So, a couple of notes. I like to look back on art I’ve experienced every year; I enjoy looking, not at art released that year, though that’s also fun, but on art I’ve experienced in a year. I just use the plain calendar year January to December, which has caused some confusion. But I’m talking about the year I personally experienced in art; it’ll include a lot of 2015 releases and a lot of non-2015 releases. I have four categories: Books, Film, Television, Music and a series of categories in each of those: writers, actors, directors, vocalists, musicians, movies, books, episodes, albums, etc.
Why do I do this? People have accused me of bragging or something (!). Hardly. The number of movies I see in a year isn’t anything to brag about; any person reading this might have seen more. Going to the movies isn’t a skill; it’s something anyone can do. It’s no great accomplishment. No, I do this because I love to talk about art; I love to write; and I love to recommend the things I love. This is the perfect trifecta: I’m telling you about art that I love and hopefully exposing you to something new. You can’t talk about the great art enough. If a book is great, I’ll take whatever opportunity I can to tell you to read it. That’s what this thread is. I’m just taking my yearly opportunity.
Today’s category is dedicated to men and women who put pen to paper or strokes to keyboard or whatever. The great writers behind the books I read in 2015. This time, it’s the honorable mentions; tomorrow I’ll give you my top ten. But the honorable mentions are nothing to sneeze at. I read fifty-two books this year (oh, wow, look at that; a perfect book a week average). So getting in my top twenty is a pretty big deal; these writers are all, safe to say, brilliant. Oh, yes, also, every year don’t we encounter things that suck? So, okay, the worst writer I encountered this year is also here.
BEST WRITER (Honorable Mentions)
Special Bonus: WORST WRITER
Erin Morgenstein – The Night Circus
In The Night Circus, Morgenstein sets out to conjure a magical world of a mystical, eternal carnival that contains miracles and awe-inspiring spectacles inside every tent. Against this backdrop, she attempts to set a love story for all time and an intense battle across time between good & evil. I say she “sets out” and “attempts” because she does none of those things. Amateurish, overwrought, corny, downright annoying.
BEST WRITING (HONORABLE MENTIONS)
Kate Atkinson – Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Atkinson’s first novel is told in the voice of Ruby Lennox and Atkinson gives her a witty, charming, intelligent voice; her first words are spoken in the seconds after conception, a delirious “I exist!” and Ruby’s story of her tragic, dysfunctional family unfolds in prose that is lyrical, hilarious, deeply sad and profoundly atmospheric.
Kate Atkinson – Human Croquet
Her second novel also features a gifted female narrator, but one that somehow moves freely in time and space and also sits comfortably outside of it. It’s an intricate story, hopping through time in increasingly confusing and baffling chapters. But the strong hand of the author keeps the book centered in the distinctly human emotions of the characters.
Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace
Atwood narrates her tale of a convicted murderess and the doctor sent to examine her through many voices. Both the doctor and the murderess have their own distinct way of speaking, vocabulary and tone. And both, we being to believe, are less than honest; the true story is hidden between the lines of their contradictory narratives. It’s a book where every single word matters.
Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gaiman conjures the world of childhood to perfection. As his aged narrator reminisces of his childhood, Gaiman builds a world more magical than any he’s created to date, filled with gods and monsters, the mundane and the magic, humor and terror and tragedy. In less than 200 pages, Gaiman creates something that’s beyond extraordinary.
Franz Kafka – The Metamorphosis
Rereading this story, in a translation by Malcolm Pasley, was a pretty grim experience. Brilliant high concept aside, the book works in its grim, merciless prose. It’s clinical and dark, slowly building a claustrophobic atmosphere of despair.
Laurie King – The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Or On the Segregation of the Queen
King captures Mary Russell, the young narrator of this book, to perfection, a precocious, arrogant young girl; she captures the voices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson equally well, making them feel like the characters we already know and love and yet also deepening them in interesting ways. Atmospheric as well.
Gustav Meyrink – The Golem
In this seminal horror novel, Meyrink, and translator Mike Mitchell, build an ugly, brutal ghetto, populate it with grotesque, dark characters and craft a slowly intensifying, often terrifying narrative.
Philip Roth – Everyman
Roth stripes down his style in this minimal exploration of an unnamed man’s life; progressing through his life via his health difficulties, Roth is cool, detached & clinical, never saying a word more than needs to be said. But all the sparseness adds up and after less than a hundred pages, you know the Everyman completely.
Saki – The Chronicles of Clovis
The master of the sardonic short story does his finest work in the form with his characteristic snide, snarky and biting prose hitting everything from horror to pure comedy. Delicious.
M.L. Stedman – The Light Between Oceans
Stedman’s quiet, beautiful prose anchors us in the emotions of the three characters at the heart of this story. Stedman carefully scrapes away the pains to reveal the real hearts beneath. Never flashy, but never less than beautiful.
Well, some great authors there and some great books too. And those are just the honorable mentions. Tomorrow, my top ten.