In my final installment of my Year in Review for Books, I'm going to give you the best of and some specific recommendations.
I shied away from the really long books this year, like the biographies, Truman by David McCullough (51 hours) or Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (35 hours). I did attempt a Neal Stephenson, but he must have been off his game for Quicksilver: it was only 22 hours long. The longest audiobook I listened to this year was A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. Logging in at 28 hours and 24 minutes it was longest by nearly 5 minutes! It was pretty good but a bit of a letdown as a sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep because I was looking for more details of the mathematical construction of his slow to fast zone universe.
I'm starting to sound like a fanboy, but the best collection of short stories I read this year was The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. It seems like everything he's written has ended up in my favorites sometime. Close behind the Murakami was new writer, Joe Hill with his horror collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Scary in a practical way, where the fright comes directly from the character's responses to the situations rather than just from the shock, gore, and scare more common in horror.
This one was close for me between an new writer and an established author. David Anthony Durham's high fantasy thriller, Acacia breathed new life into a tired genre. It was smart, quick, dark and most importantly, complete. It started and ended a story in the same volume and that story was strong. But it wasn't quite the complete emotional ride that Dan Simmons accomplished in his epic tale of 19th century arctic exploration, The Terror. This brilliant book caught the mood and flavor of the British Navy like nothing I've read since since Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin Series.
I don't read a lot of horror because it's so formulaic and that grates on my temper, but occasionally I'll give a book a go. This year I did and I'm glad I did because I've become a Joe Hill fan. His collection, mentioned above was well done, but his novel was even better. Heart Shaped Box is a terrifying musical ride as an aging goth-rock star invites a ghost to haunt him, but that ghost doesn't just want to haunt him, it wants to kill him. Very clever story, but the protagonist Judas Coyne is a memorable tough character who dominates the story. You hate him, love him, and root for and against him sometimes all in the same scene. I'll be picking up every book Joe Hill writes.
I ended up with three books that were head and shoulders above the rest. One of them I mentioned yesterday in the Science Fiction list is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The story stayed with me long after I'd finished it. Another very powerful story that felt a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird was The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It was the American South after blacks got the right to vote. It was a young girl figuring out where she belonged and why it wasn't with her abusive father. It was loss and discovery and beautiful imagery and perfect dialogue. It was complete. But it wasn't the best book of the year.
The Poisonwood Bible by
Barbara Kingsolver was the best book of the year. It's a story of discovery
told by the three daughters and wife of a Pentacostal Preacher who travels to
the revolutionary Congo
That's my year in books. I hope next year is as varied and as rewarding as this year's was.
Your angry reader,