This year, beyond just reading comic books, I spent a fair amount of time reading books without pictures. Here is a rundown of my 2016 reading list.
by Ken Grimwood
Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn’t know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. And lived again and died again — in a continuous twenty-five-year cycle — each time starting from scratch at the age of eighteen to reclaim lost loves, remedy past mistakes, or make a fortune in the stock market. A novel of gripping adventure, romance, and fascinating speculation on the nature of time, Replay asks the question: “What if you could live your life over again?”
In case you hadn’t heard, I love time travel, and the premise for this book sounded so promising, I had to pick it up. It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, and there is one trip back for the character that I truly hated, but the ending of the book was a real surprise. It was a good way to start off the year, and had me diving back into the stacks to find more to read.
THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE
by Joel Haldeman
Grad- school dropout Matt Fuller is toiling as a lowly research assistant at MIT when he inadvertently creates a time machine. With a dead-end job and a girlfriend who left him for another man, Matt has nothing to lose in taking a time-machine trip himself? Or so he thinks.
Time Travel was definitely the theme that kept me going in February. The Accidental Time Machine is an interesting time travel story in that our hero jumps ahead in time at an exponential rate. What will he find at the end of time? It had me hoping for the best, but I was not ready for the actual ending. A bit disappointing, but anytime you can read time travel books and see how different authors approach the subject is still a good read.
TIME AND AGAIN
by Jack Finney
Rediscover the beloved classic, Time and Again—hailed as “THE great time-travel story” by Stephen King, now with masterfully restored original artwork and an all-new foreword by Audrey Niffenegger, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.
When advertising artist Si Morley is recruited to join a covert government operation exploring the possibility of time travel, he jumps at the chance to leave his twentieth-century existence and step into New York City in January 1882. Aside from his thirst for experience, he has good reason to return to the past—his friend Kate has a curious, half-burned letter dated from that year, and he wants to trace the mystery.
But when Si begins to fall in love with a woman he meets in the past, he will be forced to choose between two worlds—forever.
Again, not what I was expecting in my time travel books, but the approach to the subject and the story that resulted was engaging. One thing that really impressed me was the historical research that had to go into the book to recreate New York City 1882.
SILENT CITY: A PETE FERNANDEZ MYSTERY
by Alex Segura
Pete Fernandez is a mess. He’s on the brink of being fired from his middle-management newspaper job. His fiancée has up and left him. Now, after the sudden death of his father, he’s back in his hometown of Miami, slowly drinking himself into oblivion. But when a co-worker he barely knows asks Pete to locate a missing daughter, Pete finds himself dragged into a tale of murder, drugs, double-crosses and memories bursting from the black heart of the Miami underworld – and, shockingly, his father’s past.
Making it up as he goes and stumbling as often as he succeeds, Pete’s surreptitious quest becomes the wake-up call he’s never wanted but has always needed – but one with deadly consequences. Welcome to Silent City, a story of redemption, broken friendships, lost loves and one man’s efforts to make peace with a long-buried past to save the lives of the few friends he has left.
Alex Segura is one of the cool people at Archie Comics. When he’s not writing Archie Meets the Ramones, he’s writing crime fiction. If you are familiar with Alex and the things he loves, you can see where Alex and Pete intersect in this story. Overall, this is a solid first novel from Alex.
DOWN THE DARKEST STREET: A PETE FERNANDEZ MYSTERY
by Alex Sequra
Pete Fernandez should be dead. His life — professional and personal — is in ruins. His best friend is dead. His newspaper career is past tense. His ex is staying with him as her own marriage crumbles. On top of that, the former journalist finds himself in the eye of a dangerous storm; investigating a missing girl with an unexpected partner and inching closer and closer to a vicious, calculating killer cutting a swath of blood across Miami — while at the same time battling his own personal demons that refuse to be silenced.
I loved the first story so much I jumped at the sequel when it arrived. Things get darker for Pete in this story as he struggles with sobriety while stumbling into a murder mystery that has everyone on edge. A much darker story than the first, Alex really stretches his legs in this one, and upon completion, my Twitter exchanges with him have mostly been about the third book coming in 2017 (I hope).
by Neil Gaiman
The storm was coming….
Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.
On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.
But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday’s schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter — all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.
Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.
All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought — and the prize is the very soul of America.
As unsettling as it is exhilarating, American Gods is a dark and kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an America at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. Magnificently told, this work of literary magic will haunt the reader far beyond the final page.
WOW. I read the book to get up to speed for the television series adaptation, but I wasn’t expecting how great this book was. If you haven’t read it, pick it up now.
SO YOU’VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED
by Jon Ronson
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.
One of the few non-fiction books on my reading pile this year, I read Ronson’s book because I was interested in how people react when social media jumps all over them. There are many different approaches to fixing a public image, and this book covers those that worked, and those that didn’t quite repair the damage.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID
by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)—in his head—as “The Thunderbolt Kid.”
Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality—a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and OF his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson’s earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends.
It’s not what you think. While it was amusing at times, by the end I was glad to be done with it.
OFF TO BE THE WIZARD
by Scott Meyer
Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.
What could possibly go wrong?
An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.
What started off as a book I thought was about time travel turned into something else entirely. If you ever wondered if we lived in the Matrix, then you must read this book.
SPELL OF HIGH WATER
by Scott Meyer
The adventures of an American hacker in Medieval England continue as Martin Banks takes his next step on the journey toward mastering his reality-altering powers and fulfilling his destiny.
A month has passed since Martin helped to defeat the evil programmer Jimmy, and things couldn’t be going better. Except for his love life, that is. Feeling distant and lost, Gwen has journeyed to Atlantis, a tolerant and benevolent kingdom governed by the Sorceresses, and a place known to be a safe haven to all female time-travelers.
Thankfully, Martin and Philip are invited to a summit in Atlantis for all of the leaders of the time-traveler colonies, and now Martin thinks this will be a chance to try again with Gwen. Of course, this is Martin Banks we’re talking about, so murder, mystery, and high intrigue all get in the way of a guy who just wants one more shot to get the girl.
The follow-up to the hilarious Off to Be the Wizard, Scott Meyer’s Spell or High Water proves that no matter what powers you have over time and space, you can’t control rotten luck.
One of the things that bothered me about the first book was the amount of sexism that took place between the male characters and the lone female character. I think it was needed to help the character grow (and to help the surprise at the end), and I’m glad that a lot of the issues regarding the sexes is addressed in this book. By the end I felt better that Martin and company had grown as characters, and I felt better about reading more of Meyer’s books.
AN UNWELCOME QUEST
by Scott Meyer
Ever since Martin Banks and his fellow computer geeks discovered that reality is just a computer program to be happily hacked, they’ve been jaunting back and forth through time, posing as medieval wizards and having the epic adventures that other nerds can only dream of having. But even in their wildest fantasies, they never expected to end up at the mercy of the former apprentice whom they sent to prison for gross misuse of magic and all-around evil behavior.
Who knew that the vengeful Todd would escape, then conjure a computer game packed with wolves, wenches, wastelands, and assorted harrowing hazards—and trap his hapless former friends inside it? Stripped of their magic powers, the would-be wizards must brave terrifying dangers, technical glitches, and one another’s company if they want to see medieval England—and their favorite sci-fi movies on VHS—ever again.
Obviously, I needed to reach the conclusion of Martin’s adventures, but this time, instead of “time travel” Martin and his companions are sucked into a video game. There is definitely some Inception level things going on in this final volume, but it is probably best not to think about it. Or if you do, make sure you meditate with some UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A chanting.
THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY
by Erik Larson
Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
I don’t think there has ever been a book that has taken me on a roller coaster like The Devil in The White City. Larson flips back and forth between the building of the World’s Fair, and the grotesqueness of the serial killer. I went from rooting for the Fair to utter despair and hatred for humanity with each chapter. Definitely a book you should read if you love historical accounts of events, and you want to learn a thing or two in the process.
STORM FRONT: THE DRESDEN FILES
by Jim Butcher
For Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name…
I started reading Storm Front last year, but got distracted by other things. I made it through in 2016, and this was good enough to leave me wanting more. I know The Dresden Files is a favorite of many Spoilerites, and I expect you have your favorite books in the series. I plan on getting to all of them…eventually.
IT’S SUPERMAN! A NOVEL
by Tom De Haven
Coming of age in rural 1930s America with X-ray vision, the power to stop bullets, and the ability to fly isn’t exactly every boy’s story. So just how did Clark Kent, a shy farmer’s son, grow up to be the Man of Steel? Follow young Clark’s whirlwind journey from Kansas to New York City’s Daily Planet. This ace reporter is not the only person leading a double life in a teeming metropolis, just the only one able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—a skill that comes in handy when battling powerful criminal masterminds like scheming Lex Luthor and fascist robots. But can Clark’s midwestern charm save the day and win the heart of stunning, seen-it-all newspaperwoman Lois Lane? Or is that a job for Superman?
If you can get your hands on this book, do it. If you are comfortable enough reading a very different take on a Golden Age Superman, then definitely get your hands on this book. If you ever wandered what a Superman series on Netflix could look like, then this is the source I would hope they would adapt. It isn’t your father’s Superman – it isn’t even your grandfather’s Superman, but it is a Superman of the time period, and you can definitely see how the hero is born in this adventure.
by Scott Meyer
Sinclair Rutherford is a young Seattle cop with a taste for the finer things. Doing menial tasks and getting hassled by superiors he doesn’t respect are definitely not “finer things.” Good police work and bad luck lead him to crack a case that changes quickly from a career-making break into a high-profile humiliation when footage of his pursuit of the suspect—wildly inappropriate murder weapon in hand—becomes an Internet sensation. But the very publicity that has made Rutherford a laughing stock in the department lands him what could be the job opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to work with a team of eccentric experts, at the direction of a demanding but distracted billionaire. Together, they must solve the murder of a psychologist who specialized in the treatment of patients who give people “the creeps.”
The biggest problem with this story is the bad guy seems very obvious from the get go. That being said, half of the enjoyment of this book is discovering what makes each of the characters tick.
THE EARTH WILL SHAKE: THE HISTORICAL ILLUMINATUS CHRONICLES VOL. 1
by Robert Anton Wilson
They have been with us all through history: The “Invisible College” of wisdom, and their adversaries–the destroyers–who rise from the flames to burn again. The history of the world is their story: a conspiracy as vast and all-encompassing as the riddle of time itself.
In Naples, Italy, in 1764, a young aristocrat is about to stumble onto one piece of the great pattern. Through a heartless murder and his passion for the beautiful daughter of his enemy, young Sigismundo Celine uncovers the mystery of the Rossi brigade, former M.A.F.I.A. assassins, and the secret agenda of the dreaded Inquisition.
In the wind of the raging social storm that will soon tear through Europe and America with the flame of revolution, Sigismundo begins his journey of discovery, joined by the boy Mozart, Dr. Frankenstein, Casanova the spy, lover and magician…and a mysterious violet-eyed assassin who calls him “brother.” Join him. The journey has just begun.
I do love me some Robert Anton Wilson Illuminati tales, and this one is a good one, but goodness it took forever to get through it.
October (and November) turned into a battle between Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. If you really want to get to the origins of the noir detective, there is nothing better than bouncing back and forth between the two masters.
THE BIG SLEEP
by Raymond Chandler
In crime fiction master Raymond Chandler’s iconic first novel, a dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.
I read this one mainly because I loved the Robert Mitchum movie so much, and I wanted to see how close the two were to one another.
THE GLASS KEY
by Dashiell Hammett
A one-time detective and master of deft understatement, Dashiell Hammett virtually invented the hardboiled crime novel. This classic work of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness. Paul Madvig was a cheerfully corrupt ward-heeler who aspired to something better: the daughter of Senator Ralph Bancroft Henry, the heiress to a dynasty of political purebreds. Did he want her badly enough to commit murder? And if Madvig was innocent, which of his dozens of enemies was doing an awfully good job of framing him?
OTTO BINDER: THE LIFE AND WORK OF A COMIC BOOK AND SCIENCE FICTION VISIONARY
by Bill Schelly
Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Science Fiction Visionary chronicles the career of Otto Binder, from pulp magazine author to writer of Supergirl, Captain Marvel, and Superman comics. As the originator of the first sentient robot in literature (“I, Robot,” published in Amazing Stories in 1939 and predating Isaac Asimov’s collection of the same name), Binder’s effect on science fiction was profound. Within the world of comic books, he created or co-created much of the Superman universe, including Smallville; Krypto, Superboy’s dog; Supergirl; and the villain Braniac. Binder is also credited with writing many of the first “Bizarro” storylines for DC Comics, as well as for being the main writer for the Captain Marvel comics. In later years, Binder expanded from comic books into pure science writing, publishing dozens of books and articles on the subject of satellites and space travel as well as UFOs and extraterrestrial life. Comic book historian Bill Schelly tells the tale of Otto Binder through comic panels, personal letters, and interviews with Binder’s own family and friends. Schelly weaves together Binder’s professional successes and personal tragedies, including the death of Binder’s only daughter and his wife’s struggle with mental illness. A touching and human story, Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Science Fiction Visionary is a biography that is both meticulously researched and beautifully told.
Another non-fiction books on my list this year. If you aren’t familiar with Otto Binder, you are probably familiar with The Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, Captain Marvel, and more. This is a fantastic biography, and made for great research material for our upcoming Legion Clubhouse podcast.
by Dashiell Hammett
Detective-story master Dashiell Hammett gives us yet another unforgettable read in Red Harvest: When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty–even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.
This one is brilliant and may be one of my favorite Dashiell Hammett books I’ve read so far. The back and forth between the different factions in the city, as well as everyone’s love of gin and lemonade had me downing this book in a lazy Sunday afternoon.
TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS
by Raymond Chandler
This collection by crime fiction master Raymond Chandler features four long stories in which private eye Philip Marlowe is hired to protect a rich old guy from a gold digger, runs afoul of crooked politicos, gets a line on some stolen jewels with a reward attached, and stumbles across a murder victim who may have been an extortionist.
Sadly, I only made it through the first story in this book before I returned it to the library. Not because the book was boring, but because I simply ran out of time before it was due back.
HEY KIDS, COMICS! TRUE-LIFE TALES FROM THE SPINNER RACK
by Rob Kelly
An anthology of true-life stories from comic book legends, authors, TV and film writers, journalists, and people from all walks of life on how comic books changed their lives.
Features essays by Alan Brennert, J.M. DeMatteis, Steve Englehart, Prof. James Kakalios, Paul Kupperberg, Jill Pantozzi, Glen Weldon, and many more.
Accompanied by vintage photos, HEY KIDS, COMICS! is a must-read for any comic book fan or student of pop culture history.
A fantastic series of essays are collected in this book. One thing that will make the read even more enjoyable is not reading the by-line for each essay until AFTER you’ve read it. Often the surprise of who is writing and their experience with comics will surprise you.
FOOL MOON: THE DRESDEN FILES
by Jim Butcher
You’d think there’d be a little more action for the only professional wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn’t been able to dredge up any kind of work: magical, mundane, or menial.
Just when it looks like he can’t afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. There’s a brutally mutilated corpse, and monstrous animal markings at the scene. Not to mention that the killing took place on the night of a full moon. Harry knows exactly where this case is headed. Take three guesses—and the first two don’t count…
I actually finished reading this today (December 31st), just hours before posting this article. I do enjoy the Dresden files, but one thing I have noticed is the peculiar way Butcher describes the women – often with some sexual overtones – that seems rather odd. It would be nice if this were balanced across genders. Still, I really enjoyed the book, and I think there will be more Dresden in 2017.
THAT’S A WRAP
So there you go, my reading list for 2016. It’s a bit longer than I remembered, but at the same time I remember thouroughly enjoying each and every book I picked up. As mentioned, The Dresden Files are already on my reading list for 2017, as is Anansi Boys from Neil Gaiman. But what else should I read? As you can tell, detective books, and those stories dealing with time travel are big on my list, but I’m up for just about anything. Use the comment section below to share the books you made it through in 2016, or to make a recommendation or two for books I should consider for 2017.
The Fireman by Joe Hill was my favorite of the year. Contagion story with a sci-fi twist.
After reading this I quickly consumed Locke and Key and a number of his other novels. He definitely inherited his father’s talent for storytelling.
Great list. Love me some Chandler and Hammett, and I’ve been binging Jon Ronson books for the past month on Audible. Listening to So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed as I type!