2012: The "Best of" Bridesmaids

on Saturday, December 29, 2012
Never before have I had such a hard time whittling my list down to ten books. In any other year, a few of these Bridesmaids would have made the Top 10 but, as they used to say in Vaudeville, timing is everything. Didn't help Vaudeville and didn't really help these books either, but you should still check them out.

Building Stories by Chris Ware. It is hard not to be overwhelmed and awestruck by the magnitude of Ware's achievement in this behemoth of a graphic novel. Told over fourteen different pieces (mini-strips, books, broadsheets, pamphlets etc), and all packaged up in a huge board game-sized box, Building Stories is a series of interlinked tales set around a downtrodden Chicago apartment block and its mostly sad inhabitants. In terms of narrative, it is a mobius strip, with no instructions on intended order of reading (I just went from smallest to largest), though I suspect it doesn't really matter. Think Armistead Maupin or George Perec minced together with gravel and a hint of whimsy and you get the idea. Extra props for the brilliant Branford The Bee sequences.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo. Forget Slumdog Millionaire, this is the real deal. Boo lived in the Mumbai Slum of Annawadi for three years, coming to truly understand its social mechanics and, more importantly, gaining the trust of its inhabitants. The result is a beautifully rendered portrait of life in a place where desperation and injustice do battle with beauty and hope. Sure, these people's circumstances might be awful, but their stories are universal - ordinary people trying to better their lot, negotiate everyday life and maintain a basic level of human dignity. A magnificent work of narrative non-fiction.

Las Vegas For Vegans - A. S. Patric. A collection of stories so varied in tone, style and inventive flourish that the only thing they have in common is that they have nothing in common. Great literary acrobatics from this Melbourne local who is quickly becoming one of the heavy hitters around town.

The Fifty Year Sword - Mark Z. Danielewski. Get over the gimmick! This is a beautifully produced piece of old-fashioned storytelling disguised as experimental fiction. Short, cool and fun (once you get the hang of how to read it).

Care of Wooden Floors - Will Wiles. A comedy of absurd and increasingly horrifying errors marred only by its lame denouement this was one of the great surprises of 2012. The unnamed narrator arrives in an unnamed European city, charged with looking after his incredibly anal friend's apartment. Instructional notes are left on almost every surface and implement but one stands out above all the others - take care of the wooden floors. It's not hard to guess what happens, but the avalanche of disasters that follow are what really makes this great. Whether read as farce or a novel of displacement (not unlike Ferenc Karinthy's Metropole), it is a resounding success.

A Few Flower Girls: The Devil In Silver by Victor Lavalle, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw, Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu.


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