So, I was thinking of doing a top ten list, but I just can't do those. Top ten books I'd want to read again? Books I had fun reading? Books I would take to an island with me? Books that changed my life? No, no.
Instead: ten notable books that I read this year. Not that they were published this year, just ten books that I read this year that I would like to mention, made note of, nod to. It's an amalgam of books I'm glad I've read and ones I'd like to read again, books that made me laugh and books that I have respect for.
In no particular order:
1) Fool, by Christopher Moore. Gritty and smart and fast and so amazingly funny. King Lear's fool is holding his small world--and the kingdom--together by the skin of his teeth.
2) The Safe-Keeper's Secret, by Sharon Shinn. So unremarkable I can only say that this book is on the list because I read it months ago and just cannot stop thinking about it. It beat out a lot of more action-packed and popular books, because it was so totally engrossing. The daughter of a safe-keeper--someone who will keep any secret told to her, forever--is trying to figure out what it takes to be a safe-keeper herself.
3) Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer. The whole series could stand in here; I can't believe I read them all this year. There is no romp quite like it--the story of a ten year old street urchin who changes her name from Mary to Jack and signs on as a ship's boy in Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Everyday sailing, wild adventures, and a secret to keep. All the swashbuckling you could hope for.
4) The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. I put these together, because I just couldn't choose one over the other. The series begins with The Thief, but I think these stories contain more intrigue and complexity, and I like them better. The crafty character who's one step ahead of everyone else--great stuff.
5) American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I would never in a million years have believed that you could make me understand how a reasonable person could find herself married to someone (exactly) like George W. Bush, but here you have it. A lovely, sympathetic account of a very reasonable woman whose life is shaped by the man she married.
6) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. A feel-good page turner about a reporter in the late 1940s corresponding with, visiting, and writing the story of the residents of the island of Guernsey, which lies between England and France and was occupied by the Nazis during the war.
7) City of Thieves, by David Benioff. Another war story, somehow, this one in St. Petersburg during the Seige of Leningrad. The balance of humor and pathos, light and dark, hope and grim, horrifying reality, is just amazing. Two young men, condemned under military law for breaking curfew, will be spared if they can find the general a dozen eggs--in a city where thousands are starving.
8) The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. I would have said that you couldn't write a book for kids this young that is this complex. But I would be wrong. Four brilliant kids, their mentors, and a conspiracy to take over the world that only they can solve. Plus puzzles.
9) In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. I can't say I didn't already know what he had to say, but I was impressed with how effectively he presented his arguments in such a short book. It's laid out very sensibly. This is a topic that I think a lot about, especially about the institutional changes that need to happen in the world we live in.
10) Chalice, by Robin McKinley. Another one that I just can't stop thinking about. I'll tell you, I'm not even fully sure this is a great book. It might be kind of clunky. But there is something about the quiet stillness of the story, the character who's balancing her small life, politics that she's been sucked into, and the lives that are on the line and in her hands, that just won't let me go. I want to read it again.
There you have it. When I went through my book journal, these are the ones that jumped out at me, the ones I wanted to point out. Some general statistics: I read 104 books total this year, which is an average of about 8 per month. A really surprising majority of them were young adult or children's books, and a lot were fantasy. I knew I read a lot of that, but this year, I think it was a much higher proportion even than usual.
Except for the series that I'm eager to follow, I think I've begun to swing the other way. Not that I'm not going to keep reading a lot of these, and not that I don't still love them. But if I have time, I think it's time to get into something meatier. Even for light reading, there are more substantial choices out there. I'm about to enter a Personal Library Renaissance. I've got a great queue in place. I hope I have enough time to keep up!
Happy New Year, everyone!