2016: Hell Year Wrap-Up



That was an… interesting twelve months. And by interesting, I mean harrowing, depressing, occasionally downright terrifying and void of hope. But also, personally, weirdly great. More than great, actually. Kind of amazing, both in terms of my life and relationships, and my career. This was the year my work finally started appearing in anthologies, that I gave my first public reading—and didn’t totally shit the bed, even if I did talk a mile a minute. It was also the year my first novel sold, and to a publisher I both love and respect. It was the year I was forced to put this blog on hiatus, not because I lost interest in it or was overwhelmed by the shittiness of life but because I was drowning in paid reviews, as well other forms of editorial work. As a result, Backlisted, for which I’ve never seen a cent, had to go and sit on the bleachers for a while.

Technically, it’s still there, chilling on the sidelines, waiting for its time to again step out onto the field. That day will come at some point in 2017 (I really want to get around to writing a review for Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, among other titles currently vying for my attention), but for now I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the year that, thankfully, is coming to a swift end.

For the first time since starting Backlisted, I think I was moved this year more often by experiences outside of books. The films Moonlight, Midnight Special, Arrival, Sing Street, Loving, and Under the Shadow all managed to burrow deep into my psyche, as did the video games Thumper, Inside, Virginia, The Witness, and The Last Guardian—complete opposites all in terms of style and approach, but each something that spoke to me on an almost impossible to describe level, doing things with narrative and/or style (because Thumper is nothing if not wall-to-wall style) that I felt missing in a lot of what I read this year. I don’t think this is as much about the quality of the books I read so much as, perhaps, feeling a bit of burnout within the medium, as well as simply not finding myself as capable of detaching from my own writing and editing work enough to truly sink into certain books. In short, I felt for a lot of this year wanting to step outside of books and absorb experiences in which I had no stake, professional or otherwise.

That being said, I still read over 100 books again this year, and wanted to take the time to give some shout-outs where deserved. (The full list of titles I read this year can be found here: https://backlisted.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/2016-cant-stop-wont-stop/)

While I don’t normally like to rank things, the two at the very top of my list for 2016 are N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy and China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris. The former is a 1000+-page epic detailing the rise and fall of a single kingdom, the family of feuding gods at the centre of it and all creation, and the interplay between them. It’s enormous in scope but remains personal at all times. It is dramatic, hilarious, incredibly fucking dark and intense, and at no point failed to completely, utterly impress. It plays freely and fearlessly with race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, art, and destiny, and… I really can’t say enough good things about it (it’s the only 7,000-word review I’ve ever written: https://backlisted.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/review-the-inheritance-trilogy-by-n-k-jemisin/ ).

The latter, to the total opposite end of the spectrum, is a tight, 170-page novella in which a surrealism bomb is detonated near the end of World War II, thus extending the war and bringing all surrealist art into the battle, as a normalized, nightmarish part of it.

A fucking surrealism bomb. Christ, why didn’t I think of that…

This entire book is an experiment in repeated visual orgasming, and I loved every goddamned page of it.

Other notable titles this year (in no particular order other than that in which I read them):

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube
God in Pink, by Hasan Namir
Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine
Somewhere a Long and Happy Life Probably Awaits You, by Jill Sexsmith
North American Lake Monsters, by Nathan Ballingrud
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor Lavalle
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Gutshot, by Amelia Gray
The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall
Stories of Your Life and Other Stories, by Ted Chiang
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

Books I loved but didn’t want to rank because they’re written/edited by close friends, but I still loved them and want to give them the attention they deserve:

The Society of Experience, by Matt Cahil
The Humanity of Monsters, ed. by Michael Matheson
The Angels of Our Better Beasts, by Jerome Stuart (doubly cannot rank this title as I edited the bloody thing, but it’s great and you should read it)
Those Who Make Us, ed. by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (I mean, I have a story in this collection, and it’s one of my favourites, so like hell I wasn’t going to mention it. Good thing the rest of the book is pretty goddamn terrific, too)

Books I was severely disappointed in:

Three Moments of an Explosion, by China Miéville (case study in why it’s not a good idea to just stuff everything possible into a collection. There’s no sense of cohesion to this bloated mess of ideas, and only five or six stories out of its twenty-plus are actually worth the time)
The Monstrous, ed. by Ellen Datlow (not a good first experience with Datlow, who is a legend of an anthology editor. While there are a handful of good-to-great stories in this collection, the worthwhile reads number fewer than a quarter of the total)
What is Not Yours is Not Yours (I have read all Oyeyemi’s work and generally like what she does, but her short fiction sadly did not work for me—there’s a stark lack of focus to the majority of the stories in this collection, and her exceptional wordplay does not make up for it, or for the lack of truly interesting characters)
I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid (how this mental illness-phobic piece of shit has become one of the year’s best sellers and best-reviewed titles is utterly beyond me. It’s like my experience with Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist all over again—that book was complete trash yet wound up on so many year-end best-of lists that it hurt my brain to think about)
Three Years with the Rat, by Jay Hosking (another best seller. Big ideas in this one, but did not carry any one through to the end with any degree of satisfaction)

All right, I think that’s all I have to say for now. Like I mentioned up top, Backlisted will return in full at some point in the coming year, but for now I wish nothing but the best in 2017 for everyone reading.