Devourer of Words: 2011 in Books

In case you weren’t aware, I read a lot. I’ve been tweeting my reads for most of this past year, so decided it would be interesting to look back over these books, and flesh out my brief thoughts from the time. I wondered if some books I’d dismissed as slight might have stuck with me, or if those I thought weighty had become pompous and self-important on reflection.

When I got my kindle for my birthday in November 2010, one of the added benefits I saw was the ability to keep track of what I’d read. I did tweet a little about my reading list, but this didn’t really take off until Amazon launched the facility to tweet that you’d finished a book, and then I became an obsessive. I have an idea about what books I may have read in Jan, Feb and March 2011, but these might also have been from November or December 2010.

The best books I read that might be missing from my Jan – March tweets include: The Observations by Jane Harris, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin, Ghosts and Other Lovers and My Pathology, both excellent short story collections by Lisa Tuttle, The Mount by Carol Emshwiller, Black Juice and Red Spikes, both collections from Margo Lanagan, With Deepest Sympathy by Johnny Mains, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, The Silent Land by Graham Joyce and The Children’s Book by AS Byatt.

I only tweeted about two:

Jan 4th: finished Datlow’s Poe anthology earlier than expected, as I’d read the last two already. Feels like someone ate the last chocolate.

Image

I love Ellen Datlow’s themed anthologies. This was a strong one, influenced by Edgar Allen Poe, but by the time I came to it I’d already read several of the stories in other un-themed (I think ‘best of year’) anthologies, so good as they were, I was disappointed. With short story collections or anthologies, I like to dip in and out between novels, so it can take me ages to finish them. I started this when we were visiting Prague at the end of November 2010, and particularly remember reading this on the train journey to and from the ossuary, where quite appropriately we saw big rats at the station.

Feb 24th: finished reading Harvest Home – interesting comparison to The Wicker Man, published after WM filmed but before release. Nastier ending IMHO.

Image

Really enjoyed this 1973 Thomas Tryon horror, with a nice New York family relocating to a farming village and discovering nasty pagan fertility rituals. I’ve still not seen the TV version with Bette Davis, it seems rather hard to find, but it would benefit from a re-film.

Once kindle’s ‘tweet when you’ve finished’ button was launched in March, there was no stopping me…

Mar 20th: finished Inverted World by Christopher Priest. Intriguing, thought-provoking and imaginative.

Image

Fascinating SF about a world where the city travels by rail, constantly trying to stay in the steadily-moving optimum place to avoid distortions in space and time. A young man is sent out to explore, to help in planning the rail ahead.

Mar 22nd: finished Son of Heaven by David Wingrove. Will try vol 2 of Chung Kuo but not altogether convinced.

David Wingrove’s eight volume SF epic is being re-written and re-released (hopefully with a better ending as I heard that was a stinker) so decided to give it a go. My reservations stem from the main hero of this prequel being an investment banker or some type of trader, and the whole premise being that evil Chinese take over the world and form some neo-dynastic empire. Oh, and the evil Chinese are Fu Manchu-style evil…

Mar 22nd: finished White Time, another wonderful collection from @margolanagan

I cannot recommend Margo Lanagan highly enough. I’m a big fan of Angela Carter and Margo is cut from the same cloth. I would say her stories have been one of my greatest pleasures this year. I’m very sad that her newest volume, Yellow Cake, isn’t yet available in the UK.

Mar 26th: finished Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie. Brutal & unpredictably moving. On to book 3!

Image

I love love love Joe Abercrombie. His books are a glorious antidote to the more serious fantasy epics. I read a lot of his books this year.

Mar 27th: finished The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Absorbing family history, linked by netsuke.

Image

I’ve got a bit of a thing for netsuke (small Japanese carvings which were used a bit like toggles, for keeping one’s moneybox attached to one’s sash) and I can spend far too much time looking at the collection in the V&A museum. My only regret about reading this on kindle was that there’s now a beautiful fully-illustrated hardback…

Apr 5th: finished Slightly Behind and to the Left (Conversation Pieces) by Claire Light. Strange & disturbing.

I often find book recommendations on io9, particularly when they publish a round-up of the year, and this was one of those. A slim volume of short stories, one of which tackled what women would do if all men started dying in their mid teens. Odd.

Apr 9th: finished Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie. Wow. That is all.

Not much more to say.

Apr 11th: finished Holloway Falls by Neil Cross. Too many coincidences, sub-Barbara Vine thriller.

Took a chance on this as the premise seemed interesting – family man fakes his death – but no. It was rotten.

Apr 13th: finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Can’t praise it highly enough.

ImageAn abused girl and her children take refuge in a fairytale world. Having thought about it since I’m not totally satisfied with the ending.

Apr 17th: finished Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Not one of my favourites.

My abiding memory of reading this is of moaning about it to my best friend while smoking outside the Florist pub during a break in the film quiz. I may sounds like a total philistine, but the main character is a lazy, boring douchebag, with no redeeming features, and everyone bends over backwards to help him. I read it because I felt I should. Bad idea!

Apr 19th: finished The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo. Exciting, satisfying, but not wholly convincing.

These Scandinavian crime thriller are my guilty pleasure.

Apr 23rd: finished A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin. Can’t wait to read the next book.

I’d always thought of giving this series a go, but was put off by the investment – I hate buying hefty books which I hate but then have to finish, I made that mistake with Peter F Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn Trilogy. Reading about the great casting of the TV series, and the ease of sampling books on kindle both sucked me in.

Apr 25th: finished The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Bewitched, beguiled and bewildered.

Image

Another situation where the programme looked like it would be interesting, so I raced to read the book before seeing it. I do that a lot.

Apr 30th: finished A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. Many twists and turns & exciting events.

May 2nd: finished The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison. Disappointingly dense, a hard slog.

I’d been recommended Light, by the same author, but as that’s not available on kindle I plumped for this. Ouch.

May 3rd: finished The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories by Michel Faber. Most welcome, but still want more Agnes.

May 9th: finished The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. Lots of twists, exciting & pacy.

Sometimes I hate myself for the blah-ness of my opinions. Like here.

May 12th: finished This is Not a Game: You Don’t Get a Second Life by Walter Jon Williams. Fun, unchallenging.

ARG creator get trapped in country undergoing political unrest, recruits gamers to help her.

May 18th: finished The Book with No Name by Anonymous. Hmm. Constant references date it. Maybe fun for teens.

I still want to know who wrote this! Definitely not an American, but a big Tarantino fan…

May 20th: finished Year’s Best SF 14 by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. A good mix, loved the Swanwick.

This had one of the funniest reviews on Amazon, I just had to read it.

May 20th: finished Stories by Al Sarrantonio & Neil Gaiman. Standouts from Lansdale, Joe Hill, Wynne Jones.

I had a problem with a few of these, as they suffered from ‘lit writer slumming’ syndrome – used tired genre tropes as though they’d invented them. But the three mentioned above, as well as Gaiman’s, were brilliant and worth it.

May 23rd: finished Them by Jon Ronson. Made me laugh even more than Goats. Looking forward to Psychopath Test.

May 24th: finished Feed by Mira Grant. Well-thought-out tale of media in post-zombie world. I cried. Awesome!

Haven’t yet got round to reading the sequel, but it’s on my list for next year.

May 25th: finished The Language of Dying by @SarahPinborough. Devastating, brilliantly written award-winning novella.

I’ve always got time for Sarah, she’s intimidatingly talented, and this is a great example of how powerful her prose can be. Words wielded to devastating effect.

May 30th: finished Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. A great cast of violent and untrustworthy bastards.

Jun 2nd: finished Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente. Beautiful, ambitious & I loved the main idea, but couldn’t connect w characters.

Image

A dream city as STD? Love it! But overly flowery language and an obtuse plot.

Jun 5th: finished A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough, just in time for the next! Looking forward to it.

Mmmm. Gritty, slightly supernatural, sort-of futuristic sort-of crime, yes please. I have bought the sequel, but it’s still on my TBR pile for next year.

Jun 6th: finished Yellow Blue Tibia by @arrroberts. Charming, playful & inventive. A welcome distraction.

Adam Roberts is a very clever man, if his puns on twitter make me groan out load, and this tale of cold war SF writers sewing seeds for the future had me hooked.

Jun 8th: finished The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman. Like her last gig in London, it was light on material and I’d heard/read most of it before.

Jun 10th: finished Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. A mixture of everything you’d want in a humorous urban fantasy thriller – laughs & thrills.

ImageA few unnecessary complications, and some predictable twists, but still a rollicking adventure.

Jun 12th: finished How to Make Friends with Demons by the ever-impressive @Grafire. Wondering if the London pubs listed actually exist. Crawl?

Graham Joyce is one of my favourite writers, and this was very enjoyable, even if I have pretty much forgotten the plot by now. Would still love to try the pub crawl.

Jun 15th: finished Land at the End of the Working Day by Peter Crowther. Interesting exercise, very believable location and characters.

Couldn’t really get excited by this. Several stories connected by a bar, a bit of a supernatural Cheers, if you will.

Jun 17th: finished A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin. Very glad I don’t have to wait too long.

Westeros descended further into anarchy, and I missed my favourite characters.

Jun 18th: finished The World House by Guy Adams. Fun, fast-paced and with some great ideas, but think it would have worked better as a YA.

Boisterous and with some lovely imagery. Will try the follow-up at some point.

Jun 21st: finished Peter Bagge’s Other Lives last night, which made me howl. The ‘Second World’ stuff was brilliant. Such horrid characters.

ImageI can’t get enough of Peter Bagge’s despicable characters.

Jun 23rd: finished Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. Liked some of the ideas, but writing was nearly impenetrable and main characters uninteresting.

Jun 24th: finished The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia. Beautiful, heartbreaking.

ImageA bit girly for me, this one, the tale of a clockwork girl in thrall to her reserved creator, but I was won over.

Jun 26th: finished Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovich. Charming, funny, lives up to Rivers, wonder how long he will take to bring us another.

Jun 27th: finished Solar by Ian McEwan. One third farce, two thirds regurgitated research. Did make me laugh.

Had the cheek to include the ‘Stolen Biscuits’ story, then point out this is urban legend.

Jun 28th: finished Digital Domains, ed by @EllenDatlow. Well worth 70p, esp the @annodracula story!

I wish more of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies were available on kindle, particularly the Year’s Best Horror ones. This was a nice little sample, and the short story by Kim Newman referred to above is a lovely homage to retro futurist utopias a la Futureworld.

Jun 28th: finished Embassytown by China Mieville. Absolutely brilliant, exhibit A for SF being about ‘ideas’. Embarrassed myself on train (crying).

ImageMy book of the year. Read this on trip to Scotland and cried on the train to Glasgow.

Jun 29th: finished Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. A ripping yarn, rattles along at pace, loads of fun.

Jul 4th: finished Finch by Jeff VanderMeer, well worth taking the time over. Weird fantasy noir, must read more.

ImageOne of my discoveries this year. World has been invaded by mushroom people from below. Very yucky, I could almost smell the damp and mildew. Alas the Amazon edition is quite unreadable, riddled with typos.

Jul 6th: finished How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. Brain hurts, it’s melty.

Short but weighty tale of time-traveller trying to get closer to his father.

Jul 10th: finished The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. Seemed calculated. Inferior to Carter or Lanagan.

I still can’t believe this won the Orange prize. Oh well, prizes, schmizes as they say. Unspecific Slavic-set roadtrip tale, mingled with folktales.

Jul 16th: finished A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin. Augh! What a place to leave it. So sad.

Jul 17th: finished Moxyland by Lauren Beukes. Loads of interesting & topical ideas, but lacking in real people.

I was disappointed, as I’d read good things about Zoo City, and this was going cheap. Will give the other a try, still.

Jul 21st: finished The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. This time it’s war! A very welcome return to the North. Whirrun of Bligh invents a cheese-trap.

A tie with Embassytown, I think, for my book of the year.

Jul 22nd: finished Anticopernicus by @arrroberts, short but sweet, satisfying & thought-provoking. Recommended.

Jul 23rd: finished Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. Alt-world where superhero-like ‘possessions’ have been disrupting life since 1950s.

ImageAnother discovery of the year. Reminiscent at times of Peter Milligan comic Enigma. Definitely top 10.

Jul 27th: finished The Holy Machine (Cosmos 1) by Chris Beckett. Interesting attempt, ultimately unsatisfying.

I was being diplomatic here.

Jul 30th: finished Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Could write a book on why I’m so unimpressed.

But I won’t.

Aug 4th: finished The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday. Bit predictable but still engrossing & creepy.

Really stayed with me. I’ve read criticisms of the depiction of mental illness, but as a story it was involving.

Aug 5th: finished The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell. Unrealistic in places (harsh of me) but beautiful, exciting, sad poetry.

ImageI said harsh of me, as it is a post-zompoc book, so you’re having to suspend disbelief anyway, but some facts and behaviour seemed a bit off. However, it was still pretty wonderful.

Aug 7th: finished Black Wings ed. ST Joshi, mixed Lovecraft-inspired bag. Preferred Lovecraft Unbound, but @ememess tale Substitution was superb.

Michael Marshall Smith wrote one of my favourite shorts of 2010 (What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night) and his story here is brilliant. Plaudits also to Ramsey Campbell, who raised a wry smile with a well-observed tale of literary correspondence gone bad, internet nutter-style.

Aug 9th: finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by @nkjemisin. Bit romantic for my tastes but imaginative.

ImageGreat world-building, a big exciting original fantasy with echoes of Zelazny’s Lord of Light and another Pete Milligan comic, Egypt. The heroine swooned a lot, though.

Aug 17th: finished The Sad Tale of the Bros Grossbart. Tried hard to be amoral, offensive & unlikeable, found it a little dull, predictable & meh.

I don’t like the word ‘meh’, but it was a good description of how I felt. Barely redeemed nastiness. I laughed a few times.

Aug 21st: finished The Psychopath Test by @jonronson. Entertaining as usual. Also: are we all a bit psycho?

Aug 26th: finished Echo City by Tim Lebbon. World-building reminiscent of Mieville, but lacking soul.

On reflection, it was harsh of me to say this lacked soul. Much of the imagery was amazing, and the world was wholly believable and fascinating, but I couldn’t get worked up over the characters’ religious disagreements, unlike say, the relatable and valid political struggles which affect denizens of Mieville’s Bas-Lag.

Aug 30th: finished The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers. Interesting but fairly simplistic YA.

Booker longlisted, probably for ‘topical’, controversial subject – women get BSE-type illness when they become pregnant.

Sept 2nd: finished Gillespie and I by Jane Harris. Darker than her debut, it’s a disturbing, absorbing treat.

Deliciously wicked tale of fandom and obsession. I loved The Observations, and this was a great follow-up.

Sept 6th: finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Bret Easton Ellis V Narnia/HP. Fun if you can take the emo.

ImageQuentin’s infuriating, but, ah, how I love Brakebills Academy and the Narnia references.

Sept 11th: finished Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Scary, sweet & exciting YA adventure, plausible future.

I enjoyed The Windup Girl, and this, set in the same world, was that good, plus hope.

Sept 13th: finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Too much tell, idea better than execution, still fun tho.

Everyone’s going a bit crazy for this right now, but it would have been 25% shorter without all the goddamn explanations of what a modem was.

Sept 16th: finished The Devil’s Alphabet by Daryl Gregory. Can’t believe the sole, negative amazon review. Loved it. He’s an awesome writer.

I’ll say it again, he’s an awesome writer.

Sept 21st: finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Tries hard, v pretty but disappointingly unaffecting.

ImageProbably my biggest disappointment of the year. I love circuses, I love night-time, I love magic. It’s got a really pretty cover and lovely pretty words. What went wrong? I never felt anything was at stake and the star-crossed lovers were dull.

Sept 24th: finished Role Models by John Waters. Fascinating eclectic ramble through mind of brilliant oddball.

Essential.

Oct 5th: finished Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré. Unforgettable & captivating shades of grey.

I read this just before seeing the film, and perhaps its freshness in my mind spoilt the film for me slightly. The precipitating episode in Prague jumped off the page when set in woodland, but didn’t pop for me when I saw it occur outside an arcade cafe. I particularly love Smiley’s final confrontation with [redacted], and found it lacking on screen.

Oct 9th: finished The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 17 by Stephen Jones. Standouts: A Nevill & E Massie.

Oct 9th: finished Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. Jolly yarn of a YA steampunk/Darwinist WWI adventure.

Oct 10th: finished Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. Powerful classic of carny life, the real deal.

ImageI read three circus books this year, and this 1946 classic was a good one. Definitely an influence on Carnivale. I must see the 1947 film.

Oct 12th: finished The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood. Fresh, unpredictable YA fantasy. Must read on!

ImageThat makes it the second time I’ve done that to Sarah Pinborough aka Silverwood this year. Her books are so readable and exciting, whether gritty adult supernatural crime or lively YA fantasy. I have bought the sequels to both A Matter of Blood and The Double-Edged Sword, but haven’t yet got around to either. On my TBR list for 2012, which I’ll probably post up on New Year’s Day.

Oct 15th: finished The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. How things have changed, and yet still stay the same.

This 1958 classic covering the exploits of a few young working women in New York made me wince – at the awful sexism documented and the female sappiness sometimes demonstrated, and also at seeing my own foolish teenage behaviour reflected. Interesting contemporary female perspective on the world of Mad Men.

Oct 17th: finished The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex by @Kermodemovie. Valuable points, entertainingly put.

If only they could make Kermode ‘Cinema Tzar’, he’d crack down on talkers, phone users, bad projectors, etc.

Oct 19th: finished The Magician King by Lev Grossman. Lots of Julia, more magic & some growing up.

Quentin continued being an emo arse, but my Brakebills obsession increased unabated.

Oct 23rd: finished The Leopard by Jo Nesbo. Exciting, improbable, but still satisfying like comfort food.

Nov 6th: finished Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. A very enjoyable thriller, no more & no less.

ImageThis was a whopper, but the biggest, most delicious hamburger ever. I’m still suspicious about the excessive Camelbak references, though.

Nov 6th: finished Best New Horror 18 by Stephen Jones, standouts by Nicholas Royle & @lyndaerucker.

Nicholas Royle’s story Continuity Error was one of the highlights of London:A City of Disappearances, so it was lovely to re-read it in this anthology. Lynda Rucker’s The Last Reel is absolutely terrifying.

Nov 8th: finished Crackpot by John Waters. Another great rampage through his loves & hates.

Nov 12th: finished 11.22.63 by Stephen King. Ouch, my eyes hurt from crying. Wonderful, heartbreaking.

ImageAnother one for the top 10 of the year.

Nov 14th: finished The Mill by @MarkEWest. Bold mix of real and supernatural horror, often difficult to pull off, but well-handled in this case.

Nov 17th: finished A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Shallowness masquerading as insight. Okay.

I’ve seen this on a lot of best of year lists, and I had a bit of a moan about it at the time, which I won’t reprint… Emperor’s New Clothes for me.

Nov 19th: finished Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones. Magical in every sense. Truly charming.

I cried when I read Neil Gaiman’s news on twitter that Diana Wynne Jones had died on 26th March. She was one of the first children’s fantasy authors that I felt I’d discovered by myself, who hadn’t been recommended to me by adults. Charmed Life was the first of her books that I read, and my sister and I then read everything of hers we could find. Time of the Ghost is my favourite, she really understood girls and their family relationships, and you could tell she was writing from experience. I’m amazed she hasn’t been adapted more. This relatively recent book was a joy. Diana Wynne Jones RIP.

ImageNov 23rd: finished A Dark Matter by Peter Straub. Vivid imagery but disappointingly muddled & meandering.

Nov 27th: finished The Ritual by Adam Nevill. Harsh, brutal & terrifying. Also believable. I recommend. Would love to see it filmed.

ImageDefinite year’s top 10.

Nov 27th: finished Peter Bagge’s Apocalypse Nerd – foul & funny.

Nov 28th: finished Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah. Interesting story, lovely art from Troy Nixey, though he was missed in the last part & story went awry.

ImageDec 6th: finished House of Fear ed Jonathan Oliver. Solid collection, highly recommended.

Dec 7th: finished The Limits of Enchantment by @Grafire. Beautiful book by one of my favourite writers, can’t recommend him highly enough.

ImageAnother instant classic from Graham Joyce. Old magic and folklore meets the 60s.

Dec 8th: finished Smoking Poppy by @Grafire, I liked it. That makes 3 climactic drug experiences (Tooth Fairy & LoE), what’s he trying to tell us 😛

Dec 20th: finished Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine. Worthwhile & rewarding.

ImageThe third circus book I read this year, this was a beautiful tale of a circus of modified performers and their struggle with ‘The Government Man’ in some unspecified, possibly Eastern European post-apocalyptic land.

Dec 31st: Finished Sandman Slim: A Novel by Richard Kadrey. A hell of a read to finish the year on.

So, there you go. 92 since March 20th. Will I beat that next year? Certainly.

Please let me know what you thought… Did you agree or disagree? I’d love recommendations for my 2012 pile.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: