in 1950’s Japan, AJOMF deals with a barber and his family in the waning days of the post-WWII American occupation of Japan–oh, were you not taught about that in school? Me neither!–and how a man struggles to provide for his family, who in turn feel distanced from and ignored by him for it, not in an ungrateful way, but in the way that it’s hard to love and appreciate someone you never see, and as his son grows older throughout the story he has to deal with that and its consequences.
The son–now a grown Tokyo salaryman–returns home for the first time in more than a decade when his father dies, and in handling the funeral learns that his father was much more than the workaholic he remembered, as he is loved and eulogized by people who knew him in the life he had before and after his son.
This was an extremely rough read for me, just because I found it very relatable and guilt-inducing not because it’s a mean book interested in guilting you, but because I am also a bad son whose relationship with his father could be best described as ‘complicated’ unless you’ve got three fucking hours for me to map out my very biased, one-sided perspective on it.
29. Over 500 Pages
What if the British Empire–famously the exploitingest, colonizingest motherfuckers around–found a way to physically enslave the very languages of “lesser” peoples in service of the Crown? What if that resource became what drove their wars, conquest and murder across the globe in search of new languages to pillage? Such is the premise! Such is the horror.
Robin Swift was born in Canton, China, maybe-rescued from a Cholera plague by a British Professor, and now spends his days at the Oxford Translation Institute, doing language-magics for the Empire. So why does he always feel excluded, and burdened with a guilt he can’t place? (Hint: it’s because Whitey will never consider him English, but participation in English society demands he renounce his Chinese heritage, so he’s kind of nothing and is selling his remaining self by the word.) Is there anything he can do about this? Can an empire be convinced of the error of its ways and repent (hint: no) or will more drastic action become necessary to ensure the freedom of people who don’t look like Dumbledore? (Hint: the book’s subtitle is The Necessity of Violence)
Set in an alternate 1840’s London powered by stolen words and the stolen children who translate them, Babel is perhaps most primarily an examination of the ways in which Whitey wants to have his cake and eat it too, in this case by keeping people of color captive with the intellectual trappings and opportunities offered to those who will help him suck the marrow from their identities and use it to fuel his war machines. It’s maybe one of the most important books I’ve ever read; to my shame, I must admit that as a white guy I could never have imagined the ending, but I imagine most readers of color won’t have been able to imagine anything else. This book rules so much that every time I go to the Albertson’s for a French loaf and see they’ve got copies of it on their shelves, I pull a page from my notepad, write “Read this, it rules!” on it, and slide it between the pages so it sticks out over the top. Albertson’s has asked me repeatedly to stop doing this, and every time they do I remind them: Albert ain’t my dad.