Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Year in Review

When one has a blog, one ought to wrap the year up with retrospectives and top ten lists and things, right?  Unfortunately, I have a hard time looking back that far--I can understand why the Oscar hopefuls all come out at this time of year.  When you read a book in February, by December it's hard to think of it as part of "this year's" crop.

According to Goodreads, I read 108 books this year.  This comes out to 9 per month, but you have to remember that this includes comics and kids' books--not picture books that I read to Adam, but the chapter books that I read for my own pleasure.  I suppose by some scales that's a lot, but it seems kind of thin to me.  Mike points out that this is more a function of my being crazy than my not reading enough books (though he phrased it more kindly), and I'm inclined to agree.

Some highlights of the year, according to my Goodreads ratings:

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer.  Can't believe I read it this year, it seems so long ago.  I was hesitant to read this for a long time, because it seemed kind of gloomy and (irrational, I know) because it takes place in a desert.  But it brings together character, world building, and moral complexity in an amazing way. 

Fables, by Bill Willingham.  Several volumes got five stars from me this year.  War and Pieces, the culmination of the war with the Empire, just blew me away.  It was so visceral and satisfying--I loved the fact that there was no special trick or magic twist.  They planned, developed strategies, armed themselves, and blew the Adversary out of the water and it was freaking awesome.

Beat the Reaperby Josh Bazell.  Fast, funny, violent, witty, and did I mention fast?  Footnotes about anatomy, 24 hours of ER meets The Sopranos

Sabriel, by Garth Nix.  So much "high fantasy" is dense and ponderous and takes itself far too seriously.  I think this is one of the first fantasy books I've read that takes itself seriously but doesn't become ponderous and pretentious. 

The Merry Misogynist, by Colin Cotterhill.  I've liked the whole series, but this was a particular favorite.  The supernatural angle in these books has always seemed a little out of place and awkward, but in this one, it's a minor point that fits right in.  This mystery brought me back to the fun from the beginning of the series, and reminded me how very much I loved The Coroner's Lunch.

Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon, Nathan, and Dean Hale.  Okay, I love Shannon Hale up and down, and think everyone in the world should read Princess Academy.  But my reaction to Rapunzel's Revenge was doubled, because the excitement of finding a new book you love by a favorite author is boosted by the excitement of finding a really good comic book.  It's such a shot in the dark most of the time, but this was a great, well structured, fun, attractively illustrated, well written, just fun kids' comic.  So cool.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver.  I have never read a better book about mean popular kids in high school.  Usually they're so mean that you wonder what "popular" means, anyway, or they're revealed to be hiding crippling insecurity behind such a thin veneer of brittle happiness, or they hate their best friends and are thinly veiled sociopaths.  But Oliver got inside her narrator so completely that you can see how Samantha can be who she is without being deeply evil.  You can feel for and sympathize with someone who is sometimes casually cruel.  I would not have believed that could be done.

Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern.  This book was just really freaking funny.  I laughed out loud pretty much the whole time I was reading it.  Picture a 10 year old reading a joke book--that kind of laughing. 

Things We Didn't See Coming, by Steven Amsterdam.  I was a little surprised to go back and find that I'd given this book five stars, but I think it won me over by surprising me.  There is nothing standard about this future dystopia story--it's as realistic as I can imagine.  It starts with Y2K, moves on to gradual environmental degradation (between punishing storms and drought, large portions of America become unlivable).  But there's always a government, a job, some way for the narrator to scrape by, reinvent himself, and survive.

Room, by Emma Donoghue.  I've gushed about this already, but I'll just say it again--read this book.  It's sweet and visceral at the same time.  It's about a child who doesn't know how strange and terrifying his world is until he finally encounters the real world.  It's about being alien even to those who love you, about finding out what is "normal" and when it's better not to be.  And it's about motherhood--enormous, terrifying, mundane, magical.

The Reapers Are the Angels, Alden Bell.  I think this is my favorite zombie book.  It's got a standard road trip story arc, and a very traditional Old West feel to it.  But the dust has settled in this world (it helps that they're slow zombies, not fast zombies), so this isn't a story about fear, running, hiding, or fighting.  It's about drifting, about seeing the world and the beauty in the world where the structures that we've laid over God's creation are gone.  Temple is a teenager and a survivor, and she's making her way through the world, not going anywhere particular.  She's not afraid, and there's nothing really she wants--just to see what the world is made of.

Bayou, by Jeremy Love.  This is probably my favorite comic discovery this year.  It comes from a web comic, but the site that sponsored it has come down and I can't find it anywhere else.  That's okay, I'll wait for the next volume.  Lee is the daughter of a sharecropper in rural Mississippi in the '20s (I think).  When a local white girl goes missing, Lee's father is blamed; only Lee knows that her friend was taken by a creature in the swamp.  With her father waiting in jail for a lynch mob to come for him, Lee has to get her friend back from the dangerous world beneath the swamp.  The creatures and characters, the danger and fantasy in this story is incredible.  I'm so glad my local library had it sitting out for me to notice.

So, there you have it.  Year in review.  Bring on 2011!

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