Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Accounting

As 2011 draws to a close, let's summarize what we've experienced together over the past twelve months.

According to Goodreads, I've read 106 books.  It will be 107 by tomorrow, since I'm only four pages from the end of The Weathermonger.  This count isn't a perfect representation of the picture, though, since it includes five novellas, thirteen graphic novels, and at least one audiobook performance that only sort of counts as a book.  Still, it's a good way to grasp how things have been going.

I can't tell you what the best book I read this year was, but I can give you a sampling of the five-star ratings I've given.  My star ratings (like everyone else's, I suppose) mostly reflect my reaction in the moment, and looking back on them, I'm sometimes surprised--something I only moderately enjoyed stayed with me, or something I loveloveloved loses its luster.  But sometimes, great books are just great books.  So:
Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell.  I read some good comics this year, but this one just makes me so happy.  It's an ongoing webcomic (the image links to Amazon, but he link goes to his site), and I read it through in about three days.  Halfway through, I sent the author a donation through PayPal; when I got to the end I sent him another.  There are robots, animate shadows, a mysterious boarding school, an ominous forest, teenaged relationship stress, and Coyote the trickster.  Also laser cows.  Read this, please.

Troubled Waters, Sharon Shinn.  Reviewed here.  I love Sharon Shinn.  I don't love every one of her books uncritically, but I think that makes me love her more--I know it's not just that I'm bewitched or she has a gimmick; it's that she writes such good books.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin.  Reviewed here.  I'm also reading the sequel right now.  This is one of those books that kind of blew me away with the world building--including things that I'd never seen done so well, like gods as characters--and some outings into very tricky literary ground, like irregular timelines and characters without enough information.  In my memory, it's just a really good fantasy book, but looking back to when I finished it, it really blew the doors of your average good fantasy book, and was totally worth it for that.

The Warrior's Apprentice (The Vorkosigan Saga), Lois McMaster Bujold.  I'm finally reading the Miles books.  They're just as much fun as I was promised.  I read two quickly, and now I'm dawdling so I don't finish too fast.  I can't say much about how great these are that hasn't been said a million times--the Amazon reviews alone are so glowing as to be bottomless.

Some nonfiction....

Bossypants, Tina Fey.  Reviewed here.  This is definitely one of those that I look back on with a little less enthusiasm than I had when I starred it.  But belly laughs will do that to you.  Her reading was a performance--I highly recommend the audiobook.  I laughed so hard, and I loved that she actually had a lot to say about the challenges of being a woman in an odd, male-centric field like comedy.

Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick.  Reviewed here.  Even more timely now that Kim Jong Il is dead and North Korea's about to go just a little wonkier.  Amazingly well-painted portrait of life in the modern world but cut off from it.

Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney.  Spiritual journeys--complicated ones by intellectuals, especially--are one of my favorite types of stories.  This is actually an audiobook/performance, so I'm not sure it counts as a book, but I'd like to recommend it here anyway, because I really liked the way all Sweeney's considerations orbited around trying to reconcile her experiences as a believer with the mythology she had grown up with.  Moving, and thoughtful, and funny.

And a couple of novels...

Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork. Reviewed here.  I found the ending a little problematic, but it was such a thorough, touching, and sensitive portrayal of Asperger's, I was really moved.

Rules for Virgins, Amy Tan.  This one is a novella, and absolutely lovely.  It's an instructive monologue from an experienced geisha to her student.  The subtleties of relationships--power, sex, culture--and the delicate pressures everyone is exerting are intricate and fascinating.  And the hints of character that are revealed through the lessons are equally compelling.  I wish it had been longer.

Overall, I'd say it was a pretty good year.  I found a lot of great new authors and had a lot of fun in a lot of great fantasy worlds.  There are all kinds of things that I imagine myself reading in the new year--more literary fiction, more classics--but I'm having so much fun the way I'm going, I'm not setting any goals.  We'll trust where the wind takes me.

Welcome 2012!


Aarti said...

I remember everyone raving about Marcelo in the Real World, but I've not read it yet. I admit I didn't really like the 100,000 Kingdoms at all, but I am really intrigued by your comments on Sharon Shinn. I recently read her Summers at Castle Auburn and didn't really love it, though I wonder if that has more to do with my age at the time of reading it than anything else.

Brenda Pike said...

So there you have it—you've officially beaten me. After our conversation last year I've been obsessively adding all the books I've read to GoodReads, and my total is 91. See? You *do* read more than me.