The 2021 Reading List: January

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Thornhold by Elaine Cunningham: A nostagia reread to reward myself after a long year, and clearing my December to-read stack. Started on the 31st of 2020, but not quite finished until after 2021 rang in. Largely still enjoyable, although I preferred Cunningham’s Arilyn Moonblade character a tad more than Thornhold’s Bronwyn, even though the they’re ostensibly part of the same series.

Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: “The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure” is the subtitle. A hell of a fine choice for my first new read of the new year, although I chose not to imbibe this time around, nor to stay awake to watch 2021 roll in. This was a very fun read in the beginning, but became a bit of a slog nearing the end. Maybe because I don’t mind reminiscing about the drinks and binges of my youth, but certainly don’t have the energy or inclination to partake that way anymore. Still, some interesting history presented, and in an engaging writing style.

Troika! by Daniel Sell: A science-fantasy roleplaying game. Fair admission, I didn’t read the last 15 pages or so, as that was an introductory adventure for the game, and a friend may be running Troika! for me at some point. This shit is bananas, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. I love the way the rules are presented, and the implied setting of Troika! I really hope I get a chance to play it.

Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy: A Hawaiian-themed mystery with a gay detective going undercover to solve the murder of some local surfers. I enjoyed it. Kimo was a fun protagonist, one who spent the book coming to terms with his outing by the media and having to lie to his family about his current assignment while finally embracing who he is. Looks like this was the second book in the series, which explains why so much of what I thought was important to Kimo’s development happened off page and was told in backfill. Still, Plakcy was pretty successful in getting all of that across, and the book read well even for someone who hadn’t read the first book. I’m not sure I’ll track down the rest of the series, but Mahu Surfer does make me want to read some Hawaiian mysteries by a local of the islands, especially a writer who is a Native Hawaiian.

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 1: The Tarantula by Matt Wagner and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3: The Vamp by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 2: The Face and The Brute by Matt Wagner, John Watkiss, and R.G. Taylor:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 4: The Scorpion by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 5: Dr. Death and The Night of the Butcher by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, and Vince Locke:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 6: The Hourman and The Python by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, and Warren Pleece:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 7: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 8: The Blackhawk and The Return of the Scarlet Ghost by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, Matthew Smith, Richard Case, and Daniel Torres:

I thought I’d talk about all of these together, as I read them in one big rush. It got a little busy here round Thunder Road way, and I didn’t have the energy to start something new, and a non-fiction book about the death industry at that. Also, accidentally read volumes 2 and 3 out of order (what? I said I was tired.). Rereading Sandman Mystery Theatre makes me want to reread Matt Wagner’s Mage series, especially now that the final volume is done and the series is complete.

I love pulp heroes, and I still love this series, but it’s a difficult recommend for me now, and would be couched in content warnings depending on who I was speaking with. After the last five years, reading about the racism, homophobia, and sexism of the 30s doesn’t feel nearly so far off, and while these books were written over twenty years ago, and I feel were giving a progressive treatment to the setting, still at times fall into some tropes that are now pretty problematic. It’d been so long since my last reread, that I forgot that artists other than Guy Davis worked on the book with Wagner and Seagle, I so associate Davis’s art with the book. Guy Davis’s models for the characters remain my favourites, everyone else’s just looked slightly wrong. I especially enjoyed the growth of Wesley and Dian’s relationship this time around. and all the various connections to the rest of the DC universe and history, like early days of Hourman, Ted Knight pre-Starman, among them, and the hints at Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Top 10 Book 1 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon:

Top 10 Book 2 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon:

Smax by Alan Moore and Zander Cannon:

Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore and Gene Ha:

Following my Sandman Mystery Theatre reread, I took another look at my Top 10 graphic novel collection, which is probably my favourite work by Alan Moore. The first two volumes of the main series are police procedural in a city where everyone has superpowers but only the police are allowed to solve crimes and deal with the power-related issues that come up. It’s alternately an homage and deconstruction of superheroic tropes. It’s been a while, but I still love it, despite souring somewhat on cops as protagonists in fiction. Smax is a marked departure in tone from the regular Top 10 series, basically a zany fantasy quest on Jeff Smax’s home world, but still fun, and Smax and Robyn were two of my favourite characters in the main series, so it was nice to see them get more time. The Forty-Niners is probably the volume I read the least, even if it feels like one of the best individual pieces in the series. It’s set after World War 2 when the city of Neopolis is brand new and still under construction. Having been introduced to the present day cops first may influence my opinion there, as I wanted many of them to get their own feature story the way Smax and Robyn did. I’d definitely read more about Leni Mueller the Sky Witch though. As with most of things Moore writes, there’s tons of layers, and the amount of in panel gags, homages, and references that Gene Ha and Zander Cannon slip into the series is immense. I’m not sure if there’s an annotated version of the series out there, but if so, I’d love to see it. Cannon’s art, which is more cartoony, suits Smax volume perfectly, but I prefer Ha’s takes on the classic Top 10 characters, and his art in The Forty-Niners, with its bled out colours, is nothing short of breathtaking. As with Sandman Mystery Theatre, because of some content and the time passed since the books were written, I’d hesitate to recommend to everyone.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty: A memoir of a young woman’s entry into the funeral industry and her evolving feelings about what a “good death” means. I follow her on Twitter and check out some of the videos she posts on Order of the Good Death. A really fun (seriously) read, while remaining earnest about the subject matter. It does occasionally go into some dark places, some I expected, others I didn’t (Content warning for discussion of suicide), despite the lighter tone of the writing. It’s kind of trippy to be reading about what happens to your body after you die while in the middle of a pandemic, but I find it a bit comforting that there are folks like Doughty out there, willing to help grieving families. I can’t wait to read her follow up, From Here to Eternity.

The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon: Definitely not by usual fare, but a really enjoyable read. Salamon’s characters jump off the page and it was a nice palette cleanser after my heavier non-fiction reads this month. I’ve mostly read some of her non-fiction articles and blogs about her family’s travel adventures during a gap year, so I knew I’d enjoy her writing. I hope to see some more fiction from her soon.

Check out my roundup of my 2020 reading here.

The 2020 Reading List: November

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Last month was the first time I failed to clear the reading stack in a couple months, so I still had The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones and Scream by Margee Kerr to read at the top of the month.

Here’s the next to-read stack!

December’s to-read pile: The Green Room by De La Mare, The Signalman by Dickens, Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Cowper, Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, Revenge by Ogawa, Armed in Her Fashion by Heartfield, The Skeleton Crew by Halper, Krampus by Brom.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume 5 by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Bill Crabtree, FCO Plascencia: Decided to finally expand my Invincible collection, so this volume was new to me. Invincible’s younger brother wants to join him in the hero business and his relationship with Atom Eve becomes more serious. I still love the series. This volume even managed to not make the same dialogue issue I had with past volumes, so that made me happy. Getting really excited to see the animated series, and to read Volume 6!

Terra Obscura Volume One by Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette, and Karl Story: Another reread. Terra Obscura features reimaginings of old public domain characters mixed in with elements of Moore’s Tom Strong work. I had super fond memories of this one, and it mostly held up, although I feel like Paquette’s work here is a little cheesecake-y for my tastes. I did a flip through volume 2 afterwards, but didn’t reread it, and I think I’m content to let these two books go from the collection.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin, Mike Mignola, and Al Williamson: Another reread, a fantastic take on two of my favourite sword and sorcery characters created by Fritz Leiber, and with art by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola! I love Mignola’s rendering of both the characters and their home of Lankhmar and Chaykin’s take on the characters’ personalities. After rereading so much Hellboy recently, it was interesting to see how Mignoal’s art has evolved, and see his strengths on display even in this earlier work. Definitely makes me want to dive back into my Fritz Leiber collection.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones: My first experience with Jones’ writing, although there’s been a few other works that I’ve meant to get around to. This was so good! I need to track down more of Graham’s work. Creepy, unsettling, and filled with so many unique turns of phrase. I also appreciated the thread of basketball throughout the novel, which I hadn’t been expecting, but as someone who used to play a lot basketball, it brought back a lot of muscle memory as I read, which only heightened some of the scares.

Arclands: The Spellforger’s Companion by Verse Studios: A Kickstarter prize that uses the Dungeon & Dragons Fifth Edition rules set to build a new world and lots of character options. I backed this campaign because of the book’s spellforge mechanic which presents a custom spell creation system that I thought might be useful for a homebrewed campaign world I wanted to use for a future D&D game. The other new options are less likely to get use at the table, and unfortunately the spellforging is more closely tied to the new Arclands character classes than I’d like, but it still looks like it could be useable with some work.

Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure by Walter Simonson, Mike Mignola, and Bob Wiacek: Another graphic novel reread. Hard to believe I’ve held onto this since 1990 when its $6.25 cover price would’ve seen a lot more dear. Walt Simonson is another one of my favourite comic creators from back in the day. Loved his work on Thor, X-Factor, and more lately, the excellent Ragnarök. This is also another pre-Hellboy Mignola work. There’s a lot to love in this short story set in the Savage Land with dinosaurs, robot dinosaurs, and some hints at Wolverine’s then still mysterious origin that I can’t remember if Marvel ever followed up on.

Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr: Tonally not what I was looking for, a little dryer than I’d hoped, but some really interesting observations. I got more into the book after the initial chapters. I’m not really interested in thrill rides, but the chapters on haunted houses, Aokigahara, and Bogotá were more to my liking. Also, fucking top kudos to the cover jacket designer for the glow in the dark elements. It was occasionally a little unsettling to wake in the night and see the word “SCREAM” glowing next to my bedside.

Raiders of the Lost Artifacts by Darren Watts, Thomas Denmark, and David Pulver: Never let it be said that Twitter doesn’t sell books, because I saw this recommended by a fellow traveler in the gaming sphere and it looked super fun, so I ordered up a copy. Raiders uses original edition Dungeons & Dragons rules to emulate Indiana Jones-style adventures. Looks like it’ll be a lot of fun if I ever get it to the table.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason: A Nordic crime novel set in Reykjavik. I read a couple later books in the Erlendur series, and enjoyed them, I even had an opportunity to interview Indriðason years ago. This one was good. Dark, but good. Lots of domestic abuse surrounding the murder, which was tough to read. It was interesting to have a case that wasn’t a ticking clock, the murder they were trying to solve was decades old, which also led to some interesting history of Iceland. I normally read about the viking era, not World War II when I read about Iceland. I liked that element of it. Half remembered plot elements from future books in the series rattled around, but didn’t spoil the read for me. I’ll probably return to the series in the future. I like Indriðason’s writing.

The Green Room by Walter de la Mare: Part of Biblioasis’s Haunted Bookshelf series of classic Christmas ghost stories, “designed and decorated” by cartoonist Seth. A fun little novella involving a mysterious back room in a book store, and a found manuscript. A little too much poetry in it for my tastes, and at times a bit dated, which I expected. I wish it had a bit more Christmas connection, to be honest (and I never thought I’d say that), or at least more strongly set in winter, as that’s why I decided to add the Haunted Bookshelf novellas to this stack in the first place.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.