LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2016 part 2
Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor writers think are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2016 (part 2).
Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2016, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it. (Looking at you, Annie Neugebauer, who apparently read nothing released in 2016 that was any good.)
Read part 1 HERE
Joshua Chaplinsky — Managing Editor
'Novi Sad' by Jeff Jackson
A haunting and melancholic look back at what happens before and after "the end." This sister book to Jackson's fantastic Mira Corpora tackles the unreliable memories of childhood via nothing less than the end of the world. Is it experimental? Speculative? Memoir? You be the judge.
'A Collapse of Horses'/'The Warren' by Brian Evenson
Had to cheat on this one. Brian Evenson had two great releases in 2016, and choosing between the two would have been like choosing between two imaginary offspring I presumably love in equal measure. A masterful collection of unnerving short fiction, and a sci-fi novella about identity and what it means to be human. A couple of great kids, those two.
'Mongrels' by Stephen Graham Jones
A favorite by a favorite. Stephen Graham Jones scored a well-deserved hit with this coming-of-age werewolf novel. Think more Cormac McCarthy or William Faulkner than Stephenie Meyer.
'The Secret History of Twin Peaks' by Mark Frost
As a big Twin Peaks fan and a sucker for ephemera as novel, this book was right up my alley. No mind-blowing reveals here, but it functions perfectly as a prequel to the original series that expands on key elements of the show's mythology. Whet your appetite for 2017's return to the town where nothing is as it seems.
'Sirens' by Joshua Mohr
Technically this is a 2017 release, but since it comes out in a few weeks I figured it better to talk about it now. Heartfelt and heartbreaking, this memoir from the author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me and All This Life chronicles Mohr's struggles with addiction and fatherhood in equal measure. So much honesty it is hard to take.
Honorable Mentions: Experimental Film by Gemma Files, Disapearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay, Horror Film Poems by Christoph Paul, The Pleasure Merchant by Molly Tanzer
Richard Thomas - Instructor/Columnist
So, man, I did NOT read a lot of books this year. I did read thousands of short stories for Gamut. Forgive me a few indulgences if you will, a bit of self-serving love here. But all of this is sincere, most definitely. Enjoy.
'Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction' by Benjamin Percy
This might be the best craft book I've ever read. If you haven't read Ben's work before, he is a master of the short form, the kind of author that can publish in The Paris Review and Cemetery Dance alike. And his novels tap into that sweet spot between literary and genre, where the work is entertaining, layered, and intense. So this book is perfect if you are looking to understand what is essential, with contemporary references. He's just as likely to talk about Stephen King as he is Joyce Carol Oates, William Gay as Ray Bradbury, Alice Munro as Peter Straub. The chapter on violence alone is worth it.
'Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight' edited by Ellen Datlow
If you are writing horror and aren't reading this annual, you are missing out, you are doing yourself a disservice. I don't love every story in every issue, and this year is no exception, but damn if I'm not blown away most of the time. It's thrilling to read authors I love, and I'm constantly introduced to new voices. Consider this your guidebook to the contemporary horror scene. Ellen always does amazing work.
'Almost Dark' by Letitia Trent
I've become a huge fan of Letitia's writing. This book is dark and tragic, with a lot of heart. Which is why I blurbed it. Her book, Echo Lake, from Dark House Press, was my first introduction to her, and "Wilderness" in Exigencies, which I edited, went on to get nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award and make it into the aforementioned Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight. You'll want to keep an eye on her.
'Scratch' by Steve Himmer
Yes, this was a Dark House Press title, but you have to understand that I got dozens, HUNDREDS of submissions and this was one of only a handful of books I published. It's an urban legend set in a rural location, and it will get under your skin from the first lines. Lyrical, tragic, and hypnotic—this is a fantastic read.
'Paper Tigers' by Damien Angelica Walters
The other Dark House Press title this year, this is a haunting, innovative take on the classic haunted house/ghost story, and in the hands of Damien it's a poetic, touching story that actually made me cry. I'm a huge fan of Damien's work, she's a fantastic short story writer, and a powerful voice that you can find publishing in some of the best magazines and anthologies out there.
Annie Neugebauer — Columnist
'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn
I mentioned this in my LitReactor column “Beyond Gone Girl: The Gillian Flynn You Should Read Next”, but I’ll say it again: Gone Girl isn’t even Flynn’s best book. My favorite is Sharp Objects. All the dark, gritty, smart bite of Gone Girl, plus a protagonist I really cared for. Holy hell, what a ride.
'The Unswept Room' by Sharon Olds
I think this is the best book of poetry I’ve ever read. It literally left me breathless sometimes, just sitting there at a loss for words and air. It’s sexual, dark, personal, and exquisitely beautiful. I read most poems twice, and all of them slowly. It prompted me to make “The Case for Reading Fewer Books” in defense of savoring our reading.
'Night Film' by Marisha Pessl
A new favorite. Night Film is sort of like a more accessible House of Leaves. It has some of the mystery flavor of Gillian Flynn, but it’s longer and packed full of even more layers to study. (But it still has a cohesive, more traceable plotline than HoL.) A must for lovers of experimental horror/mystery/noir.
'Beloved' by Toni Morrison
Quite simply the finest literary horror novel I’ve ever read. In fact, in “Thoughts on Beloved by Toni Morrison and Horror’s Literary Problem,” I go so far as to make the case for Beloved being the true Great American Novel. Get ready to have your emotions strung out. This is not an easy read on any level.
'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë
I know it’s extra far from new, but I did reread this one this year before I wrote up my LitReactor column “Vampires in Wuthering Heights.” And I have to say, this time around I loved even more than before. Dark, twisty, layered, gorgeous, and gothic. Honestly, what’s not to love?
Christopher Shultz — Columnist
I cheated a bit and picked six books. I couldn't bring myself to cut one.
'The Trees' by Ali Shaw
A sort-of modern day retelling of The Wizard of Oz, though it's so much more than that. The premise involves a forest that springs up magically overnight. Shaw expertly transports us into this often terrifying but no less absorbing fantasy world. You can almost smell the bark and hear the rustling of the leaves.
'Dark Matter' by Blake Crouch
With Dark Matter, Crouch gives readers a novel that cannot be put down. And once it's over, you'll want to read it again, otherwise you'll miss its presence in your life. It's one of those novels you're better off knowing as little about the plot as possible. Just dive in and hang on tight. Just understand that the title is most definitely double entendre, and things within the novel's world aren't always that pleasant (in a good way).
'Best Horror of the Year Volume Eight' edited by Ellen Datlow
Datlow does it again with this eighth installment in her ongoing series. There are two stellar stories from Nightmare Magazine reprinted here, "Descent" by Carmen Maria Machado and "Snow" by Dale Bailey, as well as outstanding entries form Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Jonez, and Letitia Trent, to name just a few. Really, though, the entire collection is a knockout, and it's a must-read for any writer of short fiction, horror or otherwise.
'The Loney' by Andrew Michael Hurley
A whisper-quiet horror novel, Hurley masters the art of sustained, lurking dread. The events that transpire in The Loney are not cataclysmic in the traditional sense, rather in a subversive, psychological fashion that lingers like a nightmare you just can't shake.
'The Fireman' by Joe Hill
In discussions about Joe Hill, it's important to remove any preconceived notions and associations with his famous and successful father who doesn't really need to be named at this point. And in fact, in many ways Hill is not much like his father most of the time (and I mean that as a compliment). That being said, the similarities are more pronounced with The Fireman, a novel that reads like a more compartmentalized, modern-day version of The Stand. So for anyone wishing they could recapture the excitement of reading that novel for the first time—or for anyone wanting to read a great horror-adventure novel, period—look no further.
'The Children's Home' by Charles Lambert
This novel is one part gothic horror, one part weird fiction. Like the aforementioned Dark Matter, it's better to know very little about The Children's Home before you dive in. It's an ideal read for the winter season, especially if you have a fireplace and a wingback chair (but no less enjoyable if your furnishings are a bit more modern).
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