Early in 2015, I logged onto Goodreads and noticed that they had a “Reading Challenge.” It was very simple. Set a goal for how many books you want to read and as you mark them complete, they populate your list. Goodreads then keeps you posted on your progress toward your goal. For those who just want to get to the goods, here’s my list as it stands on December 10th, though I’ll note there’s a handful of things missing as of the moment this post is going up. Will I get around to adding them? Maybe!
Better Late than Never
I’ve never been much of a comic book reader, though based on a lot of the other things I enjoy, comics seem like a logical extension. It’s possible there has been a silly snobbishness around comics that kept me away, but I think it’s more to do with their flexible relationship to continuity. Characters die and come back, they get rebooted. Whole histories get thrown into the air every few years to keep people’s interest. It has always seemed too daunting to figure out where to start…so I just never did.
That changed in late 2014. I started reading the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman in their collected, graphic novel format. I’m a big fan of Gaiman’s writing and this series is pretty widely considered a masterpiece, so it made for an ideal entry point. What’s more, it’s a complete series. That meant I could read the whole thing without having to suss out a million redirections of the core characters as is common with more mainstream comics like Batman or the X-Men.
Sandman is every bit as good as I could have hoped. I haven’t finished it yet, but each time I pick up an issue I wonder how I could have waited so long to start. The artwork is beautiful and creepy and grand. The writing is spectacular, weaving an overarching story about the titular Sandman and his siblings with touchstones throughout our collective cultural history. The Sandman pops up in retellings of Shakespeare, the myth of Orpheus, and contemporary tales of urban malaise.
What does this have to do with what I read this year? A lot more than I realized, as it turns out.
Apparently I’m a Comic Book Guy Now
I jumped into the year with Sandman, and it became something of a gateway drug. Though I read several novels as well–including Stephen King’s epic The Stand, the 80s nostalgia-gasm Ready Player One and the absolutely gorgeous All the Light We Cannot See–I kinda got hooked on comics this year. The real turning point came in October. I signed up for a two month free trial of an app called Scribd that, in addition to novels, audiobooks and sheet music, got me access to comic books. Specifically, I started reading comics from a company called Valiant Entertainment.
If you’re interested in trying Scribd, here’s a reference link that can get you a two month FREE trial like I had. If you sign up, I get a free month, too. Yippee!
Valiant Entertainment is a distant third fiddle to DC and Marvel in terms of pop culture awareness, but man they’ve got some great characters and storylines. They relaunched EVERYTHING in 2012 with just a handful of characters. The stories intertwine, and so far they remain free of confusing reboots, crossovers and misdirections. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of comic book universe that’s easier for a newbie to get into. It’s also fun to read about a bunch of characters I’ve never heard of. It feels like discovering something wholly new, even though I know that’s not fair to Valiant’s history.
But the biggest discovery in this coming out party for my comic book fandom was the series Locke & Key, written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez.* Like Sandman, it’s a complete story arc and it was already completed by the time I started it. I couldn’t put it down. The world of the story is so engaging and the artwork so good that I felt like I was watching it as much as I was reading it. Highly recommended.
2015 Was Surprising for Me as a Reader
This sudden emergence of comics in my reading habits felt like it came out of nowhere, though as I said above it’s probably more that it’s overdue than anything. In addition to the comics, several of the items on my list were audiobooks. I…don’t really like audiobooks. Or so I thought, anyway. It turns out that audiobooks were a GREAT way to pass time while hiking all over the place.
I have a particular preference for autobiographical audiobooks read by the author. If you look at the three I listened to–Kevin Smith’s Tough Sh*t, Nick Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please–they’re all written by entertainers who work in comedy. Surprise! Funny people telling stories is enjoyable. Shocking, I know.
If there’s a lesson here, and I’m ready to finish this post so now’s a good spot to try to force one in, it’s that it pays to keep an open mind. A year ago I would never have thought that a significant chunk of the reading I did this year would consist of comics and audiobooks, two formats I have almost entirely rejected up to this point. A year later, and my life would be less rich if I hewed to that mentality in the face of evidence to suggest I was missing out.
So don’t do that. If you have any inkling you might like something, that’s reason enough to try it. If you get a little ways in and hate it, quit! Every time I try something I don’t like, I tend to forget about it altogether. When I try something and I find I love it, it stays with me, and it’s worth the risk every time.
*Joe Hill is one of Stephen King’s kids, and his writing seems like a clear descendent of the old man’s. This is a good thing to me, but your mileage will surely vary.