Okay, this year’s rough total is 74 books (I used to be SO compulsive about keeping accurate track. Now I’ll spend a few weeks, here and there, not recording things. This is probably a healthy thing, actually. In any case, here were the best things I read this year:
Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff
Fascinating, well-paced, easy to read, great fun novel about a man with multiple personalities (SO INTERESTING). I now know 12 people who have read this book this year (8 from bookclub and I’ve loaned it to 4 others) and EVERYONE has liked it. That’s kind of shocking, actually. It’s set in the greater Seattle area, which is always fun. Honestly, I feel like I learned a lot and it was very engrossing throughout (never felt weighty or like homework). The ending is a bit rushed, which is a shame, but it’s a minor blemish on a very good story.
Mare’s War by Tanita Davis
Great stuff. Very readable and entertaining story of two teenage girls trapped on a cross-country road trip with their grandma. Throughout the journey she recounts her experiences in the army in WWII. The characters are quirky and feel very real, and throughout the novel there are postcards the girls send back to their friends. The voices feel real and it’s a quick read. Also, it won the Coretta Scott King Award.
All the King’s Men By Robert Penn Warren
This is so gorgeous. That silly wine-tasting phrase “mouth feel” applies here…the words have such an amazing mouth feel. Honestly, the prose is so poetic and gorgeous. This is definitely Literature with a capital L, but it never felt like WORK. I still can’t quite believe that I hadn’t read it before, but am so glad that I finally did. Worth it!!
The Homeland Directive by Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston
This is a fantastic graphic novel, about some deep serious conspiracy level stuff in the US govt. It’s gorgeously represented (each story arc/character plotline has a different graphic representation, which works quite well). It’s a pretty quick read, following an outbreak of a new disease. Very cool stuff. (OMG, reading this description from 2011 now in January 2021 and I’m curious to reread this in light of current events)
Light Boxes By Shane Jones
I LOVE this little book…love love love it. Read it three times this year (it’s small). It’s definitely not for everyone, however. It’s this gorgeous poetic metaphor allegorical journey through winter and depression. The descriptions are amazing…it’s full of smell and taste and touch. Flight has been banned and there is eternal winter and I love it so so much. Honestly, I’ve written so many notes on the inside cover and underlined things like crazy (habits I haven’t really done since college). Here’s part of the bookcrossing.com review I did for it “This is a strange and gorgeous experience. Small vignettes. Playful with font, text size, and placement. It’s like diving headfirst into the deep end. No, that’s not true, as that’s an abrupt forceful action. It’s like slowly sinking or wandering into the deep end, never quite realizing when your head has sunk under the water. Lyrical. Musical. Deeply disturbing at times. Challenging, and yet, very easy to absorb if you stop fighting it. Read it like a song…”
Name of the Wind AND Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Wonderful epic fantasy. Great page turning adventure. Fun characters. Well developed world. Not nearly as grim or WEIGHTY as “Game of Thrones.” It’s just fantastically fun. And I think it’s pretty approachable by those who don’t generally read fantasy, as well. Good times.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Delightful easy read about an american high school student spending her senior year at a school in Paris. It’s sweet and silly and made me laugh and made me care about these characters. It’s Young Adult, but it’s quite good.
The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds
Holy CRAP, this is a fantastic novel!! It’s such an amazing new version of some of the best southern writing (ghosts of Flannery O’Conner and Carson McCullers). There’s poverty and tragedy in this southern town, but the characters have dignity and beauty. It’s heartbreaking and amazing and gorgeous. I loved loved loved it, and desperately wished I had a literature class hiding in my closet, because I totally wanted to sink my teeth further into this. The narrator is amazing and perfectly speaks to our world now. I just want to give her a hug and make her feel safe. great accomplished stuff. This IS Literature (with a capitol L) and the author definitely knows what she’s doing.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Fun graphic novel horror story. The art is lovely and the plot is decently creepy. Found these when the internet began showing the trailer for a TV pilot that wasn’t picked up. http://www.slashfilm.com/locke-key-trailer-comic-adaptation-fox-passed/ (News flash/update from Jan 2021 in which there now is a TV series, which I haven’t watched yet. Too much “dead da” plot line for me right now).
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Really good non-zombie novel set in a zombie world. Fascinating look at the bureaucracy and the clean-up. Months after the zombie outbreak, we follow a clean-up crew. It’s well written, and asks a lot of questions about what happens after the traditional zombie books/films end. Very enjoyable
Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke
Phew, THIS is a hell of a story. Censored in his native China (the publisher had to write a big retraction and they were only allowed the initial printing) it tells the story of one of the Blood Villages in rural China (blood donations became BIG money, until HIV spread like crazy). It’s depressing as hell (obviously), but very powerful. Also, it’s based upon true stories, and this was the “toned down” version the author wrote to try to avoid censorship. The mind boggles at what else he must’ve excluded. It’s pretty cutting/scathing at times, and DEFINITELY worth reading. Upsetting, effective, powerful.
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Re-read it this year. Still love the Glass family so SO much! “Catcher in the Rye” never spoke to me the way that this family does (NINE STORIES is also fantastic). Classic. Love!
Celine by Brock Cole
Wonderful high school narrator. She’s an artist and has such powerful observations of the world around her. Great story. Moves very quickly. Lovely.
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
I debated whether to include this in the list. It’s an interesting story, changing between narrators and timelines. I didn’t LOVE it, but I found it consistently interesting, and months later, I still find myself THINKING about it. So, obviously, there’s something worthwhile there.
Union! by Ish Klein
I won a few poetry books at a raffle this year. Haven’t read just a collection of poems in years. This was definitely my favorite of the group. It’s playful. It’s got really lovely meter and flow. I read them aloud (as one always should to get the best feel/experience with poety, imo) in an evening. Klein is definitely sorting through some demons (depression, failed relationship, etc), but it is often PLAYFUL and bright, and many times it is super funny. Honestly, this little book of poems is a delight.
Dreadnaught by Cherie Priest
I was underwhelmed by BONESHAKER…I loved the alternate history/steampunk Seattle world Ms Priest had created, but couldn’t find myself caring for the characters…at all! However, DREADNAUGHT (the 2nd in the series) was much better. Mercy is a very interesting person, and following the alternate history civil war experience was fascinating (and normally I find the civil war boring boring BORING). If you read the first one and liked it (or even just thought it was ok), I think it’s worth trying this one. I quite liked it, and I’ve now purchased the 3rd, so we’ll see. (News flash/update from Jan 2021. I don’t think I ever got around to reading the 3rd book in this series)
MASH by Richard Hooker
Fun to read the source material for a cultural phenomenon, eh? Could only see Alan Alda’s face the whole time. However, while the bones of the TV series are located here, it’s a different story. Grittier, darker, which makes sense. Like much of the great dark comic tales of war, it’s quite good and interesting to read.