Between my day job and this author gig, both of which require me to read a whole lot, I don’t get to read for pleasure all that much anymore, but this year I read a few dozen books just because, and some were really awesome. For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my favorites from this year.
Like my opinion matters, lol.
- Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear
A steampunk tour de force, set in an alternate version of the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s, with a motley cast of lively characters and a first-person protagonist with moxie to spare.
- Vermilion, by Molly Tanzer
Also a little steampunky, but more a “weird western,” melding paranormal elements into a Wild West setting. Lots of fascinating characters and another fantastic protagonist in Lou, a psychopomp on a mission.
- The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman
Gaiman has been one of my favorite writers since I first read American Gods…yikes. A long time ago. I’ve read several copies of that one to tatters. I love all his fiction, and it’s Gaiman as much as his stories that I love. His quirky worldview blends the curious mind of a scholar with the hopeful heart of a man who knows where all the dark things live and still believes there is light, and the enthusiastic eye of child for whom all things have wonder.
His worldview is in full display in this wonderful collection of nonfiction essays. And if you have an opportunity to experience an audiobook where he reads his own work? Holy CRAP. The man’s voice was designed by God for bedtime stories. His young son is a very lucky boy indeed.
- Saga Vol. 6, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I’ve been reading this comic/graphic novel for a few years now, since its run first began, and it is fucking brilliant. The story is deep, the storytelling blends humor and pathos perfectly, the characters are rich, the art is glorious. All the feels. Love it so very hard, hope it never ends.
- All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood
A controversial choice, I know. But this book shook me to my core, and I’ve read it three times since I first read it in September. I wrote a review of it at the time but never posted it, but here it is:
Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things made my radar because some FB friends were talking about it. As I lurked in those conversations, I got a sense of the book’s subject matter, and I had absolutely zero intention of reading it. It was in territory that is full of triggers for me (and by triggers I don’t mean “ew, gross,” but true traumatic response—actual triggers), and I jumped on the Nope Train right away.
To be honest, I even felt a little judgy about the idea of a book that, as I understood from the discussion, romanticized pedophilia—though I kept my judgment private.
And then I read a blog post from Greenwood about a social media “dust up” over Ugly and Wonderful. It sounds like things got a bit ugly. In that post, she also wrote about the reception of her book and about getting attacked directly about its content.
I get hate mail myself. There have been times when I got quite a lot of it, some of it really intense, and I’m sure there will be times in the future as well. Reading about Greenwood getting hate mail of her own, with harsh judgments of her as a human being, I felt a strong sense of solidarity, and immediately went to Amazon to buy the book. I read the first page…and then finished the book over the next twenty-four hours. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about it constantly.
Perhaps because I was girded against it, I wasn’t triggered. But that ugly and wonderful story messed me up hard. Even after I finished, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It kept me up nights. It directed my dreams. I can’t recall the last time somebody else’s book kept my brain spinning so wildly. It affected my mood for days.
That’s the kind of book I want to read. That’s the kind of book I want to—I try to—write. A book that makes me cry while I’m driving to work, hours, days after I finished it, because a stray thought of it brushed my brain. A book that leaves a hot, heavy stone in my stomach. A book that punches me right in the chest.
In my estimation, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is not a romance. It doesn’t romanticize pedophilia. I’d say it’s not romantic in the least. It’s a clear-eyed, gorgeously rendered story about a family and the people in it, most of whom are in dire straits, and all of whom do things both ugly and wonderful.
You’ll probably notice that none of my top reads is a romance. In fact, three of the five are science fiction/fantasy, and a fourth is by an SFF writer. My reading tastes have always run in that direction. Why don’t I write SFF, then? You’d have to ask Lola that.
But in some ways, aren’t all the stories we love love stories?