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The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

Just as I did last year, I am listing the top five favourite books that I read in 2015, in no particular order. This list is based more on personal favoritism, rather than my feelings of their absolute quality. This has been one of my best years for getting personal reading done, since for a long time what I did read was required for school. Some of these entries have been written about this past year already, while others I did not happen to write about upon completion.

Undermajordomo Minor

Author: Patrick DeWitt

Genre: Fiction

Described as many things —a love story, a mystery, a fable without a moral, and an ink-black comedy of manners — Patrick DeWitt’s latest was a delightfully dark novel that somehow managed to follow its menagerie of descriptors quite closely. It follows Lucien “Lucy” Minor, a young man who seeks his fortune by gaining employment as an undermajordomo at the mysterious Castle Von Aux.

While I did find the plot a little simpler than I was hoping, I cannot help but think of this novel whenever I try to recall the most fun I had reading this year. Utilizing story and character tropes that hearken back to Victorian novels such as quirky stock characters, young love, and the drama of patrician folk, DeWitt twists a narrative structure that feels all too familiar by injecting it with dark humour and modern sensibilities. The end result was a novel that was genuinely uplifting to read — with particularly fun dialogue — while having a sense of Victorian optimism intertwined with the modern conception that nothing really matters.

Why I Hate Canadians

Author: Will Ferguson

Genre: Cultural Portrait

A collection of essays and anecdotes originally published in 1997, Why I Hate Canadians discusses the author’s experiences as a Canadian, as well as the history and culture of the country more generally. The book takes a sarcastic and humorous approach, in the self-deprecating way that Canadians are often known for, while at the same time making rather poignant points about the state of the country and how Canadians view themselves as a national identity.

This book helped to answer a question I’ve pondered since high school: just what the hell does it mean to be Canadian? I’m not sure I can say I have a definitive answer, but it’s the best discussion of it I’ve ever encountered. Covering multiculturalism, the love/hate obsession with the U.S., the treatment of the First Nations, and the comparatively trivial love of hockey, Ferguson was affectionate yet scathing in his critique of a country he clearly loves but has a lot of problems with. It was easily the biggest surprise this year, successfully entertaining as a read while giving me a lot to think about.

Anansi Boys

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Following the narrative conceits of American Gods — that all gods exist as physical incarnations due to human belief — Anansi Boys is about Fat Carlie Nancy, son of the god Anansi. Despite having distanced himself from his family as much as possible, Fat Charlie is drawn back to his roots after his father passes away during passionate outing of karaoke. After learning he has a brother named Spider, whom he drunkenly tries to contact, his life is changed forever.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work and this novel has only continued that feeling. I had heard this was a slower entry than others, but a few pages of his captivating style dashed those notions aside quite soundly. It expands upon the ideas introduced in American Gods while at the same time telling a more personal story that wrapped up a little too conveniently in some aspects for me, but was otherwise fantastic. The novel is a humorously nerve-wracking story about death, love, and family intertwined with godly powers and otherworldly beings. This story particularly demonstrated to me how Gaiman can somehow make upsetting or insufferable circumstances funny.

Anxiety as an Ally

Author: Dan Ryckert

Genre: Nonfiction

This book is the author’s account of his struggles with panic attacks and anxiety disorder, starting from their onset in a movie theatre on New Year’s Day in 2003. Not written as a self-help guide or resource for treatment of the condition, Ryckert shares his personal experiences with the disorder — successes and failures — furthering the conversation about mental health in the hopes of supporting others who suffer from it daily.

Having been aware of Ryckert for a while before this book I was surprised to hear that anxiety was a condition he suffered from so severely. Having earned a few Guinness World Records, written novels before, feuded on Twitter with a former baseball player, and a prominent career in gaming media, I always imagined he lived a charmed life. His personal account provided a relatable glimpse into a life with anxiety, providing insightful approaches to living with the condition. Anxiety is something I have had to deal with in varying extremes, and it was comforting to hear firsthand accounts of approaches that can help, which has motivated me to follow through with some things I otherwise might not have.

Hyperbole and a Half

Author: Allie Brosh

Genre: Humour

Based on the popular blog of the same name, Brosh’s book is a collection of anecdotes about her life paired with deliberately crude Microsoft Paint illustrations. Using a less-is-more type of approach, the simple drawings evoke a lot of expression and character. While funny, the book is also introspective, having a particularly powerful account of her experiences suffering from depression.

While the crude art style and the meme-status of her little avatar might turn people away, the book is deceptively intelligent, telling relatable stories about childhood, pet ownership, and growing up. I’m also a sucker for anything deliberately crude or nonsensical utilized in a clever way, and Brosh ran with this idea in strides. I also give her a lot of credit for not pulling any punches regarding her own personal character, presenting a surprisingly self-conscious representation of how she views herself versus how she really is. The book is cute and deeply personal, while still managing to make me laugh out loud along the way.

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