Well, I usually wait until the new year to do the lists, but the chances I’m going to finish another book in the next week are vanishingly small, I’m not going to be grabbing any new music, and I’ve been focusing on the bottom part of my Netflix queue, so I don’t see these lists changing between now and January 1. And so, without further ado…
The Worst Books I Read in 2014
10. Edward Sherldon, Unfaithfully Yours (Edward Sherldon, 2012)
Just another below-average attempt at cheap Kindle porn, but this one by someone who doesn’t quite understand the difference between cheating and real, grown-up multiple-partner relationships. You’re way better off with Kristen McCurran’s stuff.
9. Donna Warren (illus.), God Loves Me (McClanahan Books, 1996)
Religious propaganda for the pre-toddler set that also happens to be the kind of lift-the-flap book that was obviously made just to give kids something to do instead of with any logic to what’s behind the flaps. Is McClanahan an offshoot of Bendon? Yeah, this is that bad.
8. Charles Moffat, A Dream of Unfettered Roses (poetry.charlesmoffat.com, 2012)
I say it every year: 1% of self-published and vanity-published poetry will blow your head off with its brilliance. The other 99% is liable to be some of the worst dreck you’ve ever read, by people who have no concept of structure, form, etc. Needless to say, this small, nauseating tome is of the latter variety.
7. Warren L. G. De Mills, Affections (No publisher listed, 2012)
As above, but slightly worse because the author couldn’t even be arsed to fill in all the fields when he uploaded this tripe, which probably took about five minutes to write.
6. J. Robert Janes, The Watcher (PaperJacks, 1982)
For all that I read, there are very few books I abandon after fifty pages. Something has to be both deadly dull and show absolutely no glimmer of potential that it’s going to get better. The Watcher fits both criteria precisely. The first fifty pages of this book are a masterclass on how not to write a thriller.
5. Jan Marcussen, National Sunday Law (AT Publications, 1983)
Yes, folks, Catholics are of the devil and are coming to your town to subvert the good Christian message. Yes, people still really believe this crap, and publish it (the edition I read was printed in 2010).
4. Lolly Pope, Watersports: The Beginning (No publisher listed, no date listed)
The best thing I can say about Watersports: The Beginning is that it’s obvious Pope is famliar with Bataille’s Story of the Eye. The second-best thing I can say about it is that Pope inherited none of Bataille’s skills with language, sense of structure, characterization, or anything else that makes Bataille worth reading. And yes, that’s one of the good things I have to say about this steaming pile.
3. Drac von Stoller, Rise of the Zombies (Drac von Stoller, 2012)
This woeful attempt at a short story is so godawfully written and proofread that I actually took a picture of the screen of my e-reader at one point and posted it to Facebook because I couldn’t believe someone could actually be satisfied enough with the tortured prose masquerading as English to have said “I can publish this.”
2. Aaron McCollum, The Chessboard Is the World (Aaron McCollum, 2012)
The most frustrating thing about The Chessboard Is the World is that it’s obvious that somewhere buried in this mishmash of unstructured, seemingly random prose are some pretty good ideas about philosophy, sociology, and politics. McCollum, however, is in dire need of an editor who can understand his meanderings and help him tighten them up.
1. E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (Vintage, 2012)
I tried. I really did. But fifty pages of prose so purple it takes James three paragraphs to say what most writers can manage in a single sentence, characters who were impossibly shallow, and James’ constant abuse of tell-don’t-show convinced me the other 2.75 books in this trilogy need to stay as far away from my eyes as possible. The only possible explanation I cam come up with for the amazing popularity of these books is that they are being read by people who haven’t otherwise read enough to discern good fiction from bad.
Thankfully, this irredeemable shit was balanced out by…
The Best Books I Read in 2014
10. Peter Sotos, Desistance (Nine-Banded Books, 2014)
A paradigm shift for Sotos, as he writes the swan song for the obsessions that have consumed his writing for thirty years and turns his attemption towards cultural instead of social criticism. Still likely to be rough going for those unused to the cadences of Sotos’ writing, but still, perhaps, his most accessible book yet, and his best since Special.
9. Sandra Boynton, Consider Love (Simon and Schuster, 2002)
Boynton turns her considerable talents for illustration and songcraft to a rare book for adults, and of course it is just as charming and wonderful as her books for kids. This one should be on the shelf of everyone involved in an LTR.
8. Serdar Yegulalp, Summerworld (Genji Press, 2011)
High fantasy stumbles into martial fiction as alternate universes cross in another winner from Serdar Yegulalp. A stunning cast of characters with complex, realistic relationships are embroiled in action that is often ridiculous, and yet never once feels implausible as long as you buy the original switcheroo: that a man falls asleep on a train in one universe and wakes up in another.
7. Hyacinthe L. Raven, Seventy Times Seven (Via Dolorosa Press, 2013)
This is the type of material E. L. James has nightmares about. This is a book so erotic it will make you want to lick its pages, yet it is infused with such a sense of despair that you just know every tangle of limbs is leading to a bottomless pit of despair. There is more emotion, and more sex, in a single line of this poetry than in James’ entire trilogy.
6. Wayne Simmons, Plastic Jesus (Salt Publishing, 2013)
Salt Publishing may never be able to atone for the cessation of the Poetry Bank, but they bought themselves a few years off their time in Purgatory with the latest novel from Simmons, who turns his icy gaze from the zombie apocalypse to a grimy, sleazy cyberpunk world where religion really has become the opiate of the masses, and it’s fueled by the biggest craze in VR. If William Gibson circa 1988 worshipped Satan and smoked a lot of meth, he might have come up with Plastic Jesus.
5. Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (Penguin, 2011)
One of the scariest books you will ever read, if you are a frequent Internet user, especially since we’re still progressing down that same path. Pariser explains the increasing divisiveness of American culture with simple and obvious psychological concepts applied to technology. The dark side of targeted advertising: the demolition of what we think of as society.
4. China Miéville, Kraken (Del Rey, 2010)
China Miéville writes incredible fantasy noir novels that turn London into the rough equivalent of the best thrill ride you’ve ever been on, but one in just enough in disrepair to make it more and more dangerous every time you ride. This feels the most Clive Barker-esque of Miéville’s novels to date (and that is a good thing), as a humble museum volunteer gets swept up in the search for a missing god. Wonderful from front to back.
3. Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (Beginner Books, 1960)
It had probably been forty years since I last red Green Eggs and Ham before it went into rotation for nighttime reading at Goat Central. It’s just as enchanting this time around. Sam I Am and his cantankerous friend wrangle about consumables in dozens of different situations.
2. Mary Biddinger, A Sunny Place with Adequate Water (Black Lawrence Press, 2014)
I have been an unapologetic Mary Biddinger fanboy since her first collection, 2006’s Prairie Fever. How much of one? She’s one of three people other than my wife to get one of my own poems dedicated to her since 2002. So there’s no possibility of me being unbiased about this, but come on. Anyone who grabs a copy of this book, turns to a random poem in it, and reads it is going to be enchanted. (I get the impression that if you are of an age with us–as I write this she just turned 40 and I’m in my mid-40s–you are likely to get more references and catch more of the atmosphere, but I certainly don’t think it’s necessary.) Biddinger’s poems are uniformly delicious little nuggets of nostalgia with just enough fabulism thrown in to make you wonder what the hell we were smoking in 1979.
1. Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, The Ethical Slut (Celestial Arts, 2009)
I cannot stress this point enough: while The Ethical Slut is a guidebook for those who practice various non-monogamous relationship styles, even if you’re monogamous, this may well be the best book on relationships you will ever read. Every relationship book tells you communication is important. What most of them don’t tell you is that “communication is important” is not multiplicative, it is exponential. The more partners you have, the more communication you need to do. (Actually, Hollywood knows this better than self-help-book writers. Think about the basic plotline of any cheating-husband comedy made in the last eighty years.) So since this is a book geared towards those with multiple partners…you get the idea. My wife and I started going back and looking at things we have assumed in our relationship for over a decade, partly because of this book, and the discussions we have had have reshaped a lot of things about us for the better. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; it’s not only #1 for the year, it’s in my top ten of all time. If I ever figure the rest of that list out, anyway.