For 2014 I set myself the goal of reading at least (on average) one book per week. I felt kind of like I was cheating when I read a kids’ book or a graphic novel that took me an hour, compared to some nonfiction books or novels that took weeks… But I guess it all balances out in the end! I managed to beat the goal, and now I’m gonna tell you about all of them. In a series of posts of which this is the first.
This list doesn’t include books I read for work (like Oglaf Book 2 and Three Panel Soul Book 2, both of which I did prepress on). I’ll also note the format that I read it in, or how I got the book, because I find that interesting.
First, a couple that got left off the 2013 list for some reason — Goodreads tells me I read them around Christmas of that year:
Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz by Chip Kidd
Format: Hardcover read at my in-laws’ house
This is a coffee-table book that focuses on the art of “Peanuts”, reproducing some of Charles Schulz’ originals at full size and in high resolution. The annotations and layouts focus on the drawing and design aspect of Schulz’ work over his long career. Schulz, of course, is one of the all-time masters of the comic strip form, and it’s neat to see his work up close in this book.
This is a very nice hardbound collection of his very funny cartoons. Recommended!
Goliath by Tom Gauld
Format: Hardcover received as gift
Also by Tom Gauld, obviously, this is a longform story about the quiet, unassuming Goliath of Gath, who was unceremoniously forced into battle against some foreigner named David. I love his very minimalist, almost iconographic drawing style (which you can see in the comic above, as well). His intricate textures and patterns are mesmerizing as well.
The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian
Format: Hardcover purchased from publisher
I bought this nick & dent edition during a McSweeney’s sale (along with the title below, at the same time). I’m always impressed and a bit intimidated by McSweeney’s books; I get the impression that they take risks and publish challenging and atypical works, and so I approached this one with a bit of trepidation. It’s a thick novel about a pediatric hospital that becomes an ark, floating away in a flood that destroys the rest of the world, and the sort of new society that the doctors and children who survive forge for themselves within the hospital.
It’s definitely challenging and atypical — the sort of book that made me marvel that a human brain could even conceive of a work so intricate. It reminded me a bit of Tom Robbins writing a Chuck Palahniuk type story.
I…think I enjoyed it? It’s kind of hard to tell. I was bowled over by it, certainly.
Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth
Format: Hardcover purchased from publisher
Another McSweeney’s book; this is a little chapbook, actually, sold in a slipcase with two other volumes, one by Dave Eggers and one by Sarah Manguso, all which contain very short pieces in a sort of poem/essay style.
I read this particular volume last, but looking back at the whole series, I appreciated them all without quite feeling like I was getting as much as I could or should out of them. I actually became frustrated while reading because I felt like the words, lovely and evocative as they were, should have been sinking in more deeply. Perhaps because I read little bits before bed and I’m not sure that that was…correct? Like I was trying to wolf down fine chocolates instead of savoring them. But they are tasty and I want to get them inside me faster.
…And then ones that I know I read in 2014 proper:
Locke & Key: Grindhouse by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Format: Comixology ebook
I read the entire Locke & Key series in a huge, breathless run over the course of about two weeks. I’m actually very grateful that the series was finished at the time, because I don’t know if I would have been able to wait in between issues! (Surely I would have been able to, physically. But the effect of reading them all at once is powerful.)
It’s a long, self-contained story that starts a bit slow, but unfolds masterfully. It’s so nice to read something and feel like you’re in good hands; the writer knows what they’re doing; they’re taking you on a trip and they know where to point, what to show you, what to tell you, what to withhold… I really enjoyed this entire series.
The plot follows a mom and her kids who, recovering from a tragedy involving the dad, return to their old family estate in Massachusetts. The kids gradually discover a series of mysterious keys that open various doors around the creepy old house, and their explorations set into motion a series of dangerous events. I guess you could call it a horror story? It’s more creepy than gory, but there are pages that gave me a definite startle on the page-turn, and that’s a big accomplishment for a comic book (as well as a great use of the medium).
Daybreak by Brian Ralph
Format: Hardcover direct from author
I got this from the author at SPX a while back! It’s a first-person graphic novel, told from the reader’s continuous perspective as they (you) navigate a post-zombie-apocalypse world. I guess there are several subsequent volumes out as well! It is a very interesting way to tell a story, and it lends a cinematic flavor to the comic.
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
Format: Downloaded ebook
Flann O’Brien is one of those writers whose name I scribbled down ages ago when making a list of stuff to eventually read, someday. This is a surreal book, sort of Borges meets Kafka in the Irish countryside. It’s honestly a bit of a slog in parts (like Kafka), but as one of the early 20th century postmodernists, it’s clear how O’Brien novels influenced many other writers to come.
Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future ed. Eric T. Reynolds
Format: Paperback from Amazon
I bought this on a whim, which I almost never do. I got it a while back, because Eric Reynolds of Hadley Rille books publishes a lot of anthologies, and I have published a few anthologies, and I wanted to see how he did it.
I like cheesy old science fiction, probably because I read a lot of my mom’s old Best Of The Year 1957 or whatever collections as a kid, and this volume promised short stories written in that style (along with a few authentic reprints from the era).
In my opinion, the reprints are great, and capture that heady, abstract feel that sci-fi sometimes had before we all got canonical aliens and spaceships pressed into our brains by movies. The others, the pastiches, didn’t quite feel authentic to the style to me, and I liked all of them less than the authentic stories (one of which was about two businessmen trying to figure out what goods Earth could possibly export to an alien civilization). A lot of older sci-fi isn’t reprinted in many places, though, so I like that this volume preserves at least those few.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I’d never read it before! Man, so great. The language is amazing; you can see some choice quotes in the general public’s aggregate Kindle highlights. It’s a public domain work, too, so you can read it for free — the link above takes you to a free Kindle edition, or it’s on Project Gutenberg too.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
I like Dave Eggers’ writing; I know his style isn’t for everyone, but I find it very readable. This is his “tech” novel, about a woman who goes to work for a near-future exaggerated version of a Google/Apple/Facebook-style social media company. It’s kind of satirical, kind of prescient, kind of curmudgeonly, kind of scarily incisive when discussing the intersection of privacy and technology in our lives… It raises all those sorts of very modern questions.
The book’s evenhanded in some ways — it does a good job, I think, of being a character story rather than a polemic — but the values of social media, and the internet commenting-and-review culture in particular, definitely come under harsh scrutiny.
My favorite part was when after finishing it, I delighted in the self-important reviews on Goodreads in which internet commenters huffily complained to one another that Eggers got that part all wrong, and in fact they themselves were cool and good.
The Aeroplane Boys Flight; Or, A Hydroplane Round-Up by John Luther Langworthy
Format: Google ebook
This title began my elaborate survey of early 20th century aeronautical-themed youth adventure fiction, aka perhaps my favorite thing?? I got a few of these books in hardcover, and found a bunch more online (the links to this, and the others of its ilk, direct you to free downloads where available).
The youth-adventure genre of the early 20th century was largely the brainchild of a savvy publisher named Edward Stratemeyer, who landed on the idea of hiring ghostwriters to crank out a ton of short, cheap books on popular subjects that would excite kids. Most children’s fiction at the time was either morality tales, instructional primers, or morality-themed instructional primers, so Stratemeyer wanted to publish the opposite: stories about kids chasing down bad guys and having thrills.
There were Stratemeyer books about kids on motorcycles, kids in the woods, kids on the high seas, kids looking for gold, kids at boarding school, kids building motorcars — every sort of adventure he could think of. He’d invent fictional “authors” with authoritative sounding names like “Captain Ralph Bonehill” (of the Frontier and Boy Hunters series) or “Lester Chadwick” (of the College Sports series).
Stratemeyer would sometimes write, but more often outline, the stories himself; then he’d hire anonymous ghostwriters to fill in the pages as needed. There were series geared toward boys and others toward girls, but the writers could be anyone (L. Frank Baum, of Oz fame, actually wrote a number of girls’ adventure books around this time, using the pseudonyms Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, and Suzanne Metcalf, among others). The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift all originated with Stratemeyer.
The Aeroplane Boys series was actually published by one of Stratemeyer’s many imitators. It’s one of a number of structurally-identical but ostensibly independent series about a plucky group of teens who use a homebuilt aircraft to solve mysteries, rout villains, and achieve fame and fortune. The books, of which I’ve read quite a few, are as a rule charmingly simple; periodically baffling; they betray either surprisingly deep knowledge of aeronautics or get everything completely wrong; and they are, of course, occasionally racist in shockingly casual ways. This last characteristic makes them very hard to recommend as anything other than historical artifacts.
I can’t even really remember what any of them were about in particular; they all mush together in my memory. The Aeroplane Boys Flight, I believe, is about the titular Aeroplane Boys, brothers Frank and Andy Bird (get it), who put floats on their aircraft to save some sailors, or something. That’s not the point.
The Aeroplane Boys Among the Clouds; Or, Young Aviators in a Wreck by John Luther Langworthy
Format: Google ebook
In this one I think Frank and Andy crash their aircraft on a mountain. Maybe during a race with their snobby rival, the rich kid with his own aircraft? There’s always a rich kid with his own aircraft, and a fugitive bank robber who hides out in an old barn, and a bunch of chance encounters that lead to the heroes’ improbable success. Or, the race might have been in another book. Again, that’s not the point.
The Rover Boys in the Air by Arthur M. Winfield
Format: Google ebook
The Rover Boys were a group of prep-school kids; in this title, they happened to get an aeroplane. The series wasn’t normally about them flying around, so naturally I jumped right to this one, because who cares about anything else besides old-timey aeroplane adventures.
I believe this is the one where, when going to confront the bad guys who have kidnapped their girlfriends and are holding them in an old mansion, the teenaged heroes land their aeroplane in a city park in order to stop at a hardware store to purchase revolvers, just in case.
The Motor Boys in the Clouds by Clarence Young
Format: Google ebook
The Motor Boys are some kids who built motorcycles, and then motorboats, and then motorcars, and eventually aeroplanes — again, I skipped right to the good stuff. I honestly don’t remember anything in particular about any of these books, except for the next one (Over the Rockies) in which they are forced to defend a gold mine that they somehow already own, but they get trapped in the desert, and they have to machine a new cylinder for their airplane engine in the desert, and they also save some settlers who had been captured by Indians.
The Motor Boys Over the Rockies; Or, a Mystery of the Air by Clarence Young
Format: Google ebook
In another one of these books, maybe this one or maybe not, the kids are flying after some bad guys who have stolen an aeroplane, and they need to get a note to the police, so they fly over the closest town that is equipped with a telephone (!), write a note on a piece of paper, tie it around a stone, and throw it into the town square. Because everyone in the town has run out to see the phenomenon of the amazing aeroplane, this plan works. Then, they chase the bad guys until both airplanes run out of gas. Apparently the bad guys’ plan was to fly until they ran out of gas, while over a huge body of water.
The Motor Boys On the Wing by Clarence Young
Format: Google ebook
I love these books. They are my stupid, guilty pleasure. I especially love when the author knows nothing about how aircraft work. It’s the same sort of naiveté that makes the golden age sci-fi so fun to read: they aren’t saddled with the burden of plausibility. In the Rudyard Kipling story “With the Night Mail,” it’s dangerous to fly airships at night because that’s when you get pelted with comets. Conan Doyle had a story about flying an airplane too high and encountering cloud monsters.
You never read about cloud monsters anymore! The mystique of the heavens has been lost to us!!
The Motor Boys Over the Ocean; Or, A Marvelous Rescue in Mid-Air by Clarence Young
Format: Hardcover from used bookstore
I have this one in hard copy! In the back there are a bunch of ads for other series from the same publisher. If the Motor Boys aren’t to your taste, perhaps check out the Motor Girls? Their premiere adventure is titled A Mystery of the Road, summarized thus:
When Cora Kimball got her touring car she did not imagine so many adventures were in store for her. During a trip from one city to another a rich young man lost a pocketbook containing valuable stocks and much cash. Later, to the surprise of everybody, the empty pocketbook was found in the tool box of Cora’s automobile. A fine tale that all wide-awake girls will appreciate.
Or perhaps you’d like the subsequent title, The Motor Girls on a Tour, Or, Keeping a Strange Promise:
A great many things happen in this volume, starting with the running over of a hamper of good things lying in the road. A precious heirloom is missing, and how it was traced up is told with absorbing interest.
I’ll leave you for now with that li’l tease!! I will continue with PART 2 of my reading list in a bit. (Update: here it is! And here’s Part 3!) It will be a fine tale that all wide-awake girls (and perhaps others??) will appreciate.