January 1, 2016

The Year in Books 2015: The CCLaP Guilty Pleasure Awards

The Year in Books 2015

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CCLaP has a proud tradition now of closing each annual Year In Books report with the coveted Guilty Pleasure Awards -- books that we loved and want to bring to your attention again, but for one reason or another just don't quite qualify for the traditional "best-of" lists we've been posting here the rest of the week. As always, they're listed in alphabetical order by title, with the particular reviewer's initials at the end of each write-up (KW: Karl Wolff; JP: Jason Pettus).

History of Joseph Smith by His Mother
History of Joseph Smith by His Mother
by Lucy Mack Smith
Bookcraft

I'm a sucker for anything relating to Mormonism. Like Scientology, it is a strange new religion, very much American in origin. The autobiography of the Prophet Joseph Smith as told by his mother represents one of the weirdest literary products from Mormon culture. (KW)

Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief
Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief
By Donna Kossy
Feral House

A classic of the genre, Kooks explores the outer limits of human beliefs. Covering everything from junk science to conspiracy theories, Kossy plumbs the depths of the intellectually weird. It is an anthropological document, preserving the otherwise overlooked fringes of culture. (KW)

Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth
Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth
By Keith Veronese
Prometheus Books

A nonfiction scientific book about obscure metals in central Asia, one of the best reads of the year? Yes! But only if you can get into the NPR spirit of it all, which is why it made the Guilty Pleasure Awards instead of my favorites list. If you're not up for a wonky read on the finer points of mining, smelting, and Cold War history, this book is going to be a real drag; but if you are, you'll see how fascinating the subject of rare metals is about to be to our society, being responsible as they are for making most of our high-tech gadgets work, but with a finite supply that is dwindling away to nothing even as we speak. It's the scramble for the unmined deposits of this material in the former Soviet states that will fuel most of the ground wars we'll see in the 21st century, so do yourself a favor and read up on this interesting subject now before the tanks start rolling. (JP)

Sick Pack
Sick Pack
By MP Johnson
JournalStone

A group of abs rebel against their Fabio-esque host in a mad bid for freedom in modern Los Angeles. Once again, MP Johnson brings a poignant emotional core to the otherwise bloody, violent, and profane genre of bizarro literature. (KW)

Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty: Stories
Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty: Stories
By Brian Alan Ellis
House of Vlad Productions

This short story collection scours the scummy denizens of all-night diners and trailer parks. By turns hilarious and horrifying, Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty, delves into the forgotten corners of our nation, exploring the lives of those passed over by the American Dream. (KW)

Welcome To Your New Life With You Being Happy
Welcome To Your New Life With You Being Happy
By Rachel Bell
Pioneers Press

Yes, I admit, I found this tiny book of tiny stories only okay when first reading it earlier this year; but I confess that Bell's work continues to grow on me as the months continue, helped quite a bit by following her drunken, comedic antics over at Facebook and elsewhere. I still contend that we haven't seen any truly great work from her yet, which is why this book is getting a Guilty Pleasure Award instead of being in my favorites list -- you have to have a high tolerance for substance abuse, ironic worship of pop culture, and other undergraduate fixations in order to truly enjoy this particular volume -- but certainly her sincere and sometimes heartfelt takes on such topics is far and away much better than the hipster parlor games of such contemporaries of hers as Tao Lin and Heiko Julien, which is why I'm excited to see what future work we'll be getting from Bell, instead of being filled with dread like when I think of so many other Millennial writers with cultish online followings. In the meantime, pick up this chapbook now, so that you too can one day proudly proclaim, "I was reading Rachel Bell long before all the mainstream douchebags were." (JP)

You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost)
You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost)
By Felicia Day
Touchstone / Simon & Schuster

It's hard to call this truly one of the best books of the year -- unlike her sharp, dark writing on the cult web series The Guild, this autobiography is often as cutesy-wootsy-tootsy as Grumpy Cat barfing a rainbow all over a unicorn's Hello Kitty collection -- but that said, it's hard not to love Felicia Day's memoir of growing up as a gifted child anyway, and especially the self-deprecating way she examines how the early online world of the 1990s gave her much-needed opportunities to brush up on normalization and socialization skills, just to have this medium turn her into a bonafide media celebrity and "geek sex symbol" twenty years later. Not to mention, a specific part of this book is worth its purchase price alone, when she very soberly takes on the ugliness in recent years regarding the so-called "men's movement" in the online gaming world, and what it's like to try to live as a normal random human while being such a easy target for such people's hate; apart from the kawaii nature of so much of the rest of this book, the last couple of chapters are a serious, deliberately political and always passionate argument for why women's rights in the online world matter, and why basic respect for women is so hard to achieve in a community of a billion anonymous strangers who face no repercussions to their actions. (JP)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, January 1, 2016. Filed under: CCLaP news | Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Profiles | Reviews |