Another year, another goodreads challenge crushed. This year I read 79 books, including re-reads, which goodreads won’t allow you to track in any kind of sensible way. I keep thinking I”ll give up on using GR as a tracking system, but in the end, I just can’t give up the stats counter. I also find the “You are 5 books behind schedule” nudges very helpful.
Usually I read much more over the holidays when I’m home with my parents, but this year a combination of exhaustion and the discovery of Midsomer Murders made that pretty impossible.
In a move that will surprise no one who knows me, some of my favorite nonfiction reads this year were books about the First World War or histories about combatant countries. A late entry in this category was Geoffrey Wawro’s A MAD CATASTROPHE: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, which I finished it on the plane back to Texas. Wawro is funny and indignant (and indignantly funny) by turns, and he makes a compelling case for laying a large portion of the blame for the outbreak of WWI at Austria-Hungary’s feet. Wawro has a deft hand with the horror and senselessness of the war and the megalomania of the leaders who brought the world into it.
I also highly enjoyed Frederick Morton’s THUNDER AT TWILIGHT: Vienna 1913/1914, which is basically what it says on the tin. It takes a look at some historical figures that don’t normally come up in these histories – Stalin, Trotsky, Hitler, as they try to make their fortunes in that glittering city. Robert K. Massie’s DREADNOUGHT is a triumph. Massie’s strength has always been personalities. He’s brilliant at the foibles and failings of his subjects, and I definitely laughed out loud several times, which you wouldn’t think would happen in a book about the naval arms race between Britain and Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its sequel, CASTLES OF STEEL, was less fun, mostly because I had the problem that I always have with naval histories: “Then this ship went here, and this ship went here, shooting at this other ship, and then they all sailed to Norway.”
This was also a year where I read a lot of writers writing about writing. I read MFA vs NYC, which I didn’t get much from, as it mostly concentrated on the world of high-literary fiction, but I also read the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and the first two volumes of Susan Sontag’s journals that are being released. I find it fascinating to read the to-do lists and resolutions of writers I admire. Famous Writers: They’re just like us! I also highly recommend Vivian Gornick’s THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY, which is kind of indescribable and also indescribably lovely.
I love all my children equally, as they say, and it’s hard to pick a favorite from this year. I made an effort to read books that were published recently rather than digging back into the archives for my favorites, and this year was a cracking good year for fiction.
Hard to pick a favorite, but the one I spent the most time thinking and talking about was N.K. Jemisin’s majestic THE FIFTH SEASON. She is such a talented writer and I was in awe of the way the book unfolded. Secrets on secrets, all wrapped up tightly together, and that ending- it still gives me shivers. You can read a somewhat amusing storify of my Yellin’ about FIFTH SEASON with Sunil Patel here.
This year I also read the first two volumes in C.S. Pacat’s CAPTIVE PRINCE series. I’d been hearing about this online for years but had never gotten around to reading it. More fool me, as now I have to wait till February to read the final volume. It’s a fantasy where the prince of one country is betrayed and then enslaved to the prince of another, but that’s a rather facile description. The characterization in these books is top-notch, and the tension between the two princes is absolutely captivating. I have already pre-ordered the third book.
I also very much loved John Darnielle’s debut novel WOLF IN WHITE VAN. He’s the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, and as a lyricist he’s top-notch, so I knew that it’d be marvelous on a sentence level, but it ended up being incredibly moving and beautiful.
I very much enjoyed the first 700 pages of SEVENEVES, but thought it lost its oomph at the end. I also read the first five books in Ben Aaronovitch’s marvelous RIVERS OF LONDON series, which are fucking fabulous. They’re half-procedural, half-urban fantasy, and the city of London is practically a main character. The sixth book comes out later this year.
I bounced off some of this year’s biggest books – I enjoyed SORCERER TO THE CROWN but didn’t love it, and UPROOTED didn’t do too much for me although it was an enoying, beautifully-written read. Not hard bounces, but still.
My favorite YA reads this year all featured strong female characters that were strong in their separate ways. THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renee Ahdieh is loosely inspired by the thousand and one nights, and plays a lot with ideas about who has power, and who exercises it. DUMPLIN‘ by Julie Murphy (who, full disclosure, agreed to blurb one of my clients’ books) features a fat heroine who marches to her own tune (Dolly Parton, naturally.) So charming, so much fun. And apparently there is going to be a sequel, which warms my cold little heart. And my friend Bridget’s client Emma Mills published FIRST AND THEN, which is so charming. Jane Austen meets Friday Night Lights. SO CHARMING.
So, that’s it for the year in reading 2015! This year I became even more aware of how lucky I am to work in this industry, to get the chance to work with amazing authors and read these incredible books. I look forward to all the great things to come in 2016 and beyond.