It's been a while since we've had a good book-ish FanPost, so I thought I'd put one together. I try to put a little bit of a different twist on these whenever I do them and this time I've decided to look back on the books I've read this year--and I'd love for you to do the same. Not all of them, certainly. I'm something of a slow reader, because I have to be to stay focused, and I can crank out about 35-40 finished books a year. Some people easily read over 100. No, this is just going to be a highlights thread. What have you read this year that was notable in some way, and why?
The Left Hand of Darkness / The Dispossessed (Ursula Le Guin):
I've grouped these two because they're part of my overall read-through of Le Guin's Hainish Cycle. The truth is, I haven't met the ULG novel I didn't like (though I have met a short story or two). I found Left Hand to be a little more trying at times. It's a more difficult book with more genre-play, for one, but the characters are also more alien. That's not a bad thing. It's just a hard thing. Dispossessed really is a lovely book, though, and I was thoroughly impressed by how deftly it developed and handled the multiple meaningful connotations of its title.
Redshirts (John Scalzi):
The Hugo winner, and Scalzi's writing, seems to be pretty divisive. Though I'm not convinced Redshirts is major-award-winner good, count me solidly among the group that likes it, rather a lot. It's fast-paced, funny, and clever. I do agree with some of the criticisms Scalzi gets for his dialogue and characterization, the former of which is sometimes forced and the latter sometimes flat, but the book is a good time, darn it, and it does some legitimately surprising things with what seems like a thin premise. I also thoroughly enjoyed the much-talked-about codas.
The Shootist (Glendon Swarthout):
This book is notable for two reasons: 1) I would not normally be one to go in for the Western genre--in fact, I only read it because it was somebody else's selection in my book club, and 2) I really, really liked it. It's a thoughtful look at the end of a life, and, in a way, at the genre itself. It has pretty interesting things to say about modern myth-making, too. Really, one of the nice surprises of my year.
A Storm of Swords (George R. R. Martin):
This book put me, acutely, through my love/hate George R. R. Martin wringer. Martin left me with less room for middle ground in this book than he did in the other two. The stuff I hate about Martin's writing was hate-ier (though I think A Clash of Kings was creepier), and the stuff I love about his writing was love-ier. I was close, at one point, to putting it down and being done with it. Then, well, certain character outcomes happened and it became difficult to put down. And, if you'll excuse the pun, I haven't read a shittier ending that I enjoyed so much. I haven't tasted a Feast for Crows yet, but I assume the books will not stop being love/hate for me. I just hope they're not so extreme about it.
Wool Omnibus (Hugh Howey):
It's always an interesting experience reading the hot thing, and Wool was one of the hotter things out there for a while. It's also always interesting to look at these self-pub success stories and see what the bar is. Wool is, in my opinion, perfectly okay. It doesn't reinvent a single thing. It's relatively predictable. The reading level isn't all that high. But it moves, and I never felt compelled to put it away. As a writer, it's one of those books that, when it has success, gives you that encouraging sense of "Yeah, I could do this," without that infuriating sense of "This shit is what people want to pay to read?"
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman):
This was easily my favorite book of anything I read this year. It's short, but dense. It's really, really lovely. It's a concentrated burst of Gaiman's pre-occupations. Dreams? Doors? Hecate? Other mothers? Storytelling? Myths? It really felt like everything Gaiman has scratched at in each of his other works was here, and more vulnerable than ever. It felt like the book he's been trying to write since he left Sandman behind. I can't recommend this one enough, though I can recommend it a lot less for people who aren't already familiar with Gaiman.
Zone One (Colson Whitehead):
This was an interesting book. Whitehead's The Intuitionist is such a great book, and this one shares some of the same characteristics that one did. A small, slow beginning that builds to a satisfying end. However, this one felt more like a struggle for Whitehead. Was it being in the zombie genre? Sometimes it felt like it was trying too hard. Trying to sound literary. Trying not to give in to the impulse to show much zombie action. Trying to decide whether to take advantage of the genre's typical social criticisms or make fun of them. I found it consistently interesting, but I'm not sure I can say that I enjoyed it.
Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein):
This one was notable because of how much I hated it. I'd never read Heinlein before, but I know, obviously, his position in the pantheon. Hated it. I wasn't aware before going in about the controversies over his writing (particularly his later career). Hated it. Though I did learn of them after--in part because I just HAD to Google whether or not other people were bothered by the same things I was (do you ever do that? hate a book or a movie and then Google "(title of thing) sexist/racist/sucks" just to see what comes up?). I hated this book. The story goes away so Heinlein can use a mouthpiece to lecture his audience about... every crazy thing he believes... for hundreds of pages. And did I mention the wish fulfillment? Oh, lord, the wish fulfillment. I hated it.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Alison Bechdel):
I really like the creative non-fiction genre, and I like it even more in graphic form. The structure of this book is largely circular and referential, and both of those can get tiring, but there are some moments of astonishing pain and clarity throughout. As somebody who lost a parent very suddenly, though in significantly different circumstances, I found Bechdel's search for personal meaning in her father's death... extraordinarily familiar. It's really good.
The Wise Man's Fear (Patrick Rothfuss):
This was the last book that I finished, and it's another one of those mixed feeling sort of things. The Kingkiller Chronicles have gotten A LOT of praise and love and so on and so forth and, well, while I like it so far, I don't love it. It does seem like an impeccably planned and dense series, but the voice of the writing feels workmanlike and oddly modern (though I usually dislike when people play the anachronism card with works that don't have a defined time period or, in fact, don't even necessarily take place on Earth -- such as ASOIAF: it's NOT the middle ages, jerks; it's not even on this fucking planet). Wise Man's Fear in particular is clearly very pleased with itself, which puts me off a bit, and indulges in more than its fair share of wish fulfillment, which puts me off more. But it is fast. It is clever. It is even unpredictable. It is also deep and fairly thoughtful, and the central conceit about how loudly silence speaks (which is the whole point, as I read it, of the Chandrian preventing people from talking about them a bunch) really gives the book a lot to chew on. I will be reading Day 3 whenever that happens, but my jury is still kind of out on this one. I haven't bought my ticket on the Pat Rothfuss express quite yet, I guess.
So, I mean, that's me. What about you?