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Friday, December 25, 2015

Best Books of (My) Year 2015

More lists. After concerts of the year, then EPs and Records, now it's time for books. Again, thanks to my duty at Indienauta and the support shown of many publishers and editors (always thankful), 2015 has been an incredible year of reads, one in which, I have to say, there has been a most welcomed bunch of exciting works dealing with social reality. Needless to say this list has been extremely challenging. Here are my top 10 reads in the last 365 days. Hope you like it!

10. Redeployment - Phil Klay (Random House)
Add Phil Klay to a short but pretty impressive list including Tim O’Brien’s ‘The thing they carried’. The short stories by Tobias Wolff. Norman Mailer and ‘The Naked and the death’. 'Company K' by William March. ‘Slaughterhouse-five’ by Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’. ‘Paths of glory’ by Humphrey Cobb or Frederic Manning’s ‘The favours of fortune’. He’s right there among the “must-reads of war literature”. His collection of 12 stories on the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan shook you up completely, relentlessly, without flaws or any quarter for the reader. A parade of wounded, beaten (in every sense) guys, forever marked. A terrifying and despairing “fauna”, although Klay never sells the drama, writing in a dry, straightforward manner. Former soldiers exposed to death & destruction, but also to boredom, numb, “Playstation” young kids facing an undefined and goalless “normal life”. The terror awaiting on the desert roads. The terror awaiting back home.

9. Making nice- Matt Summell (Turner)
An extremely brilliant approach to real life thanks to an extraordinary main character, whose first-person narration results in one of the most astonishing and memorable literary voices this humble blogger has read in recent years. Alby, mainly an asshole, an immature, unstable adult with serious problems of rage control is also someone who has built himself an image of a bully —a teenager and, later on, adult version of Nelson Muntz— to hide his huge fragility, his paralysing fear of the future, of looking back to the painful past, panicking inside because he doesn’t know what to do with his life. Still trying to assimilate the death of his mother. Do not miss the unforgettable stories of this captivating brute named Alby.

8. When the game was ours - Jackie Mcmullan (Contra)
The best basketball always meant fantasy, surprise, illusion, EMOTION. And that’s exactly what this book offers. A trip back to the time when the spell was put and the years on which the STORY became LEGEND. Basketball lovers already know about the story –lazier readers have the worth watching documentary 'A Courtship of Rivals', based on the book– but doesn’t matter: it’s still glorious. And Jackie MacMullan, the veteran sports journalist is aware too, so she wisely opts for letting it flow, adding little more than the precise and flammable adjective stressing the perfect shooting night of the green 33 or the incredible repertoire of passes by the golden and purple 32. Besides, she has the two stars with her, sharing their view, reinforcing the arguments, adding some “colour” to the anecdotes and revealing the core of the book. Than Bird & Magic careers and myths, are inseparable, the same as human bound between both players. And with that, the golden age of NBA. A hundred smiles await the fan.

7. Vampires in the lemon grove - Karen Russell (Tusquets)
Reputation preceded Miami-born Karen Russell, praised as one of the more relevant younger writers in America, Pulitzer Prize finalist with her debut novel ‘Swamplandia’. And after enjoying this short collection of eight stories, she deserves all the credit. Each story is a fascinating outpouring of imagination, surprise and originality, with a disturbing halo of darkness and mystery —a couple of them flirting with terror—, and foremost, a strikingly powerful narrative ability.

6. The gospel singer - Harry Crews 
(Acuarela & Antonio Machado)
Crews debut is a breathtaking journey to the heart of the southern myth, transformed into a terrible nightmare. Welcome to the town of Enigma, origin and end of the route. The place that you want to escape, forget, deny. But you can’t. Except for the characters of Gerd and the Gospel Singer’s mother there aren’t any handles to where the reader can hold on this novel, there’s no one to empathize with or situations that give us a break. Only a pleiad of vile creatures, mean, ignorant devotees prone to the religious fanaticism, without hope or courage to build a future, accustomed to their lives in a sewer, waiting for a miracle. And as it doesn’t arrive, ready to convert in their last resort a young that thanks to a privileged voice made his fortune singing religious hymns around America. Without knowing that his deified singer, whom were conferred healing powers, has his feet as muddy as them. The reader doesn’t need many pages to know that the novel will end badly, but when the end comes, the blow equally leaves you breathless. Harrowing, crazy, sick, visceral ...

5. Fridays at Erico's - Don Carpenter 
(Sexto Piso) 
Friday at Enrico’s’ is more than just a novel about literature. It might be one of the NOVELS about literature. About writers, their books and their disastrous private lives. About artists struggling against the blank page while systematically succumb to the unique work of irreversible and binding end: its own existence. It’s also about the success, the failure, the artist independence, the ego. About the value of art, the discussion between high literature and their commercial nemesis?, and the role of the artist. About counterculture and literary generations. About bar and bistro tables, their endless discussions and recurrent drunkenness to hide mistakes, depression and vital emptiness. Written with something that I'm only able to define as melancholic wisdom, Carpenter's prose is sublime, like a scalpel in the hands of the best surgeon, pushing firmly, without delay nor artifice, revealing the human soul in a definitive dialogue, a final drink or a moment of doubt in front of the typewriter. For all who love literature and this happy and, hopefully, eternal anachronism called book, reading Carpenter is a gift. What are you waiting for?. I’m waiting you at Enrico's ...

4. Zeroville - Steve Erickson (Pálido Fuego) 
Structured as a series of short scenes, Steve Erickson builds a novel of prodigious rhythm that entertains you greatly thanks to, at the surface level, a freak protagonist getting into an industry that fascinates us, that we are used to glorify and admire. Anyone who name himself as a movie lover will enjoy the talks about cinema, where Vikar founds his meaning of life; discovering or speculating about the side characters with whom Vikar interacts, from Viking, a clear transcript of John Milius, to Robert De Niro about to become Travis Bickle; not to mention the directors whose Vikar’s fledgling career is connected to, like Otto Preminger or Vincent Minnelli, to the point of carving himself out a strange reputation as a gifted editor with an unusual talent: the ability of arming and disarming a story ... to mount a different one with the same material. Is in that rare gift for mounting where the striking backdrop of 'Zeroville' is revealed. While Vikar’s progresses within Hollywood, his poor head discovers something. In one frame. In all frames. Is not that the film explains life, or that is actually the only language Vikar’s understand. It’s much bigger than that. Cinema IS life. And his obsession vampirizes him. Who and why is filming and mounting our own film? Tremendous.

3. The Taqwacores - Michael Muhammed (Ginger Ape) 
The so-called foundational novel of Islamic punk, has a touch, or two, or three, or twenty, of madness, a healthy dose of irreverence, a ton of ideas about culture, society and, without any fear, religion. And if that wasn’t enough, it also has a lot of music. Literally speaking, ‘The Taqwacores’ is the squaring of the circle. How to fit the pieces of a puzzle where there’s plenty of diverse characters, with very different points of view, often extreme, about religion, the future, sex, and life? Knight has no qualms about expressing existential doubts of a bunch of young people, in discussing the human and the divine. But the novel doesn’t suffer. The author introduces hundreds of musical references, and these are interspersed in an astonishingly natural way between comments about Imams, precepts of Sufism, Suras or interpretations of the Koran. Does it sound confusing? Of course it is. That's exactly what Knight wants to show. The confusion of young people in their students home’ microcosm, an Islamic version of the 'Ship of Fools', in their collective chaos of concerns, frustrations, tensions and blames. It couldn’t be more painfully believable. And fascinating. And explosive.

2. Exodus - DJ Stalingrad (Automática) 
Exodus is a terrifying look at the Russia of the new millennium. A corrupt country, desolate, sick to the core. A place where violence seems a valid response for the a collective of young people for which life seems to have no significance. A scenario of war between neo-Nazis and left-wing groups, young people going from town to town in search of the next battle. Music and/or politics are there, but after getting into these pages, one needs very little to realise that both factors are really excuses. Fight, destroy, attack, defend ... because there is much more to do and, above all, nothing to lose. Stalingrad gets beyond the circumstantial, episodic narrative, to draw a devastating analysis of current Russia, crimping history with social commentary and giving us innumerable fragments to remember along the way. Comparable to facing Anthony Burgess’ 'The Clockwork Orange' for the first time, Stalingrad pushes you, unceremoniously, to a rugged, virulent universe. But unlike the iconic work of the British writer, Stalingrad is not talking about a dystopian future, but a terrifying reality, with the face of Vladimir Putin in the background. Unsettling, disturbing, revealing and uncompromising.

1. Waiting for nothing - Tom Kromer (Sajalín)
'Waiting for nothing' is, in my opinion, one of the best books Sajalín has calved, which is a lot to say considering the great moments this publishing house has given to us. A cohesive series of episodes that can also be read as a collection of short stories, a creepy piece of life in the gutter transferred to paper. That terrifying existence that in sociology is defined as social exclusion. The sort of life that, 80 years after Kromer wrote these lines in the middle of the Great Depression, still means nothing to “our morons” dressed in suits and ties in Madrid, Brussels and Washington DC while they speak of PIBs, VAT cuts or tax increases. The number of heartbreaking moments in just 200 pages is overwhelming. Food whose ingredients you’d rather not know. Desperate prostitution. Harassment and humiliation at the hands of those who supposedly should be looking after our security and the law enforcement. Prisons that further degrade the person but at least they provide temporary shelter, and ungrateful seedy lounge chairs that resemble prisons. Desperate feelings of committing suicide or having a violent burst of madness but being incapable to do anything. Frustrated picaresque frustrated. Flirtations with death in trains to nowhere. With just a couple of chapters where Kromer allows some light let in in the form of some emotional interaction with other human beings, 'Waiting for Nothing' might be one of the most poignants and hyperrealistic attempts literature has given us in portraying the living death.

I do HAVE to recommend another book that I just finished and it's an absolutely MUST, but due to time constraints I couldn't add to the list. I'm referring to '33 revolutions per minute' by Dorian Lynskey, published in Spain by Malpaso. An incredibly absorbing and in-depth work about protest songs, from 1940s to today. One of the most impressive works the so-called music books have given us: history, social conflicts transformations and its music.  Essential.

Want to check last year's books list? Click here
Or do you prefer checking 2013?
And 2012'? Then click here
or  2011's? Check here

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