Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reading Rainbow

It is once again time for my Best Of Books list. This year, I read 65 books, a good dozen of which were re-reads at the end of the year, when my brain cannot handle anything new, but I still need to read something. I'm weird that way. I know some people never read the same book twice. I am not one of those people. I have my go-to books the same way others have go-to movies. I did experiment with a Kindle this year and while I understand its appeal, it isn't my thing. Reading a new book on a Kindle made me feel like I was trying to read with only half my senses. You can't feel the weight of the book or the texture of the pages. I also have a very visual memory. I can look at a book, turn to roughly the right section, and know which side of a page, then how high up or down in the paragraph a remembered sentence or section ought to be. All that is lost on a Kindle since it is akin to reading on a computer screen. Also, I need to know how long a book is, how small the font, to help me decide if I am in the mood for it. But my Kindle came preloaded (Thanks A!) with lots of awesome books I have already read, which makes it perfect for waiting rooms, dance class, etc. and my daughter already likes to borrow it for car trips.

In no particular order, the top five:

1.  We Need to Talk about Kevin - Lionel Schriver Why this author isn't more popular is a mystery to me. Her book The Post-Birthday World is one of my top reads of all time. This book is much darker, but equally excellent. The subject matter is horrific (mass murder at a school), but the book asks the most basic question of what makes a child, nature or nurture, in a truly revelatory way. Every sentence is a jewel, hand crafted, and complete all on its own. There are no throwaway words. This is not a light read, but it is a really, really good one.

2. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon  I always take recommendations, especially from people whose taste I trust. In the Raleigh NC airport is perhaps the best used book store I have ever seen, so I trusted the owner when he recommended this book. Set in Barcelona, it is both a mystery and a coming of age story and has, by far, one of the best imaginary locations of all time as a set piece. There is wonderful atmosphere just oozing off the page that once you start, you will find it very difficult to stop reading, and when you do look around, will find yourself surprised to be anywhere as ordinary as your living room.

3. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern Maybe I just like atmospheric books, because this is another one where you are dropped into a fully realized world where you can practically taste the caramel popcorn and smell the scents that waft out of tiny glass bottles. An tale of magic and love, both twisted and neither very clear, is set among a Night Circus, a roving amusement filled with both the mundane and the fantastic.

4. The Passage - Justin Cronin Part one of a trilogy (part two, The Twelve is already out), it set in a world destroyed by a sort of vampire never before seen in fiction. Part vamp, part zombie, it exists only to feed. Often, books like this feel like fleshed out screenplays, just ready to be made into a movie. And while this one has some truly terrifying sequences (there is a train chapter that will rival the Lincoln Tunnel scene in Stephen King's The Stand) it is the littlest details that are the most riveting.

5. Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill. This is an excellent book to read in the darkness of winter. However, if you actually want to go to sleep at night, perhaps a midsummer day would be a better time. It is horror at its finest (the author learned at the knee of a former master). Our protagonist finds himself owning a dead man's suit and things go from bad to worse very quickly. The best part for me was the main character, a complete bastard who is richly detailed and not just a foil for the action.

This year, I don't actually have a bottom five. While I still shake my fist at the heavens to rail against the fact that in a year with no Pulitizer Prize in fiction, 50 Shades made millions, I will allow that it was a gateway book for a lot of people who had stopped reading and/or stopped having sex and that this book helped people come back to both. The rest of the books were good, maybe even very good, but each had one central flaw that kept them from being great.

Angelology - Danielle Trussoni  - Not once, in an entire book set in the real world, with characters who were being introduced to the idea that angels were real and evil, not once did any character ask, "Really?"

Broken Harbor -Tana French  - This book is supposed to be mystery. However, since each "clue" is practically highlighted and bolded on the page, that part falls short of the mark. Instead, read for the excellent interrogation scenes, her gift for characters, and the Irish setting.

There are several others that I would complain about, but to do so would be to give away important plot points and I firmly believe in not spoiling books. Suffice to say that I wouldn't be one of Michael Connelly's clients, I'm tired of long lost loves being reunited at the expense of the memory of the people they loved in between, and while George R.R. Martin is not my bitch, I would highly appreciate it if he actually merged character arcs here and there so that every single character wasn't flailing about in their own storylines with little to no interaction with each other.

Also, the award for authors who really have to stop destroying their characters is a tie between Steig Larsson (posthumous) and Charlaine Harris. Larsson gets it for the ridiculous choice of relegating Lisbeth Salander to a tertiary character in The GIrl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and since that book was so bad, I can only hope the two other books supposedly hidden on his computer remain there forever. Charlaine Harris get the whip for apparently forgetting that her main character, Sookie Stackhouse, is a telepath, and perhaps should stop walking into trouble she should have known about long before she entered the room and for writing entire books where no one has any sex.

So, my friends, the new year is almost upon us. My to-be-read shelf is newly stocked, my brain is just about ready to take on new fiction, and the good rocker by the fire is calling. As my buddy Levar says, "Butterflies in the sky/I can fly twice as high/Take a look/It's in a book."

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