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Today I’m going to talk some more about books. What bliss!

Nonfiction:

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson
I wrote about this book here. Bill Bryson is talented at keeping me amused, what can I say?

How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ
As a female writer, I found this book particularly fascinating. This book was published in 1983, but it certainly seems relevant today. I remember a certain comment on my post earlier this year about intelligent women, making the argument that women aren’t as intelligent as men because they haven’t created as many masterpieces–in literature, in music, in the visual arts. (Don’t bother looking for that comment, by the way. I deleted it. Life is too short for such stupidity.) If you are interested in why it seems that less of the literary canon was created by women, this book will help answer that question for you.

My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
I wrote about this book here. This book’s joy comes from the irrepressible personality of Julia Child. I don’t read a lot of memoir, but maybe I should.

Adult Fiction:

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells. Fantasy
Anyone who writes a book with somewhat dragon-like characters that doesn’t cause me to throw it across the rooms deserves a lot of credit. The plot is fun here, but what I really liked in this secondary world fantasy was the world building and learning more about the society of said dragon-like creatures. We learn about it through an outsider of the society, which makes the unfolding discovery seem natural.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. Historical mystery
I asked Facebook for a recommendation for a mystery that had an eccentric woman genius as the detective, in the same mold as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. One of my friends came through for me by recommending this book, the first of a series, about the female protegé of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read several of these books, and I plan to read more. Mary Russell is a great character, and in addition to the mysteries, I love reading about her scholarship in religious history, which adds an extra dimension and depth to these books.

The Testament of Jesse Lamb, by Jane Rogers. Science fiction
Reading this book gave me a breakthrough on point of view for my own novel, The Academy of Forgetting, so I love it for that. I also like its slow pacing and build, its use of language, and its taking a familiar science fictional problem of fertility and making it intimate and deeply personal. (This book is also interesting because it was marketed as adult fiction, but it features a teenaged first-person protagonist. I’m guessing they chose to market it as adult because of the style.)

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. Literary
This book took me awhile to read, and I was in love with it the entire time. It’s set in 1890s New York high society and has echoes of Jane Austen’s novels of manners, although this book contains a more overt social critique. In Austen, her heroines are forced to operate within the rules and strictures of society, but they are able to harness these rules into providing a “happy” ending for themselves, whereas this novel shows the tension between these rules and a woman’s desires and potential happiness, highlighting the society’s damaging attitudes about women and the price that is paid to follow society’s confining rules. So very fascinating. I’m also completely intrigued by Edith Wharton now. My thanks to Rahul Kanakia for the recommendation.

vN, by Madeline Ashby. Science fiction
I can sum up my enjoyment of this novel in one word: Robots! Robots are awesome, and the robots in this novel are no exception. The ending was a bit … strange, but overall, quick pacing, high stakes, and a fun plot made this novel quite entertaining.

Washington Square, by Henry James. Literary
I also have to thank Rahul for telling me about this novel (which means I should really tell you to go follow his blog, where he talks about all these fabulous books). What’s interesting about this book is that it’s about all these really awful people, and it draws viciously accurate portraits of their personalities. We also get to see the effects of living and dealing with really awful people on the heroine, Catherine, who is sadly not awful herself (she’d probably do better in that environment if she was). A well-done family drama, set in 1880s New York.

Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Historical mystery w/ magical realism elements
I don’t really know the genre of this book. Also I have apparently been living under a rock because this book was really popular when it came out, but I only heard about it when my friend Bill Schafer mentioned it to me this year. And finally, I am reading this novel right now and am only halfway through, and I generally don’t recommend books until I finish them, because what if the ending doesn’t land? So we’re engaging in some risk-taking here. But it’s such a beautiful book so far that I feel it belongs on this list. I mean, it starts out with the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” What’s not to love about that? As a writer, I’m finding what Zafon is doing with first person POV (well, mostly 1st person) to be very interesting. As a reader, I am simply enchanted by the story and characters. Some poking around on the internet tells me that many people talk about it mainly as a mystery set in post-war Barcelona (which is such a rich setting, by the by), but I’ve been reading this as very much magical realism. The flirtation with the fantastic in this book is one of the parts that intrigues me the most.

All right, hit me with your own favorite reads of the year. I always like hearing about books that have made an impression. And if you have your own year-end book list, feel free to link to it as well.

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