The Year in Books 2015: Jason Pettus’ Favorites

The Year in Books 2015
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CCLaP owner Jason Pettus had a busy year away from the center in 2015, starting and completing an intense “computer programming bootcamp” in Chicago in preparation for a day-job career change next year; but he still managed to squeeze in time to read and review around 50 books or so here at the blog. Here today is a look at his ten personally favorite titles of this year.

No Land's Man
No Land’s Man
By Aasif Mandvi
Chronicle Books
Actor, writer, and former Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi’s autobiography is a real treat, a funny and disarming look at one Muslim pop-culture nerd’s forays into first British suburban culture and then ’80s Florida. For those who only know this multi-disciplinary artist for his comedy, this heartfelt memoir will be a welcome surprise.
By Travis Jeppesen
ITNA Press
Our friends at ITNA Press are doing God’s work these days, putting out a string of tough, challenging books that would otherwise not have a home; take this transgressive classic, for example, originally published in 2003 but long out of print, a difficult experimental read concerning both a woman who has fallen into a cult and her son’s struggles decades later to leave that cult. Not for everyone, but those who like these kinds of stories will absolutely love this one.
Dark Matter Tiding
Dark Matter Tiding
By Chance Maree
Although we’ve admittedly been having some problems with this subject in the last six months, there’s also a very good reason why CCLaP wades through the increasing number of self-published novels we receive on a daily basis; and Dark Matter Tiding is a good example of that reason, a smart and thrilling sci-fi actioner that can easily hold its own against anything put out by Pyr or Orbit.
The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues -- A History of Greenwich Village
The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues — A History of Greenwich Village
By John Strausbaugh
Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians
Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians
By Justin Martin
Merloyd Lawrence Books / Da Capo Press / Perseus
Two great books came out this year about the same subject, which is why I’m lumping them into one write-up here: John Strausbaugh’s The Village covers the entire history of New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, which has existed now for almost 400 years and has been a home to bohemian artists almost that entire time; while Justin Martin’s Rebel Souls looks at Greenwich Village just in the Victorian Age, when people like Walt Whitman made this one of the first-ever areas in American history to be friendly to gays and middle-class people of color. Together they give an illuminating portrait of this surprisingly progressive area of NYC, and present a whole new way for us to think about the normally repressed Victorian era.
The Wives of Billie's Mountain
The Wives of Billie’s Mountain
By Kelly L. Simmons
Unfortunately CCLaP started to see a big problem arising with basement-press and self-published books in 2015 — it’s so technologically easy to publish a paperback anymore, there are just millions of crappy titles coming out these days, making it harder and harder to find the truly great ones lost in the mix — but thankfully a few of these much needed titles still came shining through this year. Here’s one of them, a frontier story written in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but based on the true tale of the multiple wives of a Mormon husband, who all had to go live secretly in nearby caves when the government started getting on their case about their polygamy.
The Poor Children
The Poor Children
By April L. Ford
Santa Fe Writers Project
You think at first that this is going to be just another so-so social realist drama about rural children in crisis; but then it quickly turns a lot darker and weirder than that, an unholy baby made up of equal parts Bonnie Jo Campbell, Sam Shepard and Dennis Cooper. SWFP actually sent us a lot of great books this year, but this one was easily the best.
Death and Mr. Pickwick
Death and Mr. Pickwick
By Stephen Jarvis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I rather loved this overstuffed, deliberately formal-feeling contemporary historical novel, purporting to tell the “true story” of why the original illustrator of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers killed himself just three chapters in, but in reality a sweeping and detail-obsessed look at what daily life in the early Victorian Age was actually like for most people. You gotta already love Dickensian stories in order to love this; but if you do, this is a must-read.
By Michel Houellebecq
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
LOOK OUT! The intellectual world’s most controversial author has published yet another instantly controversial intellectual novel, positing a France who in the next election (through a convoluted series of events) end up choosing the Muslim Brotherhood to run the country, looking at the mad rush among academic liberals to instantly renounce their decadent Western concepts of “democracy” and “marriage for love” and “equal rights for women” in order to curry favor with their new Islamic masters. A sneakily metaphorical indictment of how quickly France rolled over to the Nazis in World War Two, you stand a high chance of being offended by this take-no-prisoners story, the exact reason you should read it in the first place.
The Way Inn
The Way Inn
By Will Wiles
Harper Perennial
A fantastic surrealist tale whose reading just squeaked in under this year’s deadline, this short and powerful novel is sort of like Douglas Coupland (a sociological look at what bland suburban hotels say about us as a species) and sort of like David Lynch (in that there’s a lot more quantum weirdness than first meets the eye to the particular bland hotel at the heart of our particular story). A book for fans of Lost and other such head-scratching, well-written oddness.

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd