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.
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!