Thursday 20 December 2012

The Existential Ennui Review of the Year in Books and Comics: 2012 Edition

I'm afraid the title of this post is just as misleading as it was last year – more so, in fact: at least last year I had the decency to add the disclaimer "Insufferable Navel-Gazing" to the heading. Because that's what, in essence, the now-traditional (as in I've done this three years in a row, an uncharacteristic and therefore almost admirable act of perseverance on my part, if not yours) Existential Ennui Review of the Year in Books and Comics is: a willful ignoring of events in both the publishing and wider worlds in favour of introspective musings on what I've been buying and reading and then blogging about this year. And you wouldn't have it any other way, would you, you little scamps?

In an astonishing abdication of imaginative thinking, I'll be repeating the three-act format I established last year, namely: a meandering and quite probably prolix overview, i.e. this post right here; a list of all the books and graphic novels I read this year, accompanied by some half-arsed analysis; and finally my pick of the ten, or possibly twenty – I haven't decided which yet – best of those books and graphic novels. All spectacularly self-centred and arbitrary of course, in that it'll make no sense whatsoever beyond the reactionary confines of Existential Ennui, but there we have it: take it or bloody well leave it, pal.

I suggest we get the comics out of the way first, because it hasn't been a banner year for those, at least the ones of the mainstream superhero variety. For reasons I outlined here and have little wish to rake over again, I'm now buying precisely one DC Universe title – Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's Batman Incorporated – and one DC/Vertigo series: Mike Carey and Peter Gross's The Unwritten. Go read that DC New 52 post if you want to learn why I'm so disinterested in and disenchanted with DC's wares, a double-D of dissatisfaction (or does that make it triple-D...?) which has since been expanded to a triple-D (or possibly a quadruple-D) with the addition of despair (quintuple?) at the company's utterly pointless and, I expect, ultimately damaging (sextuple!) Beyond Watchmen manyminiseries. And though Marvel are faring slightly better on my increasingly infrequent trips to the comic shop, I can't honestly muster much enthusiasm for their "Marvel Now" initiative either; I quite like Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's All-New X-Men, and the first issue of Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena's Avengers wasn't bad, but that's about it.

(Incidentally, part of the reason I haven't mentioned any of this on Existential Ennui this year – other than I couldn't be fucking bothered – is because, frankly, there's quite enough comics commentary on the web as it is – and not enough musty old books commentary, evidently – without my adding to the largely ill-informed din. Honourable exceptions there being Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter, J. Caleb Mozzocco's Every Day is Like Wednesday and Tucker Stone and Abhay Khosla's "Comics of the Weak" column; bookmark those buggers if you haven't already.)

That said, and speaking of Hickman, there have been some good comics published this year – largely by Image, including Hickman and Nick Pitarra's The Manhattan Projects – and, so I'm told, graphic novels – "so I'm told" because I'm afraid I've read very few of them. Even so, I have proffered the odd comics post myself – a Notes from the Small Press or four, and even a few graphic novel reviews; just enough to warrant the keeping of the word "comics" in Existential Ennui's subtitular list of subjects covered, I feel. For now, anyway.

The irony is, while I suspect there were more comics posts on Existential Ennui this year than there were last (although I'm not about to go and check or anything; that would require a modicum of effort), there were actually fewer posts overall: as of this one, 169, as opposed to 2011's 247. Which, taking into account the fact that I managed 366 posts in 2010, means that based on these trends, in a couple of years' time there'll be no posts at all. Reason to celebrate there, I'm sure, but it does seem something of a shame, especially as latterly I went to the trouble of acquiring a custom domain name for the blog – "", formerly "" – an exciting turn of events which I then proceeded to diminish by mithering on about SEO for weeks on end.

That was probably the biggest occurrence on Existential Ennui this year – the custom domain name, not the mithering; that's a regular, regrettable occurrence – the other contender being the establishment of the permanent Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, which has been a soaraway success (well over 8,500 hits and counting), and which for me proved an enjoyable distraction from regular books blogging throughout 2012.

As for that regular blogging, I think there was some pretty decent stuff in there this year. There were series of posts on, among others, Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora spy thrillers; Dan J. Marlowe and his Earl Drake crime novels; Geoffrey Household; books vaguely to do with journalism; books which begat films; and, most recently, vintage paperbacks. There was a visit to the TV Book Club. There were competitions, and a couple of interviews, one with Christopher Nicole (alias Andrew Yorke), the other with Jeremy Duns (alias... Jeremy Duns). There was the still-unfinished Great Tom Ripley Reread, all three instalments of which I was fairly pleased with, as indeed I was with this post on Peter George, which I researched the living bejeezus out of, to the extent that I even took the extraordinary step of introducing footnotes (in truth nothing more than a feeble and embarrassing attempt to appear scholarly by aping Michael Barber's similarly footnoted but immeasurably more intellectual guest post on Kingsley Amis from 2011).

Of course, at root, the rarely stated but doubtless utterly transparent point of all this blogging is to service my secondhand book habit, and I certainly acquired some doozies this year – not only one-of-a-kind signed and inscribed firsts like Donald E. Westlake's The Mercenaries and Patricia Highsmith's Little Tales of Misogyny, but ephemera too, in the shape of a 1981 letter about publishing by Gavin Lyall and a 1974 memo from Macmillan publisher Alan Maclean (brother of Cambridge spy Donald) to Chairman Harold Macmillan (yes, that Harold Macmillan) about a P. M. Hubbard suspense novel.

Besides all that, there were posts on books by such literary reprobates as Michael Gilbert, Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, Roald Dahl (an excellent guest post by Adam Newell), Kim Philby, Graham Greene, Adam Hall and the aforementioned – and firm favourites of mine – Patricia Highsmith and Donald E. Westlake, the latter under various guises and duly cross-posted, of course, on The Violent World of Parker. One favourite author who remained conspicuous by his absence, however, was Ross Thomas: I didn't manage a single dedicated post on him (and nor did I get round to any of the books from his backlist that I've yet to read – something I fully intend to rectify next year). But since jazz musician and crime fiction aficionado Ethan Iverson posted the definitive guide to Thomas back in January, I'm not sure what more I can add... except that mentioning Ethan does give me the opportunity to thank him in public (relatively speaking) for inviting myself and Rachel along to Ronnie Scott's in October, where we were blown away by his brilliant band, The Bad Plus. (Truly, I am the master of the tricky segue.)

And someone else I'd like to thank, dear reader, is you – especially those of you who've taken the trouble to comment over the course of the year. I may make this blogging lark look easy – tortuously, torturously composed, sure, but still, I like to think, achieving a certain air of effortless flair (ha!) – but it can be bloody hard work at times, and it's not as if I get paid for the dubious pleasure of writing this shit. Knowing that you're reading, though, and seeing your comments, makes it all worthwhile. I couldn't do it without you.

...Actually I almost certainly could, but seeing as I'm keen to maintain my meagre readership, I figured it might be prudent to end on an ingratiating compliment.

Next: a big long list of the books I read this year.


  1. A vintage year by any measure, Nick--for you and EE. As to superheroes, you ask me, there haven't been any vintage years for mainstream superhero comics since Alan Moore stopped writing them. The last 20 years have been bleak bleak bleak.

    If I were ever to dip into that genre again, I'd stick to reprints of the classics--Kirby, Ditko, etc. The endless regurgitation of the same old crap wore thin for me a LONNNNNNNGGGGG time ago.

    For the same reason, I sure as hell hope the Westlake family never agrees to let new Parker or Dortmunder books be written--a dismal tradition in this literary genre, and one that should not be encouraged. Let the pop culture vultures wait for those characters to enter the public domain--blanking on whether that happens anytime this century.

    All I can say is, it's nice to have a place to discuss books that doesn't involve Oprah in some way. Looking forward to seeing what you've got in store for us in the coming year.

  2. I marvel (ha) at your effortless flair for writing, Nick. Always a pleasure to read.

  3. Chris (another one)20 December 2012 at 17:12

    A suitable note of world-weariness running through this blog - you sound as exhausted as I feel as the year drags to its end. I stumbled across this blog earlier in the year and a definite online highlight for me - easily in my top 5 most visited and enjoyed sites this year.

  4. faithful researcher20 December 2012 at 18:59

    Ditto! One of the top literary blogs on the net!

  5. Thank you, one and all. Sarcasm aside, comments like these do actually make it all worthwhile.

  6. As always sir, a pleasure to read (and this year, a pleasure to be involved!).

  7. Thank you, Adam. And a pleasure to have had you... had you on board, I mean... along for the ride... oh Jesus.