Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: A Year in Reviews

I didn't do a lot of writing posts this year. But I did write up a review of each and every book I read in 2013, and I read a lot. Goodreads tells me it was 117 books, though I did cheat a little. Thirteen of those were The Human Division. The fact that I reviewed each and every installment has to count for something. I also won a reading challenge.

I think reviewing every single book has me reading a little differently, with more of an eye on technique and craft. I know formulating my thoughts about them has been helping me express myself better, though I do recognize they're not all masterpieces. At least you're getting your money's worth, right?

Last year, I recapped my favorites, and I enjoyed doing that. So, without further ado, below are my favorites of 2013. Please note that these are books I read in 2013, and many of them were published in previous years.

Favorite DebutThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. It was funny, poignant, and topical. I cared
what happened to the title characters, the world was populated by what felt like real human beings, and it didn't end the way I expected. I wouldn't have guessed this was this author's first novel; she has the craft, level of detail, and research down pat. I look forward to her next book, whatever it may be.

Favorite Series Conclusion: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. A lovely, satisfying wrap-up to a series I can see myself rereading happily, despite my ever-looming to-read pile. Atwood has a background in poetry, but the prose is never mired in overly flowery descriptions. She understands what words are for, and uses the right ones.

Favorite Post-ApocalypticSwan Song by Robert R. McCammon. I admit, I was skeptical about all the love it was getting in reviews when I started out. It seemed dated and depressing. But all that atmosphere was building to a lovely and perfect conclusion. I loved all that stalling for leading me to that beautiful ending.

Favorite Reread1984 by George Orwell. I revisited it for a book club, because we were going to discuss it in the context of Brave New World, and I hadn't read it since high school. I didn't expect to like it as much; I thought it was one of those books I'd outgrow. But the politics and notions struck me all the more, now that I'm more of a participant in how the world works. I think it helped, also, to have read Margaret Atwood's perspective on it last year in In Other Worlds.

Favorite Audio Performance: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde barely edges out Macbeth by William Shakespeare, but only because we're talking about the performance, not the quality of the story. Oscar Wilde wins out for style. If it were up against a Shakespeare comedy, it wouldn't have stood a chance. If you check both reviews, though, you'll see the common element that made them both such tough contenders.

Favorite YA: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Funny, revealing, universal yet illuminating. I wouldn't go so far as to make it required reading in schools, because that's how you make kids hate a book. But, I do think a lot of young people, especially misfits, artists, and ethnic minorities, might relate to the main character.

Favorite FantasyThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. It was far better than it needed to be to hook me on the series. Personable, vulnerable gods and the best fantasy heroine I've ever read made this book positively addictive to me. This is one of those books that made me depressed I'd never write this well, then, when I got over it, determined to prove myself wrong.

Favorite NonfictionLet's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Thoroughly entertaining, often funny, and expands on what we, as readers, know about Sedaris and his family. It also answers a number of questions I've wondered while reading other stories of his.

Favorite Serial Fiction: Indexing by Seanan McGuire. It'll be released as an entire volume in late January, but, to get the full experience, you'll have to put it down for two weeks after every chapter. (No; read it however you like. I'm curious how it stands up as a whole work, actually, and would appreciate comments letting me know what you think, if you discover it that way.)

Favorite Short BookThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It's been getting all kinds of critical acclaim, but, in this case, it's justified. This nostalgic tale about long-forgotten magic is lovely and poetic and a delightful read. And, it's just barely longer than a novella, so it's not like you've wasted a lot of reading time if you're not as enchanted as I was.

Favorite DoorstopperUnder the Dome by Stephen King. It justifies all that narrative space, but, whoo! It's a lot to find yourself faced with when you're already three books behind on your reading goal for the year.The themes resonated with me quite a bit, and it was deeper than I expected from Stephen King.

Favorite ConceptLexicon by Max Barry. Control of the world through a few well-chosen words. Sounds like writing, true, but not the way it's presented here. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book half as much as I did. And I don't pick up books with the expectation they'll be merely tolerable.

Favorite Kids' BookFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young. A delightful tall tale about time traveling dinosaurs, redecorating aliens, and a scatterbrained dad. Don't wait for an excuse to read it to a kid. Read it for yourself.

Favorite ClassicThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. An excellent book for those who like this kind of thing. Dostoyevky can be depressing, and rambling, and rather dark. That's what I like about his books. This one in particular manages to highlight some of the best parts of human nature, while condemning the worst. I didn't always understand character motivations, but I didn't care. The characters knew who they were and where they were going, and I wanted to follow them to see where they ended up.

Favorite Science FictionRedshirts by John Scalzi. A send-up of various science fiction tropes that serves as both homage and satire, which is a neat trick to pull. I still can't believe Scalzi did that*, and I'm a little mad he pulled it off so well.

Favorite Author remains Seanan McGuire. This year, in addition to numerous short stories published on her website, Seanan also published Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid #2), Chimes at Midnight (October Daye #7), Parasite (writing as Mira Grant; first in a two-book series), Indexing (mentioned above), she had a story in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination as well as several other anthologies, and she contributed to a Hugo-winning podcast. Just by sheer volume of my favorites of 2013, alone, she wins. But it's her consistency, her cheerful online presence, and her occasional posts about weighty, potentially controversial topics, that secures her the spot at the top of my author list for another year. The rest of her potential competition is running around in circles back at the start of the race.

So that's my 2013 in reading. How did yours fare?

I hope 2014 brings you some happy surprises, and many excellent books to read. Have a fun and safe New Year's.

* If you've read it, you know what that is. If you haven't, I'm not going to spoil the fun of finding out for yourself.

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