Saturday, January 07, 2012

Books (other than scholarly) I read in 2011

Sometimes I need to remember that I love to read.

Here, in recognition of that fact, are as many as I can remember of the (non-scholarly) books I read (for the first time) in 2011:


  • The Magicians; The Magician King, Lev Grossman: These two books might be the best fantasy I read all year. Narnia, Harry Potter, eat your heart out. This is adult fantasy (and not in the just-off-Highway-11 way, either)
  • Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut: Loved it, really weird and good and redemptive; the last few scenes were amazing. 
  • Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut: It was good, but I liked Bluebeard better, honestly.
  • Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart: This book was hilarious and the main character pathetic, in all senses of that word.
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald: I cannot believe I made it this far without reading this, but after reading it, I felt transcendent. This book deserves its place in the canon.
  • A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin: Meh. It was okay. The Bran parts were my favorite. I sort of liked where Daenerys' story ended up, too. Obviously I was going to read it, but it wasn't awesome by any means, and in parts it was sort of a slog.
  • The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss: Great followup to his first novel. Right up there with Grossman for best fantasy read of the year.
  • Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson: Engrossing, informative, but a bit confusing. I got bogged down so I didn't finish the series, but I probably will someday, since Stephenson is a literary genius and he wrote my favorite book in the entire world (which I am now reading for the third time, thankyouverymuch.)
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente: Super. Weird, satisfactory, a little twee but in a good way.
  • Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente: Darker than the other, but still good. I felt a real desire to go to Russia after reading this book. Also, I was hungry. (She writes about food a lot.)
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather: I miss Nebraska. This book was good. Not as much of a revelation as the Great Gatsby, though.
  • Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope: Good, sort of a cross between Eliot and Dickens. Not as emotional as the former or as hilarious as the latter, though.
  • Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Oh yeah. Read it twice. Not sure how to put my finger on the nature of this collaboration . . . is it more Pratchett or Gaiman? . . . they do it so seamlessly and it works so very well. 
  • Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett: Very good, but this is one of those that doesn't stand alone as well as some others. I felt the need for more background. Oh well, time to Discworld in order, I guess!
  • Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett: The first Pratchett book I've read that I felt was too long (and I've read like 10+ of them). 
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon: Hilarious and dark. A great alternative history. 
  • Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman: Good but not as good as . . . 
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman: Really well-crafted, dark, and doing something that I have felt for a long time needs to be done for America.
  • Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff: Holy cow, this book was great and a real surprise. A contemporary literary novel with a real monster in it, and such a tender, delicate monster!
  • Towers of Midnight, Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan: I like Sanderson better than Jordan. This, like GRRM, is just one of those I had to read because it's finishing a series I'm invested in. However, these books have less art and more annoyances than GRRM, by a long shot. Sanderson does a good job of toning those down while still staying true to Jordan's vision. Finally! Wheel of Time is coming to a close!
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson: Wow. I so enjoyed this book. I do not, however, remember much of what I read. Bryson provides so many facts, theories, and anecdotes that, while I'm sure I'm smarter after reading it, I'm not sure how to prove that.
As you can see, my reading breaks down roughly: 70% SF/F, 20% classic literature, 10% stuff my boyfriend recommends. I expect that, once prelims are over, I will get back on that SF/F train again with the brick of a book, REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson. My friend Scott has floated the idea of me doing a podcast about literature, so I think I'm going to do one on  sci-fi/fantasy where I undergo a (perhaps slightly less) rigorous reading schedule as if I'm reading for a SF/F prelims, reading both seminal primary and secondary works in the field, and then comment on what I've been reading in a weekly podcast.

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