The Best of the Best
It will be a new year when you are reading this, but it is the old year when I am writing it. The old year is a time for “best of lists,” which is just another way to grab content and fill space without doing any real work. I am nothing if not efficiently lazy, so here are my favorite books I’ve ever recommended. The best of the Mandi best. The crème de la Mandi crème.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine B008J2C126
By: Teddy Wayne
Jonny Valentine is an eleven-year-old pop superstar (I originally wrote “poop superstar”) on his second national tour. Pressures are high for our wunderkind narrator—ticket and album sales have been slow. Jonny’s entire career is riding on this tour. If it’s a flop, his two-year-old career is over, and his fans and money will disappear. Jonny handles the stress by playing his favorite video game, masturbating to pictures of “fit over forty” celebrities, and tracking down his absentee father. Jonny is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, disgusting and annoying (basically, your average tween). This is a bildungsroman for the 21st century, a time when the point is not to learn as you grow, but to brand and monetize while you’re young.
Reads well with: Billie Jean by Michael Jackson (do I even need to put the “Michael Jackson” after “Billie Jean”?) and sweet potato fries
This Book is Full of Spiders
By: David Wong
I don’t understand why comedy isn’t treated with more seriousness or given more importance. To me, there is more truth in a sarcastic comment or a profane joke or a poop pun than in a thousand sworn statements. Comedy allows us to approach harsh truths, things we might otherwise fearfully avoid facing, with a sugarcoating of laughter.
There is so much truth in This Book is Full of Spiders, and it is sugarcoated with violent, profane comedy. The town of [Undisclosed] is not a place you want to be after dark. It’s not really a place you want to be in the daytime either. David, the main character, knows this firsthand. He has lived in [Undisclosed] his whole life, and now, after a particularly bad drug trip, he and his best friend have the ability to see all those things which go bump in the night and which jump into people’s mouths and work them from the inside like puppets. David, his one-handed girlfriend (that’s not a sexual innuendo), his best friend, and his dog Molly, must battle against the forces of evil, spiders that turn people into zombies, and their own ability to screw everything up all the time.
Reads well with: Creedence Clearwater Revival and Twizzlers
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy
Editors: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
This has “book of spells” in the title, so yeah, of course I was going to read it. You should probably have gathered by now that I am one of those airy-fairy believers in all things supernatural. Magic, telekinesis, alien abduction, precognition, Sasquatch… I maintain an unhealthy level of credulousness about all of these. I quickly and willingly suspend my disbelief.
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology of gaslamp fantasy. If you’re not familiar with gaslamp fantasy, Steam Punk falls under the category of gaslamp fantasy, but does not make it up entirely. Book of Spells had several of my favorite short stories in recent memory. The two standouts were an essay on phossy jaw and the tale of a group of women who make it their mission to poison a London suburb with cholera water.
Reads well with: Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a Long Island
Smutiful, smutastic, smuterrific, smutty smut smut smut. Plus, you’ll never look at a cucumber the same way again. Seriously. I’m not joking. These books are nothing but pure filth loosely held together with something vaguely resembling plot.
Reads well with: Talk Dirty to Me by Poison and something from Voodoo Doughnut
Willful Impropriety: 13 Tales of Society, Scandal and Romance
Edited by: Ekaterina Sedia
I saw the title Willful Impropriety flit across my computer screen a couple of weeks ago, and I knew from the title that I had to have it. (I often engage in willful impropriety, so I felt a connection.) I wasn’t disappointed by this anthology of Victorian romances. The very first story is a genderqueer love story. The second is a lesbian love story. (With a happy ending! A friend was recently bemoaning the lack of happily-ever-after lesbian romances.) This anthology has trans*, cis, genderqueer, straight, gay romances filled with bustles and trains and steam power and waistcoats and capes and automatons and canes and fog and dirigibles and tea.
Reads well with: Dario Marianelli and red velvet cupcakes
The Sisters Brothers
By: Patrick DeWitt
I’m going to go ahead and self-plagiarize, now. This recommendation is from last fall, but when I was thinking about anti-boredom books, I couldn’t get The Sisters Brothers out of my head. It really is that good. Here is my recommendation from quite a few months ago:
I come from a family that has a lot of convictions. I don’t mean that we have strong moral beliefs. When I say convictions, I mean those of a felonious nature. It’s no surprise then that, with my family background, I love me some renegade outlaw antiheroes. The Sisters Brothers stars two sociopathic, gunslinging brothers on a journey from Oregon City to San Francisco, where they have been ordered by their boss to murder a miner. Both possess a hair trigger temper and leave behind them a trail of bodies, their victims a mix of innocent passersby and scoundrels equal to the brothers in their amorality. The Sisters Brothers reads like an Old West Odyssey, a Homeric epic translated into cowboy poetry. It is a violent, tragicomic world with no niceties, but plenty of guns, liquor and prostitutes.
Reads well with: Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford & Sons and Pendleton Whiskey