My 2015 in Books and Graphic Novels

Library of Souls!

Ransom Riggs’ Library of Souls, one among a handful of 2015 books I actually read in 2015.

Time again for the annual entry in which I remind myself how much I like reading things besides monthly comics, magazines, and tweets by followers who have me on Mute. Despite the lack of MCC entries about my reading matter, I’m always working on a book or two in my ever-diminishing reading time. I refrain from full-on book reviews because nine times out of ten I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it. I don’t always care about site traffic, but when I do, it usually means leaving some extended thoughts and opinions unwritten due to irrelevance.

Presented below is my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections that I finished reading in 2015, mostly but not entirely in order of completion. As I whittle down the never-ending stack I’ve been stockpiling for literal decades, my long-term hope before I turn 70 is to get to the point where my reading list is more than, say, 40% new releases every year. That’s a lofty goal, but I can dream

* * * * *

That reading list, then:

1. Jay Faerber, Fran Bueno, Patrick Gleason, et al., Noble Causes: Archives vol. 1
2. George R. R. Martin, editor, Wild Cards: Busted Flush
3. Steve Bryant, Athena Voltaire: Compendium
4. Roger Ebert, Life Itself
5. Charles Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1993-1994
6. Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
7. Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
8. Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo, v. 3: Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time
9. Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo, v. 2: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War
10. Stephan Franck, Silver v. 1
11. Rick Remender and Wes Craig, Deadly Class v. 2: Kids of the Black Hole
12. Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo, v. 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne
13. Brian Wood and Brett Weldele, Couscous Express
14. Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard, Super Dinosaur v. 1
15. Ben Avery and Javier Saltares, The Book of God: How We Got the Bible
16. Jeff Lemire, Lost Dogs
17. John Ridley and Ben Oliver, The Authority: Human on the Inside
18. Jane Espenson, Brad Bell, Ron Chan, Ben Avery, et al., Husbands
19. Greg Pak and Paul Pelletier, Incredible Hulks: World War Hulks
20. Warren Ellis and Terry Dodson, X-Men: Storm
21. Thom Zahler, Love and Capes, v. 2: Going to the Chapel
22. Ken Jennings, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs
23. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
24. Charles Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996
25. Jamie Munson, Money: God or Gift
26. Joe Sacco, Palestine: A Nation Occupied
27. Mark Harris, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
28. Ransom Riggs, Library of Souls: the Third Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
29. Scott McCloud, The Sculptor
30. Jeff Lemire, The Underwater Welder
31. Sam Glanzman, A Sailor’s Story
32. Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant
33. William Gibson, Spook Country
34. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March, Book One
35. Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman, Persia Blues, vol. 1: Leaving Home
36. Rick Remender and Wes Craig, Deadly Class vol. 3: The Snake Pit
37. Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, Russian Olive to Red King

Here’s what they look like shelved together:

Empty Shelf 2015!

By way of comparison, my yearly book count from 2008 to the present has trended like so:

2008: 39
2009: 50
2010: 44
2011: 33
2012: 23
2013: 42
2014: 43

Best book of the year was unquestionably Five Came Back. Epic nonfiction about five famous directors who volunteered their film-making skills to the US military in WWII: John Ford, best known for Westerns like The Searchers and Stagecoach, who captured the Battle of Midway live in person; William Wyler, whose Mrs. Miniver became instantly dated, who lost his hearing while riding aboard aircraft during dogfights; John Huston, put on the map by The Maltese Falcon, who was sent on assignment to three continents all while being investigated as a potential Communist; Frank Capra, who was given his own wartime film division to supervise, but barely got half his to-do list completed in a timely or noteworthy manner; and comedy director George Stevens, who’d mostly done Laurel & Hardy shorts and Tracy/Hepburn films, whose travels through North Africa, D-Day, and the liberation of Dachau damaged his psyche so irreparably that he never directed another happy movie for the rest of his life.

Longtime Entertainment Weekly contributor Mark Harris weaves their five stories into an engrossing, tragic narrative with plenty of famous guest stars and (in)famous WWII moments. Essential reading for historical film buffs.

Other noteworthy favorites in the stack, in nearly random order:

* Life Itself: The autobiography of my all-time favorite film critic, even when I disagreed with him, even when his thoughts on religion drove me up a wall. I read this over a month’s worth of lunch breaks and kept emailing quotes and highlights to my wife daily after lunch because I wanted to keep savoring moments of it whether she cared or not. Ebert lived life the way a seasoned critic ought to: got bitten by the writing bug while young, got out of the house, got an education, became a certified journalist, spent years establishing his career, traveled worldwide, made lots of poor life choices, cleaned himself up, and then started reviewing movies, but only because someone offered it to him and not because he was dying for a job that let him sit around, watch stuff, scribble adjectives on Post-Its, and get paid. Millions of wannabes have taken what they perceive as the road more easily traveled, but that’s not the route Ebert took at all.

* To Kill a Mockingbird. My first-ever read-through came about in response to our 2015 road trip to New Orleans and Alabama. (Our still-ongoing travelogue will reach the relevant stop in due time.) It’s so thoroughly head-and-tails above 90% of what I normally read or watch that part of me now wants to burn a lot of my possessions and just become a hardcore literary snob and read absolutely nothing but books at least this great or greater. I made a point of saving the movie till after I’d finished reading. The book was better, but I’ll spare you the obsolete nitpicking over What They Left Out.

* Palestine: A Nation Occupied: A rare instance of comics as true journalism. Joe Sacco is a cartoonist who traveled over to Palestine for a good while, took lots of notes, then wrote and drew a nine-issue series about the hostilities and tragedies he witnessed (or his many interviewees told him about) between the Israelis who were given land way over there and the Palestinians they kept kicking around so they could take more and more as it pleased them. This volume collects the first five issues, contains a lot of eye-opening stories, and doesn’t shy away from Sacco’s guilty self-awareness of his steadily growing craving for more newsworthy, exciting, almost prurient tales of violence, which began to preoccupy him to such a fault that it began affect his decision-making processes.

* Library of Souls: The final chapter of the (first?) trilogy sees most of the time-displaced mutants and their beloved ornithothropic teacher captured, leaving the cast winnowed down for most of the book to our no-longer-powerless hero Jacob Portman, his 100-year-old pyrokinetic girlfriend, a talking dog, and a creepy hooded boatman. The quartet must negotiate the violent despair of Not-Knockturn Alley to rescue all the other Not-X-Men from the clutches of Miss Peregrine’s evil brother and his not-undead henchmen. Easily the darkest book in the series, with bizarre ideas about how souls work and gory violence that stretches a few miles beyond the “young adult” label, but the closure is exactly what was needed, Riggs knows how to build up to powerful rallying points, and the stage is set for Our Heroes to enter a brand new era at the end.

* A Sailor’s Story: A purchase from the gift shop at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, collecting two autobiographical graphic novels previously published by Marvel in the ’80s. The longtime comics artist is also a WWII Navy veteran (still alive today in his 90s) and was among the very, very few of those to tell his own story in comics form. The first volume tells the basic framework of his service on the Pacific Front aboard the USS Stevens; volume 2 is a more disjointed selection of additional anecdotes and incidents that slot into the first volume, some of them far more harrowing, particularly the haunting images of kamikaze wreckage and the Allied carriers they sundered.

* March, Book One: The graphic novel autobiography of Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a major participant in the 1960s civil rights protests, who was a character in the movie Selma and who’s still around today to tell the tales. Surprisingly, I found this on sale at the gift shop in the Alabama State Capitol, the last place you’d think would want to remember that era. Regardless: it’s great, important, firsthand history, and I regret not buying vol. 2 at the same time. I bought this from a notable shop in Montgomery, AL, but we haven’t gotten to that story yet, either.

Other random trivia and comments:

* Worst book on the list: the twenty-year-old Storm trade that was pointless to read this far removed from its original place in X-Men continuity.

* I’m withholding the names of the second- and third-worst books among these because I’d rather not pick on them. They each meant well in their own, diametrically opposite ways.

* The Sculptor might have been jaw-droppingly amazing to me if I were a secular humanist.

* I bought The Book of God at a tiny comic con on my birthday and it’s the best Christian graphic novel I’ve ever read. I wish that sounded more like a compliment and less like a sigh of relief.

* The Klosterman essay collection was, I’m pretty sure, the last book I ever bought at a Borders before their sad demise.

* The first Atomic Robo volume was a long-overdue Kickstarter reward.

* Several of these books were read on the same sick day. Looking forward to my next one. The free time, I mean, not the prospect of winter illness.


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