Shopping (or just reading) weird

I think I’ve just about expended all my book- and gift-book-buying budget at this point, but I couldn’t resist poring over Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s Gifts for the Weirdie in Your Life book recommendation post – many many additions were made to my to-read list. The VanderMeers provide detailed recommendations for both classic weird and new releases, emphasizing both literary quality and visual appeal.

Also, recommendations for weird small presses whose catalogues I’ll have to look over in more detail at some point: Centipede Press, Tartarus Press, Chômu Press.

(I really, really wanted Centipede’s Algernon Blackwood collection – “with some fine Clarence John Laughlin photographs reprinted as exquisite duotones. Quarterbound in black Japanese cloth with blue European cloth panels, with a ribbon marker, and enclosed in a clothbound slipcase.” – and then I realized that it was $250. erk.)

– E

Do we all like flowcharts?

I’m assuming we do: check out the monster that SF Signal has put together to help curious readers navigate the results of NPR’s 100 Top SFF Books survey, featuring “(obviously) 100 end points and over 325 decision points,” including such trenchant inquiries as “PoMo superheroes or tortured specter?”, “Do the words Sword and Sorcery have a positive connotation for you?”, and “Which question most frightens you: who needs books or who needs free will?”

Link sent to me by the one and only and extremely busy Kakaner.

– E

Most memorable reads of 2009

Plain and simple, our favorite reads of the year. What were yours?

Emera’s most memorable reads

In the order in which I read them, with review links where available, and blurbs where not. First, novels and graphic novels (with one manga series snuck in):

  • The Inside, by Isaac Marion (2008)
  • The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb (1995-1997). My first epic high fantasy in forever; mediocre stylistically, but the plot, characters, and attention to detail are captivating.
  • Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner (1987). Swordplay, intrigue, and one of my favorite fictional couples. Exquisite, witty, bittersweet.
  • The Etched City, by K. J. Bishop (2003)
  • Battle Angel Alita, by Yukio Kishiro (1990-1995). Gadgets! Grunge! Explosions! Indestructible heroine, outrageously good art, and outrageous cyberpunk melodrama!
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (2008). Classic Gaiman goodness. Yearning, dark, delicate.
  • Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-1987). Hmm, too obvious an inclusion? Almost relentlessly artistic, with unforgettable characters.
  • The Red Tree, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2009)
  • Orlando, by Virginia Woolf (1928). Literarygasm! History, sexuality, and textuality.

Runners-up (enjoyed, but didn’t make as much of a personal impact) were Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl (2006) and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003).

And my favorite short fiction reads this year:

  • “Carmilla,” by J. Sheridan le Fanu (1872). Lesbian vampire + weird Gothic eroticism = yes please.
  • “Over the River,” by P. Schuyler Miller (1941). Beautiful concept, beautiful execution. One of my favorite vampire stories; masterful use of perspective.
  • “Unicorn Tapestry,” by Suzy McKee Charnas (1980). Same as the above. Great characters and atmosphere.
  • “Anna,” by Isaac Marion, illus. Sarah Musi (2008)
  • “Stone Animals,” by Kelly Link (2004)
  • “My Death,” by Lisa Tuttle (2004)
  • “This is Now,” by Michael Marshall Smith (2004)
  • “Exhalation,” by Ted Chiang (2008). Both meticulous and quietly wondrous.
  • “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica,” by Catherynne M. Valente (2008). Playful and luminous.

Hm, somehow that came out to 9 each. Overall, I read 59 books – not too shabby. Also, 2009 was a big year in that Kakaner and I started seriously book-collecting. And – clearly – we started The Black Letters. Bookish goals for the coming year are to continue to attack both of those pursuits with vim and vigor – and, for me, to start using Librarything again to track my acquisitions. Happy 2010!

Kakaner’s most memorable reads

  • Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) Robert Heinlein. An obvious classic for well-known reasons.
  • Requiem for a Dream (1978) by Hubert Selby Jr. A slip-through-your-fingers look at life for those caught in the downward spiral of drugs and addiction. Jarring, haunting, dark, and a harsh reality.
  • The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden (2006) by Catherynne Valente. The meta-fairy-tale to end all meta-fairy-tales. It’s exactly what I suspect it set out to achieve– enchanting and breathtaking.
  • The City & The City (2009) by China Mieville
  • Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (2008) by Joe Hill. A masterful graphic novel debut that is just strange enough to mess with your head.
  • Kick-Ass Vol 1 (2010) by Mark Millar. Loads of fun and full of potential– yet another anti-superhero miniseries.

Other enjoyables but not overwhelmingly impactfuls: The Little Stranger (2009) by Sarah Waters and The Icarus Girl (2006) by Helen Oyeyemi.

The short fiction:

  • “Exhalation” (2008) by Ted Chiang
  • “Urchins, While Swimming” (2006) by Catherynne Valente. Beautiful modern interpretation of the rusalka myth.
  • “304 Adolph Hitler Strasse” by Lavie Tidhar. The funniest (and most offensive) thing I’ve read in a while– Holocaust fanfiction anyone?
  • “The Third Bear” by Jeff VanderMeer. Powerful and provoking.
  • “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Mattheson. An intense, short tale of a mutant locked in a basement– a horrifying classic.

I am deeply embarrassed to admit I read a painfully small amount of books in 2009. Precisely 27. Compared to the 91 I read in 2008 and 100+ in 2007, this is like a punch to the gut. Usually Decembers are marked by furious reading, but seeing as I had no cushy winter break or finals period this year, December was marked by no reading. I’m going to chalk it up to graduating, finding my own place, working full time, and starting Real Life.

Resolutions? READ. MORE. Consistently update TBL. Make enough headway on Bokoclient to produce a passable GUI. And slow down on the book purchasing. Look out for an enticing upcoming book giveaway! And Merry New Years!

Unveiling our Top 10 YA Books List

The time has come for another list! As you will all soon come to realize, Emera and Kakaner have a dire weaknesses for creating and maintaining lists. We are also both fanatic collectors and readers of YA books, even in our post-teenage years

The list is reproduced below, but its permanent home is on our Lists page here:

The Black Letters Top 10 YA Books

In alphabetical order by author:

  • Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll
  • Ella Enchanted (1997) by Gail Carson Levine
  • The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Justin Norton
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) by Robert C. O’Brien
  • The Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell
  • Bridge to Terabithia (1977) by Katherine Paterson
  • The Perilous Gard (1971) by Elizabeth Marie Pope
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Maniac Magee (1990) by Jerry Spinelli
  • Dealing with Dragons (1990) by Patricia Wrede

Well, we started with about 20 choices and it was slightly tricky narrowing it down to 10. The genres range from fantasy to urban fiction to historical fiction to animal fiction, which we believe is a pretty healthy smattering of YA genres. If anyone hasn’t read any of these, well, he or she should. All these reads would probably take about an hour, two hours tops, and promise to be most rewarding.