A spectacular readinf list from Corey Redekop perfectly timed for all of those boxing day sales!! Thank you Corey for this brilliant description of your best of books for 2015! It looks like i have a LOT of books to add to my reading list!
Top Baker’s Dozen Books 2015 by Corey Redekop
There are three things I keep in mind when making such lists: 1) I arguably read too many books, and inarguably am not terribly discerning. 2) I fully realize the inherent subjective flexibility of such lists; tomorrow this list could be completely different. 3) There is nothing more dispiriting then cutting books out of a list.
Today, this is the list I ended up with, my favourite reads of 2015 (but not necessarily from 2015).
I’m going to cheat a bit and provide a baker’s dozen of taste treats. I’ll present alphabetically by author and leave the choice of “best” up to you. And yes, I’m cheating even more by adding more than one book per author. Sue me.
Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours (2014, HarperCollins Canada)
• Baker’s tale of the personal assistant to H.P. Lovecraft evokes the cosmic weirdness of Lovecraft’s work while keeping the story fully rooted in the real. The result is both tremendously spooky and a remarkably moving treatise on the lonely art of writing.
Andrew Battershill – Pillow (2015, Coach House)
• I picked up Battershill’s debut novel on a whim, but within ten pages I knew I had discovered something special. Battershill’s crime yarn of a boxer caught up in the wild gangster machinations of a famous French surrealist really shouldn’t work on any level, but succeeds on them all.
Nick Cutter – The Deep (2015, Simon & Schuster), The Acolyte (2015, ChiZine)
• Cutter released two markedly different books in 2015. The Deep’s tale of scientists trapped in a deep-sea laboratory is a claustrophobic nightmare, evoking Michael Crichton’s scientific mumbo-jumbo and Stephen King’s depth of character. The Acolyte is a dystopian detective fiction set in a militaristic theocracy that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Fahrenheit 451. Both terrified me to the core, for markedly differing reasons.
Sebastian De Castell – Traitor’s Blade (2014, Penguin Random House)
• The flat-out most enjoyably fun novel I read this year. De Castell mixes the swashbuckling exploits of The Three Musketeers with dashes of fantastical magic and gritty dialogue, resulting in an adventure novel that never stops moving and leaves you wanting more.
Beth Goobie – The First Principles of Dreaming (2014, Second Story Press)
• Being a juror for the 2015 Sunburst Award, I’ll quote my Honourable Mention description here: “An unsettling and unnerving erotic exploration of a young woman’s psyche, Beth Goobie’s mix of sexuality, morality, and religious fundamentalism is a coming-of-age tale unlike any other.”
Kenneth Mark Hoover – Haxan, Quaternity (2014, 2015, ChiZine)
• I’m hardly a western aficionado, but these two books in Hoover’s John Marwood series instantly rank among my favourites of the genre. Grisly, horrific, intensely personal, and plaited with blood-soaked threads of magic realism, these violent yarns of a man’s hopeless search for redemption are simultaneously unpleasant and impossible to put down.
Matthew Johnson – Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (2014, ChiZine)
• Johnson’s compendium of zombies, folksingers, detectives, dragons, and Mark Twain may be my favourite of all ChiZine short story collections. If you consider that ChiZine authors include Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Gemma Files, Halli Villegas, Douglas Smith, Claude Lalumière, and more, you’ll understand just how good Johnson (and ChiZine) is.
Nathan Larson – The Dewey Decimal System, The Nervous System, The Immune System (2011, 2012, 2015, Akashic Books)
• Being a librarian, how could I not read a novel called The Dewey Decimal System? Larson’s blisteringly odd series of an obsessive-compulsive bagman caught up in conspiracies galore in a post-terrorism New York is damned fun, Dashiell Hammett filtered through Chuck Palahniuk (when he was good).
Saleema Nawaz – Bone & Bread (2013, Anansi)
• Unlike everything else on this list, there’s no overt weirdness present in Nawaz’s gentle narrative, only the lovely, sad story of two sisters growing up Sikh in Montreal. Nawaz captures the minutiae of sisterly relationships like few others I’ve read, admittedly a short list but why damn such a fine novel with faint praise? This is a winner through and through.
Peter Norman – Emberton (2014, Douglas & McIntyre)
• Back to weirdness. The adventures of a strangely illiterate man working for the dystopic Emberton Dictionary, Norman’s gothic novel careens back and forth from office satire to tangled mystery-thriller to epic Lovecraftian horror, all the while working as a meta-examination of the intricacies of language. It’s breathtakingly original, and hits all my sweet spots.
Robert Repino – Mort(e) (2015, Soho Press)
• After the ant rebellion, evolved members of the animal kingdom take up arms against humanity. Through the war and its aftermath, housecat turned hero Mort(e) searches for his one true friend, a dog named Sheba. I have an inexplicable love of anthropomorphic fiction, and Mort(e) more than earns an honoured place on my shelves next to William Kotzwinkle’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Tim Davys’ Amberville, and Clifford Chase’s Winkie.
Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven (2014, Penguin Random House)
• After all the awards and accolades, there’s nothing I can add about Mandel’s wonderful work. Following a troupe of artists after the fall of mankind, Station Eleven has earned its fame. Damn this is good.
Lavie Tidhar – A Man Lies Dreaming (2014, Hodder & Stoughton)
• If you’re not reading Lavie Tidhar, shame on you. Equaling his superb work in Osama and The Violent Century, A Man Lies Dreaming is at once a crazed detective story (starring a certain German dictator) and a devastating Holocaust novel. There’s no reason for any of this to work, and I’d fear to read any lesser author taking on such a challenge. But Tidhar simply kills it.
Now that that’s done, let’s look at what didn’t make my list.
Sadly, I had to disqualify: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir (2015, Exile) and Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (2015, ChiZine)
• If it weren’t that I am a contributor to both, I‘d have gladly placed them near the top; both gifted me with some of the best short fictions I’ve read in years.
• New Canadian Noir is laden with dazzling stories that demolish preconceived notions of “noir” and expand the concept into fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. All the stories are outstanding, but Keith Cadieux’s “Donner Parties” and Dale L. Sproule’s “Nunavut Thunderfuck” are personal faves.
• Licence Expired similarly plays with expectations, resurrecting the literary roots of Ian Fleming’s superspy in utterly surprising ways. Robert J. Wiersema’s “The Gale of the World,” Ian Roger’s “Two Graves” and A.M. Dellamonica’s “Through Your Eyes Only” are my standouts in a crowded field of excellence.
And finally, another baker’s dozen, this one of superior runner-ups, any of which could be dropped into the above list with no loss in quality:
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last; Adam Christopher, Empire State; Ian Colford, The Crimes of Hector Tomás; Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk; Thomas King, The Back of the Turtle; Nicole Kornher-Stace, Archivist Wasp; Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise; James Morrow, Galapagos Regained; Carsten Stroud, The Reckoning; Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts; Robert J. Wiersema, Black Feathers; Jane Woods, The Walking Tanteek; Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble
Now go read something, will you?