One of my friends did a list of her top 12 books from 2012 for her library. I saw her list and went, man, we read very different stuff. I’d heard of four of her books and read none (though a few are in my interminable and not written down anywhere “to read” list). But here’s my list of books I really liked that were released this year. All the links go to my reviews if you want more information than might be conveyed in the specific prize each won.
What were your favourites?
The Complete Lockpick Pornography is two of Joey Comeau’s short novels (Lockpick Pornography and We All Got It Coming) put together in an attractive pink binding that belies all the violence inside.
The first story is about a guy who tries to overthrow hetero-normative society by stealing from straight people. We first meet him smashing a sex partner’s boyfriend’s TV and then stealing a new one to make up for it. He gets involved with a queer team who come up with a plan to break into elementary schools and leave books about gay grandfathers inside. And through all of this the narrator is calling a stranger in the suburbs and asking her questions to try and destabilize her life. Everyone is hurt and angry and trying to make the world better. There’s lots of sex and people trying to negotiate complicated relationships. It’s kind of like a lighter (and non-science-fictional) Samuel R. Delany story.
We All Got It Coming is a much gentler story about two guys in a relationship. The narrator gets pushed down the stairs at his shit job and he quits and tries to find something new to do with himself. He wants to raise hell and be awesome, but the world isn’t going to make it easy. This one is more about responding to violence and being weak and wanting to be otherwise.
They aren’t direct sequels, but I think reading the two stories right after each other works really well. The violence in We All Got It Coming is handled very differently from Lockpick Pornography – it’s much less of a way to blow off steam and maybe think about a little and more something that completely destabilizes a person. Putting the two together gives good perspective on the idea of violence being omnipresent and how control of that violence empowers and disempowers people.
Joey Comeau writes excellently spiky language to get caught in your brain. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.
You might know about the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) which is a comic con held in the Toronto Reference Library every year. It’s supposed to be great, and I’ve never been. But, this year was the first VanCAF, a smaller indie comics show that I really enjoyed being part of.
One of the things I’ve learned in the process of interviewing librarians about association-work is that conventions and conferences are a lot more interesting if you’re there doing something rather than just attending. I put that to the test and volunteered for VanCAF even though it was free to get into. I wanted to have a little bit of skin in the game, so I could say I helped with the first VanCAF, especially if it becomes more awesome as years go by.
This one was pretty great. I loved the space it was in, the Roundhouse. There was a whole wall of windows and fresh air coming in so it didn’t feel shut away from the world (especially because the weather was so nice this weekend). Some of my volunteering duties took me outside, where I put up posters on Friday (which were gone by Saturday morning because apparently Vancouver has a poster mafia which we were unable to pay off) and handed out flyers at the beginning of the day on Sunday. Japadog was on site and Chris Hastings drew a picture commemorating the good Doctors McNinja’s love of the franchise.
The best part of volunteering was actually covering people’s booths while they went for lunch. I covered for Klara Woldenga and sold an adorable crocheted killoctopus for her, Critical Hit Comics so they could both attend a live podcast, Carina Piccioni, and Ryan Pequin and Emily Partridge. The exhibitors seemed really happy with this arrangement and were really great to the volunteers. It was fun to be on the other side of the table, selling things and chatting with their neighbours (including Doug Savage). I felt involved with the con and had a great time.
Once I was done volunteering I bought some books, including the new Delilah Dirk, the SciFi anthology from Cloudscape, the new edition of Joey Comeau‘s Lockpick Pornography and a comic by Mike Deas, which is interesting because it’s from Orca Books, one of Canada’s big YA publishers that I didn’t know did comics at all. I also got to attend a panel where the panelists (including David Malki ! made a comic live on stage while discussing the art of humour writing. It was chaotic but also kind of awesome.
So yes, VanCAF was a pretty great little indie comics show. It seemed busy both days and I heard many favourable comparisons between it and Stumptown, and also how MoCCA used to be before it got so big. I’m very glad to have been part of VanCAF’s first year.
For a very long time I avoided sexytimes in books. I wasn’t a stereotypical undersexed housewife so I didn’t need to spend my time on stupid Harlequin romances. (I’m still not and still don’t.) And isn’t writing about sex like doing math about a sunset or something? But Joey Comeau‘s book of sexy short stories, The Girl Who Couldn’t Come, is pretty great and he brought me around to the world of non-degrading/non-stupid sex fiction. (Well, he and Jess Fink.)
These aren’t grand romance stories filled with angst and yearning; they are funny (in that Joey Comeau kind of way) stories filled with sex. He refers to them, well, here’s his description:
This is a book of dirty stories. It is a book where sex is fun and good and people are kind to each other. Also there are ghosts and there is math and there are obsessive compulsive disorders.
These stories are weird and fun and often bewildering, like sex itself.
There’s rough sex (with a trigger warning, which I didn’t know was a thing till reading this book), gay sex, a werewolf and sex with the titular girl who needs to be listening to Johnny Cash’s voice to orgasm. If you are looking for a short collection of smut you can check out a bunch of the stories here.
I want to be Joey Comeau. I will just say that. His writing is probably the stuff in the world that gets to my emotional core the best. There’s a Murakami story about a really good letter writer who makes you feel like you’re eating the hamburger steak she’s writing about, or so the narrator says. If I could do the stuff Comeau does, I would be a hell of a writer. His weird funny tales just dig into you and take your fucking heart and break it. In Bible Camp Bloodbath that’s almost not a metaphor. The ad copy for the book is “Child Murder: Anything this fun should be illegal.”
The book’s about a weird quiet kid named Martin. His mom works in horror movies and he goes to Bible Camp. At this Bible Camp nearly everyone is murdered in fantastically escalating gory ways. This is not a spoiler. The book is saved from being a self-conscious “Dude, we’re in a horror movie” wank-fest (note that there is some wanking in the book) by the refusal to really engage in the cliches of the “reflexive about horror tropes” sub-genre. Instead of winking and nodding at the reader the book revels in gory description that is painful, terrifying, ludicrous and oh so fucking graphic.
The terror of the victims plays into it, sure, but that’s not where the book’s heart is, at least, not for me. It’s almost a novel about the joy of being a weirdo, which is a common Joey Comeau theme, and one I’m happy to embrace. The victory condition achieved in the end of Bible Camp Bloodbath is beautiful. It’s not sentimental. It doesn’t fuck around with the novel’s rules. It just makes you cry. Made me cry. Although I did read it on the plane going to a funeral, so I may have been in a weird emotional state.
Anyway. If you want, you can read the whole thing for free here (at the bottom of each chapter just click Newer Post to read it in order from there). I bought it because it’s cheap and Joey Comeau deserves encouragement to keep on making these weird heartwrenching things. (Also, it has an index of murders which is a hilarious summary of the book.)
Overqualified is a novel told in job application cover letters. It’s by Joey Comeau, who does the comic A Softer World and wrote the zombie novel One Bloody Thing After Another. (I haven’t read his latest, Bible Camp Bloodbath yet, but I will.)
When I told my girlfriend about the concept of this book she thought it sounded neat. Then I read her one of the letters and she said “Oh. It’s not very realistic. It’s just a gimmick. No one would actually write that.” And I was a little thrown off. I must have read it wrong, or prefaced it wrong. I mean, of course no one actually would write about their dead brother and throwing lightbulbs off an apartment building in a job application to GE, but it’s beautiful and sad. Or beautiful and angry like his letter to Gillette about razor-blades and sex. Or beautiful and cynical like his Hallmark greeting card ideas:
Front cover is a picture of a puppy dog with big, sad eyes. A Golden Retriever, maybe. Some breed that everyone loves, something vulnerable. The text on the front reads: “You think love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead.” Inside text: “That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”
In every case there’s this desperation and weirdness that was weird and painful and amazing.
It’s not a clever story, which you might think it would be, with the tagline I gave it above. It’s just a weirdly emotional one about a man who’se trying to hold on to some sort of memory or reality by writing to corporations to the nonhuman beings that have all the power in our world. Reality shifts about him as he talks about all his many qualifications, but his pain remains constant.
So I should revise my original words. Overqualified is a dark, funny story about pain. Told in cover letters.
Joey Comeau’s book One Bloody Thing After Another, keeps on getting billed as a zombie book. I bought it direct from his hands at Comix & Stories in Vancouver, asking “That’s the zombie one, right?” (and Emily Horne said, “Of course it is; it’s got a kitten on the cover!”). But it isn’t really a zombie book. It’s a ghost story and a juvenile romance/delinquency story and a story about family and a being crazy and letting people see story and a breaking glass story, but zombies? Sure there are a few, and they’re kind of terrifying, but it’s this cryptic weird emotional kind of terrifying that you have to turn the music up really loud so you can’t pay attention to the bad shit going down. It’s not a book about “oh no it’s the end of the world and zombies!” but about “oh no the world keeps on happening and nobody cares about your zombies/ghosts/idiot-dogs but you.” Which is kind of scarier.
It was a beautiful book and doesn’t really deserve to be lumped into any zombie fashions going around these days. I’m just saying.
I’ve been waiting for Can’tLit at the library for what feels like months. It’s a collection of short fiction from the many years of Broken Pencil magazine (edited by Richard Rosenbaum). The only writer whose stuff I knew before reading the book was Joey Comeau, and his story (about remembering that giraffes exist and the feelings that brings out at an office party) was pretty great. There were a lot of them that were pretty great, plus a few I didn’t much care for.
The idea behind the book’s title is that there’s a specific genre that is Canadian Literature (CanLit). That stuff tends to be rural coming of age stories by women named Margaret. This book (and Broken Pencil as a magazine) is dedicated to the less reputable forms of literature in our country. The twisted weird stories of punkrock and lust and sleeplessness (it was notable how many of the stories had to do with insomnia).
I like when these kinds of indie stories are legitimized. Making zine culture a bit more accessible and such. It’s the kind of thing I think I’m interested in as part of my career I think. Collecting, organizing and possibly legitimizing small-published weird little bits of the universe.