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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Books of (My) Year 2014

After Saturday's concerts of the year and Tuesdays' EPs of 2014 now it's turn for books. I've always been a bookworm, a compulsive reader. But due to my position at Indienauta and the support shown by many publishers and editors (many many thanks), 2014 has been the year I read the most in my life, so this list has been extremely challenging. Here are my top 10 reads. Hope you like it!

10. The Lowlife- Aleksander Baron 
(La Bestia Equilátera)
We all cheat to ourselves. That's what rediscovered writer Aleksander Baron is telling us in this short but extremely effective novel. In-depth explorer of the human mind, Baron exposes the constant clash between the "life that could be if" and the cruel reality. Miseries and ambivalence floating back and forth, waiting for the moment (or the person) that could change everything, or it is just an excuse to keep waiting? Built around the unique relationship between Harryboas and little Gregory, a silent kid with troubled parents, here's a fascinating character, a gambler that found the trigger to give a 360 change to its existence ... Or is it just another hoax? The threatening spiral awaits...

9. Paths of Glory- Humphrey Cobb
(Capitán Swing)
The inherent heroism of war, even in movies & books that are openly anti-war is frequent. But that's not the case of 'Paths of Glory', that goes straight to the jugular to show not only how absurd any conflict is, but to reveal how abominable is the military institution. The failed assault against the 181st Regiment of the French army against a unapproachable German position exceeds the account of the specific military feat. It's the terrible exposition of disgusted, fearful, exhausted, desperate soldiers leaded by petty, vile, bordering on madness officials, thanks to a system that gives them absolute power to decide on the lives of their troops, thanks to a justice that is just a pantomime. A machinery designed to obliterate any trace of thought, rationality and autonomy. An atrocity exhibition. Should be read at schools.

8. Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha-
Ben Reitman (Pepitas de Calabaza)
What a discovery. Let me tell you about "Hobohemia", the parallel universe of the hobos. One that, for a time in the history of the States, was very real. Migrant workers, homeless, revolutionaries, but above all a counterculture movement as unique, authentic and powerful as to challenge the established society. The incredible adventures of the hobo "Boxcar" Bertha Thompson are not just a shock, but also a serious, resounding slap for those who worship Kerouac and 'On the Road', because where the Beatniks crossed the country to deal with their confusion, longing and rebellious young spirit, the hobos journey was an ambitious way to transform social reality.

7. Death Row Breakout and Other Stories-
Edward Bunker (Sajalín)
Edward Bunker. Short stories. Unpublished. Four words that in a normal world, one that really loves literature, should mean celebration, excitement and immediate purchase. 'Death Row Breakout' is a superb collection of six stories -only six, dammit-, with little surprises, but who wants them when we are talking about Bunker? His criminal and prison universe, precise prose with not a second for anything superfluous, hyper-realistic dialogues, complete control of the pace and tempo of the stories... An unparalleled strength that grabs the reader without remission, leaving you breathless. Half of this brief anthology is just extraordinary, easily ranking among his best.

6. Shotgun Lovesongs- Nickolas Butler
(Libros del Asteroide)
The best folk songs are stories about real people, dealing with real, recognisable situations or moments, and pouring down their emotions, sharing their feelings with the world, connecting with the sensible listener. That's exactly what you'll find within 'Shotgun Lovesongs'. We are not facing the literary equivalent of an empty season hype boosted by hipster media like Pitchfork. No, although Bon Iver (no spoiling) wouldn't be my choice, this book traps your without artifices, engages you without additives, telling the most universal of stories. Loving, growing, learning. With intensity and truth as unique weapons. And wins with a performance full of emotion.

5. Skagboys- Irvine Welsh (Anagrama)
Welsh's most ambitious work to date, this titanic choral novel is full of his trademark narrative pulse, but also offering several literary registers (Renton's diaries are brilliant). Energetic, lewd, sardonic as usual, 'Skagboys' is also reflective, even poetic. Renton & Scott Fitzgerald? Fascinatingly enough, the answer is yes. I knew Welsh could be brutal. But his dynamite used to stay on the surface, in the form of black (very black) humour or high voltage stories that were immediately enjoyed. Now I know that he can be severely grim, but with a depth charge too, one which leaves no stone cold and endure over time. Irvine Welsh has not "killed" our heroes. He has settled them down to Earth and, by delving into their past, they have become more miserable, but also more complex and complete characters, showing that behind the stupid junkie smile there's only emptiness and frustration. So hell was this ...

4. Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line
Ben Hamper (Capitán Swing)
Within the machine of General Motors, Hamper traces a nightmarish account of stories that have the bright virtue of making the reader laugh, with amazing and crazy moments such as the giant "Quality Cat" or the "Rivet Hockey" while, at the same time, he is showing us the madness-inducing bowels of the multinational beast. In that particular world (almost a prison where inmates are wandering), weary workers buried by noise pass through, about to explode but fearful of losing their privileges or their checks​, fully alienated not just in its endless shifts, but also outside them. Forever. Every day a defeat. Is that the American dream? Worse. This is the slow, agonizing death by the deadliest of diseases: capitalism. More than highly recommended. Funny. Stimulant. Necessary.

3. Fresh Fields- Peter Kocan (Sajalín)
Bloodcurdling journey towards madness. Written with stark reality and zero affectation, the Australian author Peter Kocan translates his terrible real life into paper and achieves a narrative miracle. He brilliantly reflects all the quiet pain and the staggered desolation an abandoned teenager has to deal with. A fragile tramp that builds up a delusional fiction to keep surviving, to add another day while he experiences how cold this place called Earth can be. A book with pages that weight a ton. The weight of the world into the shoulders of someone who shouldn't carry all that baggage.

2. The Revolt of the Cockroach People- 
Óscar Zeta Acosta (Acuarela)
Could have been called 'Fear, Loathing and Race in L.A.' Fiction within real facts that are history (poignant history) of the United States. Facts in which Zeta had a starring role, making him the speaker, delirious and irreverent, an impossible hero, of the Mexican-American people fighting for their rights in California. A theory of chaos entering Bear State Courts, an explosive cocktail about late 60s-early 70s, a moment where everything seemed ready to be blown away. Politics, violence, drugs, revolution, counterculture, and a good, hilariously demented laugh at the face of the vile and racist power, the rotten American Dream. Gonzo goes Mexican.

1. The Class of 49'- Don Carpenter (Gallo Nero)
No heroics (as the great Carver would say) please, no flounces. Don Carpenter masterfully dissected his generation in this little gem, full of disarming clarity and naturalness of style. If there's cruelty, he is brutal. If there's sadness, he is appalling. It's so mind blowing to read so much about the ephemeral nature of existence written in chapters sometimes shorter than just a page. It's all here. The vacuum of memories. The merciless that humans can be, especially being part of a group. The fear of the future. Fate is just around the corner and finding meaning in life is not easy. At all. Carpenter asks: growing up means losing innocence? But as only the greatest writers do, he leaves it open to our interpretation. 'The Class of 49' is the toughest lesson. But it is a mandatory one if you want to pass the complicated course that is life.

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

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