Michael H. takes a look back at the books he read in 2016 and tries to pick his favorites.
We’re back baby. For part 2 of my favorite reads of the year I will rank the short story collections I read.
FICTION – Short Stories
Being a hardcore novel guy, I had never made much time for short story collections in the past. I changed that a bit this year and I am damn glad I did. It helped that the books I picked were mostly surefire knockouts (thanks Google).
6. Denis Johnson – Jesus’ Son (1992)
Who-boy. I do enjoy me some dark and depressing writing. It doesn’t get much more dark and depressing than Denis Johnson. In other words, he is great.
The stories that make up Jesus’ Son are loosely connected, focusing on a drug-addicted loser. The stories will hit you like a ton of bricks, but they also deliver stunning clarity and surprising humor. There’s also a fever-dream – or maybe drug-dream would be a better term – tinge to the prose that keeps you just enough off balance to make you wonder if what is being described is literal or not.
5. Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When Talk About Love (1981)
Ray Carver is one of the most celebrated short story writers of all time, and this is his most celebrated book. From a bird’s eye view, there doesn’t appear to be much going on in his stories. Upon actually reading them you realize everything is going on in his stories.
And by everything I mean real life – Carver is a master at telling what should be simple stories with such precision and insight that you barely notice that not much happens and the end brings about zero resolution. His stories will definitely resonate with people who have lived a little and settled into the mundanity of work/married/kids life, but the quality of his writing is apparent to anyone with eyes and half a brain.
4. Lincoln Michel – Upright Beasts (2015)
This was the first book I read in 2016. I think about it more than any book I read in 2016 save Infinite Jest. Michel is a really cool writer/editor guy who co-edits the lit mag Gigantic and is the Editor-in-Chief of the super dope website Electric Literature.
Upright Beasts is Michel’s debut collection. In these stories he takes the concept of “genre” and puts it through a wood chipper. He mixes and matches as he sees fit: In one story, a couple try to work on their relationship as the Zombie apocalypse happens outside their house. It’s scary and tense, has blood and gore, and is really funny. This shouldn’t be possible, but Lincoln Michel manages all this with wonderful – “literary” if you will – prose that flings you from one page to the next. I can’t recommend this collection highly enough.
So here’s the thing, about once a year a find a new writer – new to me at least – that I completely lose my shit over and become completely obsessed with. DFW was that for me last year. This year it was George Saunders.
The three short story collections above do not contain a single bad piece, imo. The ones that stick out to me most are from his most recent collection, Tenth of December, and that’s probably because I read it first. “Victory Lap,” “Escape from Spiderhead,” and “The Semplica Girl Dairies” are spectacular. But the title story is probably my favorite short story ever. I dare not spoil anything about these stories. Just go read them.
His nonfiction is amazing as well: Saunders’ piece in The New Yorker about his experiences at Trump rallies from earlier this year is a must read, as is his report in GQ re his trip to Nepal to see the “Buddha Boy” from 2006.
OH AND ALSO HE HAS A NOVEL COMING OUT IN FEBRUARY AND IF THERE WAS A GOD I WOULD HAVE RECEIVED AN ADVANCE COPY, but oh well I’m really excited about it if you must know.
(Nonfiction coming tomorrow)FOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD