Friday, December 30, 2016

Substantialreads: Faves and worsties 2016

I imposed limits on my reading this year, to avoid things turning out like last year when my non-working life was consumed by the typed/spoken word. Due to basic probability, I didn't discover so many new favourites this year, but nor was I bored and irritated anywhere near as often.

I started out by trying to restrict myself to one (hopefully) good, substantial book a month, taking the time to savour its flavours rather than rushing through as many as I possibly could. But that was just too restrictive, so after sneaking in an extra book each month (two for February, three for March), I decided to make that the new thing (four for April, five for May, six for June, seven for July, eight for August, nine for September, ten for October, eleven for November, you get the idea).

I themed each month around whatever I felt like at the time. But because moods can change, I cheated and read them in whatever damn order I felt like. I even read some other things, for review purposes or just because I wanted to. I didn't even make myself write fastidiously image-wrapped paragraphs about some of those, I do sometimes allow myself to enjoy things without turning them into chores.

On that note, here are the obligatory year-end time-wasting stats.


1. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, Providence

2015-2017 (not yet finished) / E-comics / 488 pages (so far) / UK/USA


My favourite book of the year doesn't even exist yet, until they knock out the inevitable collected edition next year. Or wait a little longer and give Moore & Burrows' Lovecraft mash-up the deluxe treatment it deserves, complete with dense notes from the author explaining all the clever things he was doing in every single damned panel and extending its page count into the thousands.

After I recovered from reading From Hell a decade ago, I instantly decided that its respective positions as Moore's finest work, the greatest graphic novel ever and my number three-or-something book of all time would take some beating. The colossal contender is here at last, but I'd have to re-read them both to be sure. Should probably give it another 10 years, to be safe.

2. Virginia Woolf, The Waves

1931 / E-book / 324 pages / UK


Woolf's most arduous and thus most satisfying effort. You wouldn't want to read this sort of book every day – even the author has to take a sanity break and write magical love stories between her heavy-duty efforts – but it's got to be good for the soul, or at least makes you feel clever when you don't have trouble following what's going on even without a Wikipedia summary holding your hand.

In this schizophrenic soliloquy sequence blending novel, play and vivid poetry, Woolf escapes Joyce's shadow and puts forward a worthy rival to Ulysses. There's nothing left to prove and the laurel bed is earned, so I hardly minded at all that The Years took such a boring backwards step (Between the Acts was still good though).

3. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

1927 / E-book / 209 pages / UK


"Unfilmable" is one of the highest compliments you can give to a book. Just as very few of the films I like are adaptations, the best novels and short stories are those take full advantage of the medium. Imagine trying to film this. It'd just be a meaningless sequence of people doing mundane things while looking contemplative. Film it at a high frame rate and play the audiobook over the top and you might be getting somewhere, but I wouldn't want to watch that.

(Since writing that incisive commentary in November, I found out they did make a TV version in the 80s that was relatively well-received. Well, I'm not writing another 80 words).

4. China Miéville, Kraken

2010 / Audiobook / 509 pages / UK


Miéville foregoes ingenious sideways worlds to tell this tentacular tale. It's Lovecraft done as a Dan Brown 'parody' that has its giant squid and eats it. I expect Hollywood will make an exciting movie out of it some day that completely misses the humour.

5. Mary Doria Russell, Doc

2011 / E-book / 394 pages / USA


I'm not the biggest fan of Westerns – presumably because I'm British rather than American, I find gas-lit, smoke-choked London and Edinburgh cobbles a more comforting alternative for the period. But like those weirdos who claim to enjoy the best of every music genre, I do enjoy making the trip every now and again. By stripping away the sensationalism surrounding a tertiary historical figure (if not the romance), this was the most authentic frontier immersion since Deadwood. It helped that I scored most of it with Western soundtracks too.


100. John Wilmot (probs), Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery

1684 / E-play / 52 pages / UK


Rochester's dirtiest Earl may or may not have written this smutty comedy, but it's nothing to be proud of either way. It's all orifice-obsessed talk rather than action, for the braying delight of a degenerate Restoration rabble whose lineage you could probably trace directly to "Chubby" Brown's contemporary audience.

Next to zero thought has been paid to giving every character a "hilarious" dirty name, and its only value is in helping to demonstrate the vintage of those terms. It's all in rhyme too, which is usually enough to superficially impress me, but not after rubbing me up the wrong passage.

99. Javier Fabra, The Lesbian Vampire Erotica Bundle: Five BDSM Lesbian Paranormal Vampire Erotic Stories

2015 / E-book / 134 pages / USA


One of the stories was quite atmospheric, that's about all the praise I can give. The rest is just about the worst thing I've ever read, down to the clear lack of proofreading that lets terrible spelling and grammar go unchecked ("procession" is substituted for "possession" so many times, it can only be the author's confusion). And he's not fooling anyone with the cautious disclaimer that all characters are consenting adults, considering how much dark mesmerism is involved and that every other story gets off on describing freshly pubic maidens. They develop late in Transylvania, I guess?

Faves: 'Den of Thorns.'

Worsties: 'The Blood Countess,' 'Blood Maiden,' 'Mirror of the Vampire.'

98. Leopold van Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs

1870 / Audiobook / 160 pages / Austria


Things take a disappointing turn to the coy in what I presume is a landmark bondage classic from the other godfather of violent love (he's the M). The cover's more explicit than the content, which doesn't even feature a fleeting flash of nipple (it crossed my mind that I might be reading some kind of early public domain censored version), the excitement being entirely in the psychology of control, submission and humiliation. Not exactly a step forward after De Sade, but the pathetic protagonist helped to balance out all those victimised females just a little.

97. Wedgeworth, Anthony G., Fate of Thorik

2008 / E-book / 342 pages / USA


I was dishonestly polite when I reviewed this inept Tolkien fanwank for a friend's book review website. I was probably worried the author would see the two-star rating (which is generous) and be devastated, considering all the blurbs he's written online declaring how much creating his derivative RPG world has helped him to deal with his life's struggles, so I scraped some desperate positives out of the barrel to soften the blow.

But this is my blog now, and I don't give a shit if you're dyslexic.

96. David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus eds, The Book of Music and Nature: An Anthology of Sounds, Words, Thoughts

2001 / E-book / 272 pages / USA


"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

I was hoping for an insightful, permissably slightly zany exploration of whale song and bird poo-tee-weets, but this is mainly spiritual faff about universal harmony and archaic public domain articles about that new-fangled musique concrète they have now.

On the plus side, there is a free virtual CD online that saves you the trouble of scouring YouTube and or going to your nearest jungle to listen live.



6. Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie: Expanded and Updated Sixth Edition

7. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus


8. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

9. Frank Herbert, Dune

10. Gene Wolfe, The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories

11. Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

12. Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

13. Ray Bradbury, The October Country

14. Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room

15. Stewart Lee (and angry commenters), Content Provider: Selected Short Prose Pieces, 2011-2016

16. Alan Partridge, Nomad

17. Connie Willis, The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories

18. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, Neonomicon

19. Various, Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians

20. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables

21. Ovid, Metamorphoses

22. Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer, The Invisibles, Vol. 3: Entropy in the U.K.

23. Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts

24. The Marquis de Sade, Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

25. Benjamin Woolley, The Queen's Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I

26. Jon Ronson, The Elephant in the Room

27. Robert Aickman, Cold Hand in Mine: Strange Stories

28. Alan Moore, Antony Johnston and Jacen Burrows, Alan Moore's The Courtyard

29. Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer, The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution

30. Charles G. Finney, The Circus of Dr. Lao

31. Jason McDonald, SEO Fitness Workbook, 2016 Edition: The Seven Steps to Search Engine Optimization Success on Google

32. Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House and Other Stories

33. Andy Maslen, Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Influence, Engage and Sell

34. Ray Edwards, How to Write Copy That Sells: The Step-By-Step System for More Sales, to More Customers, More Often

35. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita


36. Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

37. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

38. Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

39. Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #3 – Cathedral

40. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

41. Various, Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s

42. Stephen King, Doctor Sleep

43. David R. George III, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #1 – Twilight

44. Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez and John Stokes, The Invisibles, Vol. 5: Counting to None

45. Guy N. Smith, The Slime Beast

46. Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

47. Simon Chun Kwan Chui, Book of the Wonders of the Galaxy

48. S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rising Son

49. Virginia Woolf, Flush: A Biography

50. S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Avatar, Book Two

51. S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Avatar, Book One

52. Edward Macan, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture

53. William Hope Hodgson, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder

54. Arthur Machen, The Three Impostors

55. Denny Hatch, Write Everything Right!

56. Grant Morrison, Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse and Paul Johnson, The Invisibles, Vol. 2: Apocalipstick

57. Jeffrey Lang and David Weddle, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Section 31 #3 – Abyss

58. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Heidegger's Experiment and Other Stories

59. Grant Morrison, Philip Bond, Warren Pleece, Sean Phillips, Jay Stephens, Frank Quitely and Steve Yeowell, The Invisibles, Vol. 7: The Invisible Kingdom

60. Grant Morrison, Chris Weston and Ivan Reis, The Invisibles, Vol. 6: Kissing Mister Quimper

61. Justin Richards, Mark Morris, George Mann and Paul Finch, Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore – The Eleventh Doctor's Last Stand

62. Lana Kortchik, Savaged Lands

63. Robert Simpson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #4 – Lesser Evil

64. Kiernan-Lewis, Susan, Murder in the South of France

65. Miller, M.T., Risen

66. David D. Gilmore, Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors

67. Gustav Kobbé, How to Appreciate Music

68. John Cleland, Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

69. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

70. Dennis Wheatley, The Haunting of Toby Jugg

71. Virginia Woolf, The Years

72. Victor Pemberton, Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep

73. Roger Stern and Mike Mignola, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

74. Neal A. Yeager, non-Hollywood: a novel of actors, indie filmmakers and musicians

75. Jeffrey Kranz, Before You Write Another Blog Post: A Content Strategy Guide for Corporate Bloggers


76. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

77. Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez and John Stokes, The Invisibles, Vol. 4: Bloody Hell in America

78. Frank Herbert, Children of Dune

79. István Hargittai, The DNA Doctor: Candid Conversations with James D. Watson

80. Keith R.A. DeCandido, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Gateways #4 – Demons of Air and Darkness

81. Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond – Second Edition

82. V.C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic

83. Sujan Patel and Rob Wormley, Content Marketing Playbook: Master the Art of Content Marketing

84. Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune

85. Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

86. Edward T. Haslam, Dr. Mary's Monkey: How the Unsolved Murder of a Doctor, a Secret Laboratory in New Orleans and Cancer-Causing Monkey Viruses are Linked to Lee Harvey Oswald, the JFK Assassination and Emerging Global Epidemics

87. Michele Pariza Wacek, Love-Based Copywriting System: A Step-by-Step Process to Master Writing Copy That Attracts, Inspires and Invites

88. Virginia Woolf, Night and Day

89. Heather Jarman, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #2 – This Gray Spirit

90. Brian Joines and Bachan, Bill & Ted Go to Hell

91. Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

92. Steven Atwood, Ravenward

93. Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus

94. Marie Carmichael Stopes, Married Love, or Love in Marriage

95. Sax Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu

Worthless Stats!

Average rating: 3.14 out of 5

That's +0.03 stars better than last year! If I can keep this up, I'll be on pure five-star reading by 2078.

Most popular year: 2016 (9 books)

Most popular millennium AD: 2nd (52 books)

E-books take the lead after passive audiobooks dominated last year.

But before I get cocky, I also read proportionally more comics and infinitely fewer physical books this time around.

Most popular number of pages to put in a book: 224 pages (4 books)

That's 64 pages more than last year (160 pages), but last year had a lot more long 'uns and about the same proportion of short 'uns.

That's a bit pathetic.

If perfection lies in the balance, last year wins again (65% to 35%).

Unsurprisingly, the main stat I concentrated on improving ends up being less offensive than last year (9% lady), but I let the multiculturalism slide.

So what have I learned since last year? That there are charts with dark backgrounds on Excel if you click down a bit. And I still can't work out how to do averages.

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