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Posts Tagged ‘book love’

Yay, more talk about books! Sometimes I wish I read faster so I could talk about books on the blog all the time.

So today I’m going to talk about adult fiction (and by adult fiction, I mean fiction marketed to adults as opposed to children or teenagers). I read a few memoirs and a few really strong nonfiction titles this year as well, but I have so much fiction to talk about, I’m going to stick to that for now.

Books that got a ton of buzz this year and I liked but I don’t need to talk about:

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Definitely memorable. Fun to compare the movie and the book.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Won the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Clarke this year.

Mainstream and classic novels I read and enjoyed:

The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating, by Ernessa T. Carter. I haven’t read much chick lit in years because I got kind of bored with it, but this one felt fresh and different, focusing on careers as well as relationships and concerned with actual emotional issues and how they can be changed. Also had many different POV characters, which I liked.

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. It begins with a group of teenaged friends at an arts summer camp, and then it traces their history together through middle age, told from the perspective of one of the friends who thinks she’s the least interesting. Sometimes it’s bleak and other times it’s uplifting, and I guess it’s kind of like real life. Even the arcs feel kind of like real life.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. So this is a classic, and from a narrative perspective, it’s also kind of weird, and features stream of consciousness, and jumps in interesting ways from point of view to point of view. The language choices are stunning.

The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. I feel like most of the people I know wouldn’t like this book because it is bleak and the characters are all pretty awful and unsympathetic, but I thought it was great, which I guess tells you something about me.

Dangerous Liaisons, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Okay, these characters are also awful and unsympathetic, but in this case, they are SO MUCH FUN. The movie version with Glenn Close and John Malkovich has been one of my favorite movies for a very long time, and the book, an epistolary narrative from many different perspectives, is just as wicked and fun and thought-provoking, if not more so.

Older SF/F that I completely adored:

The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse. I bought this book a few years ago and finally got around to reading it this year. And I thought it was incredible. It’s very dense and kind of dry on purpose because its framing story is being a kind of academic text. As such, it also sometimes requires reading between the lines. It is not an easy book, or a fast book, or a plot-driven book. And it is very much a product of its time in that there are no named women characters, I don’t think. It explores several key themes with great depth and insight, and the game itself, along with the culture that has built up around it, fascinates me.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I don’t usually include re-reads on this list, but this is one of my favorite novels of all time, and it had probably been ten years since I’d read it. And now I can appreciate the mastery of the writing even more than before. This book is dark and powerful and freaking brilliant. And reading it again was a kick because I could see ways in which it has influenced me as a writer.

Books books books!

Books books books!

More recent SF/F that I really liked:

S., by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. People asked me if this was good, and I couldn’t really tell them. But if you like experimental and strange metafictional stuff, I recommend this. It’s several stories woven together into one book, using the actual text of the novel, the footnotes, and notes in the margins of the pages, along with various post cards, letters, etc. tucked away between the pages. Definitely unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had.

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. I’ve only read three of his novels, and each one of them is like a multi-faceted, highly polished jewel.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters. Told from the POV of a new police detective during the last few months pre-apocalypse, the first of this trilogy is basically a procedural (and a solid one at that). But Ben Winters shifts this structure as the trilogy continues to good effect. This one caught my imagination and ends up being a surprisingly deep exploration of the meaning of life. Highly recommended.

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord. I didn’t like this book all that much at first because it was in an unfamiliar style. I forced myself to continue reading, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I got to the end, I was enchanted.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. Is this SF/F? In my opinion, no. But it is charming, very well-written, and deals with some deep questions. It also involves dysfunctional family dynamics (among other things), and you know how much I love those!

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. This reminded me a bit of Kage Baker’s Company books with its conspiracies and shadowy organizations. The premise is different, however; in this one, there are people who live their lifetimes over and over again on a repeated loop. They can retain their memories from one lifetime to the next, though, thus being able to make changes and thus making the highly interesting premise of this book.

Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. This retelling of the Snow White fairy tale is unexpected and creeps into your mind to stay. I feel like I’m still processing it. It deals with themes of race and gender and passing and appearances, and also with trauma. It’s kind of maybe magical realism, or some kind of liminal fantasy thing. I had trouble fitting the ending with everything that came before, but still well worth the read.

On a Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard. This is an amazing science fiction novella that was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards last year. Novella, for those of you who don’t know, means it’s a bit shorter than a standard novel. This story has it all: an intriguing plot, strong world building, compelling characters, and themes explored in a meaningful way. I really loved it.

My Two Favorite Adult Fiction Books of the Year (both are SF/F):

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi. This book is hard to talk about. It is also brilliant. Its structure is unusual, in that it is a series of stories that are being told (kind of) in collaboration between two characters, and there are some characters that recur and there are resonances between the stories, but sometimes more than others. You see, I told you it is hard to talk about. Pretty much as soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again. There is a lot of darkness in this book, and violence, particularly against women, that is carefully examined. Fairy tales dwell on its pages, sometimes overtly and sometimes only in echoes. Here is a more detailed review.

The Drowning Girl: a Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I think about this book and I want to swoon, that’s how good it is. Powerful, evocative writing; an unreliable narrator who has schizophrenia and really isn’t sure what is real and what isn’t; liminal fantastical elements shimmering on the page; psychological horror with so sharp a blade you won’t notice you’re bleeding. Oh, this book. I can’t stop thinking about it. Also, if I had a Christmas list, this special edition of this novel would be at the very top; I could never justify purchasing it for myself, but it is so very beautiful.

What I’m looking forward to reading next year:

Falling Sky, by Rajan Khanna

The Ultra Thin Man, by Patrick Swenson

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (just started this one on Monday!)

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

The Red Tree, by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

The Southern Reach trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz (out in March 2015)

And yeah, again, I could just go on and on and on. My to-read list is immensely long at this point. This strategy seems to be working out for me, since I can’t remember the last time a year of reading has been this inspiring and interesting and wonderful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for 2015!

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2014 was an AMAZING reading year for me. So incredible that I have trouble shutting up about it sometimes. Honestly, the only bad thing about my reading year has been knowing how hard these year-end reading posts will be to write. Because how can I choose between all these amazing books I read this year?

So yeah, this might be kind of long. And I might also not mention some books that would normally make the cut.

First, a few stats because I geek out about these things. So far in 2014, I’ve read 57 books. (Of course, there are still three weeks of the year to go, so I suspect the final count will be higher.) 22 of the 57 were YA or MG (although I only read two MGs this year), or about 39%. 20 were adult science fiction or fantasy, or about 35%. 41 were written by women, about 72%. And thanks to my POC reading challenge, 14 were written by people of color, at not quite 25%.

Today I’m going to be talking about the YA novels I’ve read this year that have stuck with me. Most of the titles are contemporary YA (I read a lot of it this year).

Books, books, and more books!

Books, books, and more books!

Interesting Enough to Mention:

Shatter Me, Unravel Me, Ignite Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi (dystopia)

I was torn as to whether to include this trilogy on my list, and I’m still a bit torn. It certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, to put it mildly. It is overwrought (which I actually like but your mileage will vary), it is melodramatic, there are plot holes, the world building is … not the most convincing thing ever. But. (You knew there was going to be a but.) If the overwrought prose style doesn’t drive you bonkers, it is actually a fascinating reflection of the character’s precarious mental state, and it changes over the course of the three books as she changes, and that’s just cool. And I love the protagonist’s character arc across the three books. Also, Tahereh Mafi knows how to write a romance. But there are some troubling indications of gaslighting etc. here too. So, I don’t know. Definitely memorable enough to talk about, that’s for sure.

The Testing, Independent Study, Graduation Day trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau (dystopia)

An easy-to-go-down, suspenseful dystopia trilogy. The main criticism I’ve heard about it is that the main character is a Mary Sue. Yeah, whatever, it was nice to watch a female character be so competent. (And I’ll mention that so often when the female main character is not a Mary Sue, instead she’s “unlikeable.” Oh, what a fine line we draw for our fictional women.)

My Favorite YA Reads of the Year:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (Fantasy)

I feel like this book has a disadvantage because I read it waaaay back at the beginning of January, which means I don’t remember its details super well. What I do remember is that it is a creative dragon fantasy that didn’t irritate the hell out of me, which is noteworthy in and of itself. Also it featured music, hooray! And a plot that (from what I remember) held together for me AND was exciting.

Reality Boy, by A.S. King

Yay, a dysfunctional family story told from the victimized and traumatized viewpoint of the “Crapper,” as he became known in his family’s reality TV days. (I realize that might have come across as sarcastic, but I am actually completely serious in my love for dysfunctional family narratives. Their potential for conflict and depth is verra attractive.)

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

You either love this book or you hate this book, apparently based on whether one twist towards the end works for you or not. It worked for me, and therefore I loved the book. That being said, I also liked the structure, the interstitial “fairy tales,” and our troubled protagonist. Yes, she is privileged, and that privilege is worked into how messed up everything in her life is, which I appreciated.

Since You Asked, by Maurene Goo

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot of this one. What I do remember is that it was FUNNY. The protagonist Holly is hilarious and snarky and full of attitude and I could read her voice all day. Also she gets into trouble by writing a newspaper column, and I love novels that feature high school students working on newspapers, so this is my jam.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin

Stories featuring amnesiacs are also my jam, and this one is less silly and more serious than most of them. I’m fascinated by memory, and the way this book played with that theme was thought-provoking as our heroine got to see her life and the people in it from a different perspective. I also liked its realistic handling of romance.

Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers

My friend recommended this, and as you know, I am always leery of books that have been recommended to me. But I gave it a try, and then I felt like my friend knows me! Because this was such a good Amy book! Dark and gritty with a not-very-likeable protagonist whom I adore to pieces. It’s about rape culture and bullying and going to a dark place for self-preservation, and it all felt very, very real.

The Truth About Alice, by Jennifer Mathieu

And then I found this book soon afterwards, and it explores some similar themes, but the structure is oh! so brilliant. There are several different point of view characters, all of whom give the reader different pieces of the puzzle to understand the swirl of rumors surrounding the central character Alice. And we don’t hear from Alice herself until the very end.

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

This was probably my favorite YA read of the year. I love the prose, I love the contrasting POV characters of brother and sister. I love the structure of how there was a gap in time between the alternating chapters: in the brother’s chapters they are 13, and in the sister’s chapters they are 16. I love the sibling relationship with so much love. I love the characters and their passion and their dark broken places. I love the truths that come to light as the story unwinds itself. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending, which was a bit too pat for me. But even so, wow, what a book.

What I Want to Read in YA Next Year:

I’d love to read a YA dystopia that really holds together plot-wise for an entire three books! Or else isn’t three books long. That would be cool. Also unlikely since dystopia is not the it genre any more.

Now That You’re Here, by Amy K. Nichols. This is my friend’s YA science fiction novel that COMES OUT TODAY! I am very excited about it!

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers, who wrote Some Girls Are above (out in April 2015)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King

Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

The Young Elites, by Marie Lu

I Was Here, by Gayle Forman (out in January 2015)

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman, a companion novel to Seraphina above (out in March 2015)

Rhiannon, by David Levithan, a follow-up to Every Day, may be coming out; if so, I’m all over that! I still think about Every Day sometimes.

Okay, okay, obviously I could go on forever here, so I’m cutting myself off. What YA novels did you read and like this year? Which ones are you looking forward to reading next year?

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I keep a log of all the books I read every year, and when I looked down my list at the end of last year, I noticed something. I was doing a great job reading many women writers. I was happy that I was branching out and reading a variety of books, not just YA and SF&F. But the number of POC writers on my list was low. Eight percent of my total.

I looked at past reading years (I’ve been logging since 2009), and I found that no matter how many books I read each year, the number of POC writers I was reading consistently fell between seven and ten percent. Not completely horrendous, but also not great. So I told myself, I’ll try to pay more attention in 2014 and up that number. (It would require another post to discuss why I think this is important. I’m adding it to my list.)

I did a little bit of research to find more POC writers I thought I might like, and then I did a little bit more. It was more work than I’d thought it would be, because a lot of the lists repeated the same few names over and over again, or they turned out to be about books with POC characters written by white writers, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

And then yesterday I was looking over my reading list so far from the year, almost three-quarters of the way in, and I realized I’m not doing enough. POC writers only account for eleven percent of my reading this year, which is only a few percent higher than years I wasn’t paying any attention at all. I decided I’d have to be more systematic if I was actually going to improve.

So I spent more hours combing through the internet, looking for writers and specific books that I think I might enjoy (sometimes I can be a bit picky). I poured through lists of POC writers, I read some posts from the #weneeddiversebooks campaign from earlier this year, I peered at author photos and read their bios and interviews, and I combed my bookshelves. And I compiled a list.

It is a somewhat strange list. It doesn’t include any books I’ve already read (hence the glaring omission of Octavia Butler, among others). It includes certain books because I already happen to own them. It doesn’t include certain books that I’m not interested in reading right now (this is a list that is supposed to help me read more, not discourage me from doing so). It has lots of different types of books so I can find something I want to read no matter my mood. And I’m going to keep adding to it because I know there are so many more books out there by POC writers that I’d love to read and just don’t know about yet.

Here is the commitment I’m making to myself. I’ve recently joined two book clubs (yeah, I know, I don’t know what I was thinking either), so I can’t control the reading for those. And sometimes I need to read something specific for a writing project I’m working on. But aside from that, the next six books I choose to read will come from this list of works by POC writers. That should bring me to more like twenty percent for the year, given how much I expect to read. And between those six books and my book club reading, that might be about all I have time for.

I’m publishing my list because I don’t think there are enough of these lists out there, and I was surprised at the amount of time it took me to compile it. I’d also love to hear about any books by POC writers that you would like to mention or recommend in the comments.

Adult SF/F:

  1. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu
  2. Falling Sky, by Rajan Khanna (out Oct. 7)
  3. The Killing Moon, by N.K. Jemisin
  4. Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany
  5. The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu
  6. The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
  7. Mindscape, by Andrea Hairston
  8. Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi
  9. The Best of all Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord
  10. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi
  11. White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi
  12. Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
  13. All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  14. Harmony, by Project Itoh

Other Adult:

  1. Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. The Unconsoled, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  5. Lullabies, by Lang Leav (poetry)
  6. Follow Her Home, by Steph Cha
  7. Beauty and Sadness, by Yasunari Kawabata
  8. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
  10. Bitch is the New Black: a Memoir, by Helena Andrews
  11. The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, by Ernessa T. Carter

YA:

  1. The Silence of Six, by E.C. Myers (out Nov. 5)
  2. Since You Asked, by Maurene Goo
  3. Pointe, by Brandy Colbert
  4. Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn
  5. The Young Elites, by Marie Lu (out Oct 7)
  6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han
  7. Prophecy, by Ellen Oh
  8. Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
  9. Rivals in the City, by YS Lee (out of print)
  10. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  11. Champion, by Marie Lu (this is the 3rd book of the trilogy)
  12. Once We Were, by Kat Zhang (this is the 2nd book of a trilogy)
  13. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
  14. Control, by Lydia Kang
  15. Unravel Me, by Tahereh Mafi (this is the 2nd book of a trilogy)

And here is a (very partial) list of resources I used to compile this list:

We Need Diverse Books and 27 POC Authors

We Need Diverse Books Summer Reading Series

You Want More Diversity in Your Pop Culture? Here’s How to Find It

100 Books by Black Women Everyone Must Read

Diversity and List of Books by 23 Asian American and Other POC Writers Part I and Part 2

For more information on this campaign, visit weneeddiversebooks.org.

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This weekend at Legendary ConFusion I’m going to be on a panel in which we discuss recent science fiction and fantasy novels that we thought were good, along with some that are coming out soon that we’re looking forward to. So it’s basically a recommendation panel. The perfect time for me to write about what I think about recommending books.

The problem with book recommendations is that taste differs. The biggest mistake I see people making with their recommendations (or at least the one I notice most often) is that they assume because they liked a book, that means I’ll like the book, even when they know nothing (or very little) about what I like and dislike. Which is another way of assuming everyone will like the book.

Everyone will NEVER like every book. I know this all too well because I have what I’ll call a distinctive sense of taste. This doesn’t mean I think my taste is better than other people’s, or even particularly developed. It means that there are plenty of books–particularly adult science fiction and fantasy–that are extremely popular and that I either really didn’t like or can’t force myself to get through.

Photo Credit: jinterwas via Compfight cc

As it turns out, readers enjoy different things and are bothered by different things. I read primarily for character, although I also appreciate a good plot. (See my love for Agatha Christie. A lot of her characters are pretty cardboard, but the mysteries are so compelling to me that I don’t care.) If the characters are interesting to me, I don’t mind a slower pace and I’ll even overlook some sloppy plotting (aka a coincidence or two). I am bothered by characters who don’t seem real, by extremely dense prose, by large and gaping plot holes, and by most large infodumps. I can sometimes let fairly far-fetched world building go, especially in the high-concept stage of the world, as long as the world remains consistent and the characters are involved in a struggle that captures my imagination. But even I have my limits. (Love is a disease that everyone is cured from when they’re 18? Nope. Couldn’t believe it.)

I don’t mind dark fiction, and I don’t mind sad endings, but I’m less excited if the entire novel is just flat-out depressing to me. (I couldn’t finish Revolutionary Road for this reason.) There are certain fantastical tropes that I’m pretty tired of, including: werewolves, Fae anything, dragons, and portal quests. That being said, I still read novels with these elements, I’m just more picky about how they’re handled. For some reason I have more patience for vampires, witches and other magic users, and the politics associated with monarchies. There is a whole complicated system of subgenres that I’m more likely to enjoy or bounce off.

This is all to say, recommending novels blindly is like doing anything else blindly: your success rate is not going to be all that great. So when I recommend novels, I prefer to do it by describing what a novel is like and leaving it to my audience to decide if it fits into their taste. For example:

  • This novel is like this other novel you might have read or heard about, and this is how.

  • This novel is great if you don’t mind the silly central world building idea. If that kind of thing bothers you, though, give it a pass.

  • This novel is this particular sub-genre, or maybe these two sub-genres combined.

  • This novel is fast- or slow-paced.

  • This novel concerns itself with this fantasy or science fictional trope. (If I think it’s a fresh take on the trope, I’ll say that as well.)

  • This novel is on the literary side. (If questioned, I can then try to define how I think this expressed itself in the particular novel under discussion.)

  • This novel is all about the action. This novel is light and fun.

  • This novel really made me think. (And if I can say about what, all the better!)

It’s okay that we’re not all going to love exactly the same things, whether they be books, movies, or activities. And not all recommendations are going to be equally successful for all people. To me, a book recommendation is more like a blip on my radar. Now I know the book exists, and I can make my own decision as to whether to read it or not.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to try new things, educate our taste, and expand our horizons. No one else can do it for us. They can only offer ideas and possibilities of which directions to go exploring.

Can you describe your taste in novels?

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First of all, I stayed up late to finish Insurgent by Veronica Roth last night (the final novel in her Divergent trilogy). If I’d finished it before Tuesday, it would have made my best YA list, so I’m giving it a shout-out right now. The ending was…something. Veronica Roth didn’t play it safe writing this one; she took a big risk, and while I’m sure some readers didn’t like what she did, for me I felt like she avoided the easy way out and instead opted to say something important. So I’m entirely on board with the book.

And now I’m going to switch my focus to adult fiction. Well, adult fiction and one memoir.

Honorable Mention:

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls’s memoir of her childhood was fascinating and well-balanced in showing both tender and excruciatingly difficult moments. I did find myself wishing for more time spent on her adulthood so I’d be able to see her character arc more clearly, but I do understand that wasn’t the purpose of this memoir.

My Favorite Adult Novels of the Year:

Just don’t expect to get much sleep while you’re reading this one.

Nexus and Crux, both by Ramez Naam

These two science fiction novels have probably gotten the majority of my in-person talking up time this year. Near-future, cool ideas, compelling characters, page-turning thrillers. What’s not to love? I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Old School, by Tobias Wolff

I picked this up after my friend Rahul recommended it and I was not disappointed. It’s literary fiction set at a boys’ boarding school, and the protagonist is just so interesting to hang out with for a while. The stakes in the story are, for the most part, relatively small, but I actually really get invested in small stakes in many stories, and this was certainly one of those cases.

Love Minus Eighty, by Will McIntosh

When I heard Will McIntosh was writing a novel based on his Hugo award-winning short story “Bridesicle,” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And this time, my anticipation paid off. The world building is strong and I love how the idea of “Bridesicles” introduced in the short story was further developed. I also loved that this was an interesting science fictional story that also incorporated romantic elements to good effect.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I’ve heard this novel compared to vN by Madeline Ashby, which made my list last year, but while both novels are about robots, they are very different in tone. Where vN is more an adventure story, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has a slower pace and a more literary voice. It is not so much a story about robots as it is the story of the coming of age of a girl, and how her relationship with one robot changes and affects her over the course of her life. And it was so beautifully done. io9 has a fantastic review if you want to learn more.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

I had never read anything by Shirley Jackson apart from her famed Lottery story, and I decided it was time to change that. This novel features one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator I’ve had the joy to experience. It’s creepy and sneaky and liminal, and it could be read as completely realistic or as fantastical or as simultaneously both.

 

Thinking back on these novels has made me so happy. So much amazing writing! Here are some other adult novels I’m looking forward to reading soon. They’re all already out, and the last four are even in my possession.

Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

iD, by Madeline Ashby

Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Map of the Sky, by Felix J. Palma

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay

What novels have you read this year that stand out for you? What novels are you excited to read? Any 2014 releases you want to clue me in about?

 

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It’s once again the time of year where I look back over my reading list and think about my favorite reading experiences from the past twelve months.

I didn’t read as many novels this year as I have in recent years. Partly, this was because I began reading plays for one of the local theater companies, which took up a bit of my reading time. But mostly it was because, for the first time, life events took so much of my focus that I didn’t have much left over for reading. Let’s hope this changes in 2014!

Today I’m going to talk about the YA novels I enjoyed the most this year and follow up with a list of titles that I’m looking forward to reading in upcoming months.

Honorable Mentions:

When We Wake, by Karen Healey

Science fiction about a teenager who dies during a protest and then is woken up a hundred years later, after being cryogenically frozen. As many Amazon reviewers mention, there are a lot of political ideas in this novel; I personally did not find them too heavy-handed, but your mileage may vary. I really enjoyed the world building and the setting of a future Australia. The actual story did remind me a bit of The Long Sleep, though.

The Originals, by Cat Patrick

Light science fiction about three teenage sister clones. They divide each day into three: high school morning classes, high school afternoon classes, and extracurricular activities after school, while the other two clones are homeschooled. What makes this novel is the family dynamics, both between the three sisters and the relationship they have with their mother.

My Favorite YA Novels of the Year:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

Holly Black makes vampires fresh and creepy (no small feat!). Her protagonist has a strong voice that pulled me right through.

The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson

The finale of the trilogy begun with The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers, this novel had a big job to tie everything up in a satisfying conclusion for our heroine, and it did not disappoint. A very strong YA epic fantasy trilogy.

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

This YA contemporary novel follows the life of Lucy, a concert pianist prodigy who, in reaction to family pressure, retired during her teens. The reader gets to watch as she explores her family dynamics and decides what place to give music in her life. Complex characters, character relationships, and family dynamics combined with a passion for classical music? This is novel written for me.

The Different Girl, by Gordon Dalquist

I don’t want to say much about this one for fear of spoiling it, but I can assure you that it is definitely science fiction. We see the world from the perspective of our young protagonist, who is sheltered and often ignorant, and we learn about how the world actually works as she does. I found this story to be compelling and beautiful as it gradually unfolds.

YA Novels I’m Looking Forward to Reading in the Future:

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart (comes out in May 2014)

Reality Boy, by A.S. King

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick (comes out in April 2014)

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (I’m in the middle of this one right now)

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (It’s already on my Kindle, hooray!)

Roomies, by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr (comes out December 24, 2013)

Which YA novels did you read and enjoy this year? Which ones are you looking forward to?

 

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I was hanging out in the hallway at the Nebula Awards weekend last Friday when I ran into my friend Rahul. He proceeded to completely floor me by mentioning that he throws books away when he finishes them.

“But you don’t literally throw them away, right?” I couldn’t help asking. “I mean, you don’t put them in the garbage, do you?”

“Actually,” he said, “I put them in the dumpster.”

After a few minutes of spluttering, I said, “I’m totally going to blog about this!” So here I am.

As appalled as I am by the idea of actually throwing books away (as opposed to giving them to Goodwill or selling them to the used bookstore), my constant struggle to stay within my allotted shelf space gives the idea a certain shine. Plus, there is no denying it’s easier to walk down to my garage and chuck some books in the dumpster than it is to make a trip to Goodwill. But really Rahul’s strategy highlights a key question:

Are books disposable objects? What value do they retain once we’ve read them? What value do they have if they sit on our shelves for years without ever being read? (My to-read shelves have expanded to encompass an entire tall bookshelf so I’m sure some of them will never be exposed to my eyeballs.)

I approach the ownership of books from a position of scarcity. I remember when I could only afford to buy a couple of (mass market paperback) books per year. This meant that my small personal library acquired an almost sacred feel to it, and I never got rid of any books, even ones that I really didn’t like. Even now, when I do sell books back to my local used bookstore, it’s not an activity without a certain element of pain (which also means I procrastinate about doing it). And I hardly ever remove an e-book from my Kindle and dread the day when I fill it up so I’ll be forced to curate my collection.

The bulk of my library. Once I take care of those boxes, this will be my dream room realized.

The bulk of my library. Once I take care of those boxes, this will be my dream room realized.

On the other hand, even while I adored my small personal library, I turned to the public library for the bulk of my reading. And heavy library usage does support the idea of books as disposable objects for the individual, if not for society. I kept my library books for two weeks or a month, and then the vast majority of them I never checked out again. Is Rahul’s practice of chucking his read books into the dumpster so much different, given that many libraries use donated books to raise funds through book sales instead of actually cataloguing and storing them? Sure, the library will receive fifty cents or a couple of dollars for that book donation, but not enough money to get anyone really excited.

So maybe books really are disposable objects. But I still can’t imagine throwing mine in the trash can; they have too much of an aura of magic and possibility for that. I’ve imbued these objects with so much meaning that I can’t bear to part with them, just as another person saves ticket stubs or theater programs. Except they’re not quite the same; books represent not only an experience I had in a past, but an experience I can choose to have again, albeit perhaps in an altered form since each reading of a book can expose new layers.

What do you think? Are books disposable? Do you throw books in the trash when you’re through with them? Should you start?

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