Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2011: A Year In Books

Ironically, I started the year reading a steampunk anthology, and ended the year reading a steampunk anthology. Also, wow, the second book on my list is "Reading Lolita in Tehran," and one of the last books is "Lolita." In between, I managed to cover a lot of territory: theology, communication studies, philosophy, history, YA science fiction, alchemy, classical Greece--and those are only the ones I read for FUN.

Last January, I remember feeling kind of weird starting the list, because I had no idea where I'd be at the end of the year--graduation was looming, grad school applications were pending, but nothing solid was even on the immediate horizon--which somehow made me disinclined to even start the list. However, on reflection this seemed silly.

Last year's number of books read--68--was highly depressing. I had extenuating circumstances, mainly consisting of being in a lot of upper-div classes that were not reading- (or at least book-) heavy. This year, I was helped by being in a LOT of classes that were book-heavy, but I also think I had more enthusiasm for reading this year.

Here then, is my year in books. As I have done the last couple years, I'll write as concise a review as possible for each book or few books. Those who are not foolish or masochistic enough to read the whole thing can skip to the end, where I'll give my top twelve picks for the year.

1. Steampunk II (Anthology), edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer [Steampunk 1]
While it is a sequel, published by popular demand, to the Vandermeer's anthology "Steampunk," Steampunk II would actually serve as a good introduction to the subgenre. A great collection of short stories, some such as Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum" epoch-making in their own right, as well as some essays about the movement itself, where it came from, and what it might mean. Other than that, it's a great grab-bag of steam-powered stories of all kinds, from the strictly almost-scientific to the entirely whimsical.

2. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
Read for my class in Non-Western Lit. Fascinating account of the oppression of women, literature, and just general freedom under the fundamentalist Iranian government. Well worth reading on that account, and even more rewarding for the literature nerd.

3. Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
Decent book of advice for up-and-coming writers. Written in the 1920s; mostly still relevant. Quick read, too, and introduces an interesting writing method that I have yet to try.

4. Human Narration as Communication, by Walter Fisher
Part of my research for my Senior English Thesis. Fisher uses rhetorical theory to argue that all forms of communication--from the novel to the scientific treatise--are forms of story, in that they are recountings of things happening in sequence. Really good book if you are nerdy enough that the foregoing piques your interest.

5. The Story of the Irish Race, by Seamus MacManus
Incredibly fascinating history of Ireland from its mythic ancient past up through the early 20th Century. MacManus' methodology is occasionally questionable, but he tells the history of Ireland mixed with myth, poetry, song and story, a method and structure I find entirely appropriate to the subject matter.

6. Everyman's McLuhan, by W. Terrence Gordon, Eri Hamaji & Jacob Albert [Media Ecology 1]
I took a class in Media Ecology, and it subsequently INVADED MY LIFE. ME is basically the idea that media interacts ecologically with other media and the culture around it; that is, the effect of a new pervasive form of media is similar to putting a drop of red dye into a glass of water. You don't have the old glass plus red dye; you have a glass permeated with red dye. So with media. McLuhan, who wrote in an aphoristic, consciously anti-academic (though by no means un-academic) style, founded this form of study. McLuhan is one of the most brilliant writers and thinkers of the last 500 years. He frustrates people, he is easily misunderstood, and I love him. He has been the biggest influence on my thought, writing, and life since Mark Twain.

"Everyman's McLuhan" is an excellent introduction--in the pictographic-mixed-with-text style that McLuhan himself favored later in life--to the man's thought, work, and life.

7. Mr. Mani, by A.B. Yehoshua
My favorite book from Non-Western Lit (which did have a lot of dismal books). The story of a Jewish family, the Manis, by means of five conversations. The first conversation takes place in the 1980s, and the subsequent ones move back in time, the final one taking place in 1848. The historical research in this book is incredible, impeccable. In one section, this Israeli writer gets into the mind of a Nazi better than I have seen almost any writer do, anywhere.

8. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Ugh. Boring, hackneyed, and badly-written. No wonder it became a best-seller.

9. Blood Wedding, by Federico Garcia Lorca
I played the father. Being in a play, besides the initial read-through, I always feel like I have studied the text, or at least parts of the text (even besides my own parts) in great depth, simply due to the amount of exposure to everyone else's scenes, due to the listening to various scenes over and over while waiting for my own cues, etc. Blood Wedding is a great play, an incredibly poetic tragedy that belongs on the shelf next to Hamlet.

10. Nectar in a Sieve, by Kamala Markandaya
One of those novels that so accurately portrays its subject--dreariness, poverty, and hard work--that the experience of reading it becomes similar to the subject matter. Ugh. (This and Kite Runner, in case there was any doubt, were also for Non-Western.)

11. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
I was not impressed. This is possibly due to Retro Prejudice--that is, the feeling that one has heard this story told a thousand ways, because one HAS, but THIS story that one is therefore bored by WAS THE FIRST. Still, as a white man, I felt less indicted than sleepy.

12. 1000 Years of Irish Poetry, ed. by Kathleen Hoaglund
Wonderful anthology with a slightly misleading title: it covers at least 3000 years of Irish poetry, starting with the mysterious Druidic Song of Amergin and moving through the ancient bardic poets, the early Christian prayers and poems, and up through the middle ages and modern era. My favorite poem was one attributed to St. Brigid, in which she wishes for "a great lake of beer to give to the King of Kings," so that she and the holy family might sit by its side and drink for eternity. Yay Ireland.

13. Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan [ME 2]
McLuhan's seminal work. Short chapters poke and prod at various forms of media, starting with the spoken word but focusing largely on electric technology, which McLuhan thought was the greatest technological revolution since writing. McLuhan is writing a history of the effects of this media. If he has a thesis statement, it might be his famous phrase, "the medium is the message," an argument that the very FORM of any medium, quite apart from its content, has a message attached to it.

14. Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them, by Marjorie Taylor
15. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, by Jerome Bruner
Two more books, both psychology-related, for my Senior Thesis. Both are about world-building (the subject of my paper): imaginary friends are a child's attempt to build his or her own world, and Bruner expands the idea of constructed worlds to comprehend all human thought.

16. The Court of the Air, by Stephen Hunt [SP 2]
A steampunk romp that takes the aesthetic and builds its own world (as opposed to a lot of steampunk, which riffs off of the "real" world). A fun book, a good adventure.

17. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
John Green has this tendency to write teen novels that are hilarious, and real, and by the end feel like a punch in the stomach. Looking for Alaska won lots of awards, and with good reason; Green has a spiritual depth to his writing for teens that a lot of authors lack. He also has a really good handle on what being a teenager feels like. Really, he's sort of incredibly brilliant.

18. Saint, by Ted Dekker
The second of the "Showdown" books, and just as enjoyable as the first. I usually avoid fiction writers marketed specifically as "Christian," but Dekker crosses boundaries, and with good reason--his stories are as good as any modern author of "junk food" fiction.

19. Larklight, by Philip Reeve [SP 3]
Wonderful YA steampunk novel, somewhat satirical, about a house floating in the middle of a solar system as colonized by the Victorian-Era British Empire. Space pirates, giant spiders, frilly dresses. That's all I have to say.

20. Going Bovine, by Libba Bray [Partial]
Got a hundred pages in before I got bored. It was reading like an attempt to write American Gods as a teen novel without being Neil Gaiman. Ugh.

21. Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee
My Non-Western class voted this book out because it had one sex scene. In defiance, I read the rest of it, because it was actually one of the best books (as far as prose, storytelling, and serious treatment of theme goes) in our Non-Western pile. A South African author, and a purely South African tragedy. It leaves a twist in the stomach that may just make the reader a better person.

22. The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Vintage Gaiman and McKean; not really explicable. It's much more about the human condition, about childhood and the loss of innocence, than about Mr. Punch, but like Mr. Punch it will do its best to fool you.

23. Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah
Somewhat fascinating, somewhat boring YA-level memoir of growing up during the cultural revolution in China.

24. Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman [ME 3]
Postman takes McLuhan's idea, "the medium is the message," and thoroughly examines what message the medium of television sends. In a word: television turns everything into entertainment. A fascinating indictment of a culture obsessed with triviality. Postman's specific application to TV might seem a little dated, but we can quite easily examine his arguments in light of modern entertainment media: computers, iPads, etc.

25. The Golden Age, by John C. Wright
26. The Phoenix Transcendent, by John C. Wright
The first two books of a trilogy, for which I still need/want to read the third. Wright is brilliant; he takes a far-future science fiction story and imbues it with a strong patina of Greek tragedy, taking what could be a very technical world and making it seem universal.

27. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
The previously-mentioned Green. This novel is about a young man who is a math prodigy and who, at 18, has been dumped by 19 girls named Katherine. A brilliant novel, probably my favorite by Green.

28. House, by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti [Partial]
Simply was not impressed. 50 pages was enough to make me bored. I'm not sure why, either--Peretti and Dekker both know how to tell a story (though I have a lot more respect for Dekker). But, meh. After 50 pages I just couldn't bring myself to care.

29. The Devil Knows Latin, by E. Christian Kopff
Brilliant book loaned to me by Bruce Gee; an indictment of a country (ours) that is largely out of touch with its philosophical and artistic roots, and a plea for classical education in all walks of life.

30. Alchemy: Its Science and Romance, by the Right Rev. J. E. Mercer, D.D. (Sometime Bishop of Tasmania)
A fascinating little history of alchemy, written in 1921 (thus the awesome quaintness of the author credit, which I copied straight from the title page). Good overview of the basics of alchemy and good thumbnail biographies of a few alchemists.

31. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Classic SF that EVERYONE has been telling me to read for YEARS, and they were RIGHT.

32. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
This was perhaps the third time I have read this book. It is my opinion that every teenager should be made to read this book and, once they have done so, should be hit over the head, told, "YOU DIDN'T GET IT," and then made to read it again. It would solve a lot of angst and various other pretentious teenager problems, I think.

33. The Sorceror's House, by Gene Wolfe
Managed to be simultaneously not one of Wolfe's best and better than most fantasy being written today. Appreciable for its trickiness; Wolfe loves the unreliable narrator, and in this story told through correspondence, unreliable narrators abound. Worth reading if just for the brain activity it takes to try to figure out what's REALLY happened/happening.

34. Agamemnon, by Aeschylus, tr. George Thomson
Honestly, I wasn't sure what was going on in this play for about the first quarter, then it all hit me like a load of bricks. A better tragedy, by my lights, than Oedipus.

35. Going Out, Getting Dumped, and Playing Mini-Golf on the First Date, by Rev. Tim Pauls
Excellent book of advice for Lutherans (or any Christians) on dating. Written for a high school audience, but valuable for anyone, really. It steers away from the mistake of most "Christian" dating books by not trying to control specific behaviors; rather, it lays out guidelines and helpful things to remember. (The latter being things like, Yeah, maybe your boyfriend dumped you. Are you therefore worthless? Well, did Christ still die for you?)

36. The Greeks: Cosmology and Cosmogony, ed. by W.H. Auden
Compilation of texts from people like Plato, Aristotle, Hesiod, Homer and various other Greek authors (some of them unknown/anonymous), which paint an interesting picture of the worldview of the ancient Greeks--i.e., the guys who laid the philosophical foundation of our entire civilization.

37. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson has always been good at storytelling and worldbuilding, and Mistborn is sheer storytelling and worldbuilding. Lots of fun, and a lovely big story, and quite refreshing in that the epic fantasy here was also a heist story. Still need to read the other two of this trilogy.

38. Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me!, by Edmund Carpenter [ME 4]
Another Media Ecology classic, this also marks the first of several that I read NOT for class, but on my own, initiating my descent into the Truly Nerdy (had I not been there already). A book full of short, pithy mini-essays about the effect of media on our senses--namely, that any form of media which extends our senses also alienates us from being truly human.

39. Audrey, Wait!, by Robin Benway
Fair-to-middling teen fiction fare. Unexpected fame and its consequences on suburban teenage exes, handled more gracefully than I would tend to expect from the genre.

40. Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
Discworld, an actually flat earth which flies through space on the back of four elephants which stand on a giant turtle, is a place that is wonderful both for an escape and for a challenge of the Way Things Are in the "real" world. Feet of Clay, perhaps the twelfth (or something, I don't even know) book in the series, breaks the genre of Police Procedural.

41. De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde
Anyone who says they know Oscar Wilde's thought and has not read De Profundis is a liar; and if they have not read the unexpurgated version, they might be a liar still. Wilde's letter from prison reveals him to be a changed man, and (puns aside) is one of the most profound things I have ever read. Worth reading for those interested in prison literature, Wilde's life, or, you know, human nature.

42. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of those books every literary person has to read sometime. Unlike many lit students (see: Ethan's opinion of Tristram Shandy), I LOVED this book, in all its bizarre magic realist glory. Many of the images--the old man haunting his workshop, the sons with Ash Wednesday crosses burned permanently into their foreheads--have stayed with me to this day.

43. Cairo: a Graphic Novel, by G. Willow Wilson
A truly fascinating graphic novel. The title is the setting, modern-day Cairo, and the story revolves around a magic lamp and the Djinn found within it. In the meantime it becomes a meditation on the Islamic world and its relation to the West. I'm tempted to think--though I realize it's highly unlikely--that if more people were to read this there would be less conflict between Muslims and everyone else. Certainly it courageously says some things that need to be said. And, being Dark Horse, there are of course some big firearms as well.

44. Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment, by Brian Talbot
This graphic novel is almost indescribable, and is further indescribably brilliant. Ostensibly a local history of the Sunderland region of England, it reaches across time, space, genre and form to encompass Shakespeare, the beginning of the universe, sculpture, art in general, theater, and numerous other topics, including lots and LOTS of Alice in Wonderland. A brilliant book, and truly like falling down the rabbit's hole in the best possible way.

45. Popgun: a Graphic Mix Tape, Volume One, edited by Mark Andrew Smith and Joe Keatinge
Really pretty much what the title says. The comic equivalent of a short story anthology, including the various advantages and drawbacks of an anthology. Particularly educational for me, not knowing THAT much about graphic novels, in that it shows off some of the many different forms and styles that graphic storytelling can take, as well as the many different types of stories that can be told. I grew bored and skipped some of the entries; I read some of them multiple times.

46. The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
47. The Ask and the Answer, by Patrick Ness
50. Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness
Collectively known as the Chaos Walking trilogy, probably the best Young Adult SF of the last 10 years. Maggie R. gets major props for recommending them. The set-up takes a cue from Firefly, in that we're on a planet that humans settled after using up earth, and after the ship landed had pretty much a Wild West level and style of technology to do the settling (though Firefly is far from the first SF story to use that idea). This planet has a disease, or a curse, or SOMETHING, which makes all the animals speak and which makes all the men broadcast their thoughts to everyone. That's right, everything the guys think is on public display. *shudder* Brilliant and gripping story, with main characters it's hard not to care for. One does kind of need a massage afterward.

48. Paper Towns, by John Green
John Green's cheapest novel, in that he essentially rewrote Looking for Alaska with somewhat different characters and a couple different themes and it STILL WORKS, and is STILL GRIPPING. Bastard.

49. Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto [ME 5]
I count this as Media Ecology, even though I don't think it intentionally is, because what Gatto does in this book is to look at the medium of the public school system, in order to try to determine what message it sends. That message is, according to Gatto, essentially postmodern despair. Public schools teach the disconnection of everything, and they teach reliance on outside "experts" who supposedly know us better than we know ourselves. An excellent book to read for anyone considering homeschooling, but more important, I think, for anyone who has or is considering sending their kids to public school--it serves as a warning about what they'll get out of it.

51. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz
While it can stand on its own, this book is meant to be a play for grade/middle school aged children; it consists of a series of monologues by various characters from a typical medieval European village, ranging from the Lord's daughter to the son of the miller and the daughter of the sniggler. Rather brilliantly written, and enormous fun to assistant direct, but with content making it possibly not for every small child.

52. Stories, by Oscar Wilde
53. A House of Pomegranates, by Oscar Wilde
54. Lady Windermere's Fan, by Oscar Wilde
55. A Woman of No Importance, by Oscar Wilde
It is a very dangerous thing to let someone like me find the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde for very cheap. Honestly, out of these few, I recommend A House of Pomegranates, Wilde's book of fairy tales for children, the most highly, because I think it has the greatest literary quality and probably the greatest lasting importance.

56. The Gutenberg Galaxy, by Marshall McLuhan (ME 6)
A sort of "prequel" to Understanding Media (written beforehand), Gutenberg Galaxy is all about the effects--psychologically, philosophically, and in all other ways--of the dominance of the printed word, as it held sway essentially from the invention of the printing press through the invention of the telegraph, and held on to its prominence for a while after that.

57. Serenity: Those Left Behind, by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
58. Serenity: Better Days, by Joss Whedon
Graphic novels that bridge the gap between the TV series Firefly and the movie Serenity. Filled with just as many fanboy moments of "Hey, remember when..." as the movie was.

59. Digital McLuhan: a Guide to Understanding the Information Millenium, by Paul Levinson [ME 7]
Levinson takes McLuhan and "updates" him for the digital age. While I appreciated a lot of Levinson's work, he doesn't particularly hold McLuhan's worldview to heart, but rather injects his own to a degree that I found annoying (possibly because I am much more inclined to agree with McLuhan's detached worldview than Levinson's evolutionarily progressive one). Further, I'm not sure it was necessary--McLuhan speaks for himself about the digital age, if one is listening at all.

60. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld [SP 4]
Sequel to Leviathan, and book 2 of Westerfeld's YA steampunk trilogy. A pleasing romp through Westerfeld's steampunk'd WWI era, with lots of mechanical marvels and airship action.

61. The Empire of Ice Cream, by Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford is one of those writers that all the other SF/Fantasy writers and nerds love, and very few other people seem to have heard of. This book of stupendously weird, though occasionally a touch too meta, novellas and short stories serves as evidence as to why. Good stuff.

62. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
The first of a series of books set in a very alternate 1985 (the Crimean War is still happening, dodos and other prehistoric beasts have been brought back through cloning, etc.). As all the others will be, this one is very literary; the plot centers around the attempted kidnapping of Jane Eyre from the pages of her book, with main character Thursday Next charged with rescuing her.

63. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright, by Steven Millhauser
The title, as listed above, was the first thing that caught my eye, then the preface, which began, "I have read them all, those smug adult prefaces..." convinced me to read the thing. In case it wasn't clear, the conceit is that this is a biography of one of the great American writers--Edwin Mullhouse, who died at age 11--by his friend, who is 12 at the time of writing. If that interests you, then by all means read it.

64. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
My third Austen, and I was not sorry to have read it.

65. Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, by M.T. Anderson
I was thrilled to find that Anderson had added a couple titles to his Pals in Peril series, which reads like a mash-up of EVERY FORMULA GRADE-SCHOOL SERIES EVER. In this book we're much more on the Tom Swift, Jumanji, Indiana-Jones end of things, with our heroes heading off to the exotic realm of Delaware (full of jungles, hidden temples, and exotic monks) to stop a plot involving a cursed artifact.

66. National Monuments: Poems, by Heid Erdrich
68. The Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function: Poems and Paintings, by Eric Gansworth
74. The Failure of Certain Charms: and Other Disparate Signs of Life, by Gordon Henry, Jr.
76. The Failure of Certain Charms: and Other Disparate Signs of Life, by Gordon Henry, Jr.
The three collections of poems read for my Contemporary Native American Poetry class. Further, these three along with Susan Power are the authors on this list I have talked to personally (because my prof is well-connected).
Erdrich's poems, like her sister Louise's fiction, have this way of being very analytical and deeply emotionally resonant at the same time. Gansworth, meanwhile, has this way of stringing a sentence over several pages with a brilliant, punchy image in almost every line. Henry was probably my favorite; I did in fact read his book twice, and I still feel as though I missed a lot of stuff.
All three of these poets are very Native American, addressing concerns facing the tribes today and using images often drawn from reservation settings; but they are also very contemporary, stubbornly refusing to fit into any compartmentalized notion of what a Native American writer should be.

67. Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser
A collection of short stories. In his elegiac styles, his middle-class American settings, and his big conceptual ideas, Millhauser actually reminds me a lot of Jeffrey Ford. That, and they're both obsessed with Edison-like characters.

69. Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
A story about two young British boys who, at the time of the British government's switching from the pound to the euro, intercept a bag of pounds that is meant for the incinerator. Another YA book, but probably one of the more skillfully-written stories on this list.

70. Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Fascinating Victorian sensationalist fiction (along the lines of "It was a dark and stormy night"--and actually, Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote that line, was one of Braddon's mentors). Lady Audley, the darling pretty new wife of an old manorial lord, is not who she appears to be. Mwa. Ha. Ha.

71. Carmilla, by Joseph Le Fanu
A vampire novella, one of the inspirations for Stoker's Dracula. Carmilla is a female vampiress, insanely seductive, and the end of the book, while appearing to have done with her, leaves to my mind an open question as to whether Carmilla won.

72. The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan et al. [ME 8]
A small book, inventorying some effects of the causes outlined in Understanding Media. This one would actually, I think, serve as a good introduction to McLuhan's ideas, and would also engage the visually-oriented reader since it is chock full of images that interact with the text.

73. Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
The new book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (on which the recent movie "Hugo" is based). It's in the same style as Hugo, in that it has text and charcoal drawings which together tell the story--basically, it's just on the novel's side of the prose/graphic novel divide. I truly appreciated this book, because it has to do with one of my favorite things: wonder cabinets. Also with museums, and the wonder cabinet's inspiration for museums. (The book's size is deceptive: it's about as thick as a brick, but due to all the pictures I read it in a couple hours without having to leave Barnes & Noble.)

75. Freedom & Necessity, by Steven Brust and Emma Bull
Epistolary fantasy novel that is mostly a piece of historical fiction, but not entirely. Set in England in 1849, the year after the Year of Revolutions. The characters tend to know what they are talking about better than the reader does, but everything becomes clear in time. Meanwhile, the characters themselves are fun, the plot is exciting, and the intrigue is fascinating.

77. King Solomon's Mines, by H. Rider Haggard
This was the second or third time I read this, and it didn't get any better. This time, though, I got to discuss it with all the other lit nerds in my Brit Lit class, and also do a bunch of research on it, and the research itself was actually quite fascinating. (Btw, you know The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Sean Connery's character, Allan Quartermain, is the main character of this book.)

78. Fugitive Anne, by Rosa Praed
Sort of like Mines, if one took out all the misogyny and made the main character a female rather than three males. She escapes into the Australian outback and, of course, finds the somewhat decadent descendants of the lost civilization of Atlantis.

79. The Heartsong of Charging Elk, by James Welch
80. The Grass Dancer, by Susan Power
Two of the books read for Contemporary Native American Fiction. Charging Elk is based on a true story, about a young Sioux man who travels to France in 1879 with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, is injured there, and thus gets left behind. He spends the next fifteen years making his way in France. It's a fascinating historical novel.
The Grass Dancer, meanwhile, is a brilliant magic realist novel set around a Sioux reservation, starting in the early 80's but traveling backward and forward through more than a hundred years of family history. It's a brilliant novel about brokenness and healing, actually one of my favorite books that I read all year.

81. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest [SP 5]
A fun steampunk ride through an alternate Seattle in an alternate 1879, it manages to include dirigibles, zombies, poison gas, gas masks, advanced weaponry, and a giant drill that can collapse buildings. Not the best-written piece of work, but it's printed in brown ink so that's forgivable.

82. The Good Soldier, by Ford Maddox Ford
I had read part of this for my Brit Lit class before the prof announced that class was cancelled that week and we didn't have to read it, but there was no way I was NOT finishing it. Hard to explain this book; it's somewhat like The Great Gatsby, but with better characters, a more complex plot, and deeper themes.

83. Underground Christmas, by John Hassler
Decent novella from a best-selling author. It had too much of the moralistic for my taste.

84. The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich
Out of books that have a non-human main character, this is probably one of the best. It's the story of an Ojibwe sacred drum, its theft and return to its rightful place. The human characters are drawn with great depth and skill, and the story is almost painfully subtle. But in a good way.

85. Mason and Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon
I truly believe that this book literally made my writing better. It's the story of the two men who surveyed the Mason-Dixon line in pre-Revolutionary America. But it's so much more than that. Written in the style of an 18th-century novel, it features a hyper-intelligent mechanical duck, a talking dog, all the legends and conspiracy theories early European America has to offer, and I'm sure all kinds of subtext that I missed. The prose, meanwhile, roars along in a hilarious, brilliant, endearingly odd and incredibly eloquent manner. For a while after reading it, I was having a hard time NOT writing in that style. What I recommend: read the first sentence. If that makes you want to read the rest of the book, do so. If not, you have no soul.

86. The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick
A fascinating history of the church from Paul through John of Damascus. Gave me a much firmer grasp and wider framework for what I already knew of the early fathers, the early heresies, and the early tension between the church in the east and the west.

87. Steampunk!, ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant [SP 6]
The second steampunk anthology I read this year, this one aimed at the YA market. There was some brilliance here, and some boredom, though these stories hold up against almost any of the "adult" steampunk being released. Cory Doctorow's "Clockwork Fagin" is almost worth the price of admission alone (and, I have just discovered, is available for free on Amazon), while Kelly Link's "The Summer People" and MT Anderson's "The Oracle Engine" are both at least as good. Also includes two graphic stories, both very good.

88. The Sandman Papers, ed. by Joe Sanders
This book combines nerdiness with nerdiness to get SUPER-NERDINESS. It's a collection of academic papers written about Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels. For a fan of the series who is also interested in literary analysis (namely, me), this is enormous fun. The analyses run from the fascinating (such as the analysis of Orientalism in an episode of Sandman that takes place in old Baghdad) to the annoyingly unfair (the stilted, academically dishonest feminist take on "The Kindly Ones), but mostly consists of the former.

89. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller
By the end of this graphic novel, I could see why it shook the entire world of comics back when it was released. This very mature take on Batman--who up until this point had been little better than a kid's comic--set the stage for literary graphic works like Sandman, Watchmen, and so forth. But its importance aside, this book is brilliant just for being an amazingly-told story.

90. Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde
The second Thursday Next book, which is more complex and pleasing (especially for book nerds), but will also leave the reader frustratedly wanting the third.

91. Not Less Than Gods, by Kage Baker [SP 7]
An excellent novel for fans of Baker's Company series. It can stand alone, but knowledge of the universe in which it's placed gives it a lot more complexity. Sort of a steampunk romp, though Baker's world here is much bigger than that of just a Victorian secret society. Her series is set across all of history, and while this book does stay in the 1800s, echoes of that resonate through it.

92. Laws of Media, by Marshall and Eric McLuhan [ME 9]
The book Marshall McLuhan was working on when he died, taken up and finished by his son, Eric. The McLuhans' endeavor was to find what universal laws applied to all forms of media--that is, all forms of human endeavor. They found that there are four of them: each form of media expands some function of humans, obsolesces some previous function of other media, retrieves something that was previously obsolesced, and when pushed to the limits of its potential flips into something unexpected and opposite.

93. Masters of Atlantis, by Charles Portis
A brilliant comic (as in funny, not picture-riddled) novel by the author of True Grit. It starts in France in 1917, when a tramp gives a young American man stationed there a manuscript that supposedly holds the lost secrets of Atlantis. Take that set-up, and imagine Mark Twain writing it, to get a decent picture of what this novel is like.

94. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Interesting book, though one I'm not sure remains particularly contemporary. Either way, it tells a good story, though also the sort of story that features rape on page 1.

95. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov
The most brilliant book I will probably never recommend to anyone. A great indictment, not of a sexually exploitative society, but of the vampirism that allows such a society to operate.

96. Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, by Stephen Millhauser
The extremely well-researched story of a young man who purportedly builds hotels, but in reality is building dreams. At some point his dreams get away from him. Yet another Victorian story, and a good one at that.

97. Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan
The first in a series of graphic novels about a young man who becomes the last man on earth. Literally. A virus kills off all the men in the world, except young Yorick and his male monkey. A fun opening, at least, without a ton of depth.

98. The Justification Reader, by Thomas Oden
Oden's thesis is that, far from the commonly-promoted idea that nobody between Paul and Luther properly understood salvation by grace alone through faith alone, there is a large consensus between the early church fathers and the justification teachings of the Reformation (Oden says, too, that a large amount of this overlaps with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teachings, but he is much more familiar with the Protestants).

99. Extraordinary Engines, ed. by Nick Gevers
The THIRD steampunk anthology of the year. Once again a mixed bag, with some stories I couldn't bring myself to care about. The YA stories, at least, focused as YA tends to do on characters; the risk in "adult" SF in general is always that it will get too conceptual--doing interesting things with a world and people that no one cares about. The last four stories--Reed, Vandermeer, Lake and Jeffrey Ford--are probably the best.

100. Commentary on Galations, by Martin Luther
Not nearly finished with this one, but I thought I'd mention it. Luther is wonderful; we Lutherans should read him in primary sources far more than we do.

I thought about compiling several lists like I did the last couple years, but this year I am lazy. Thus I am picking the twelve books out of this list that I would recommend to pretty much anyone, of any age, ever, except that some of them have content probably best kept from children--so any adult, of any age, ever. Counting down in the style of a cheap late-night show:

Ethan's Top Twelve Books of 2011
12. Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
11. Steampunk!, ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant
10. The Grass Dancer, by Susan Power
9. Freedom & Necessity, by Steven Brust and Emma Bull
8. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
7. The Justification Reader, by Thomas Oden
6. Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman
5. The Chaos Walking Trilogy, by Patrick Ness (see 46, 47 and 50)
4. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
3. Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan
2. De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde
1. Mason and Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon


Nat said...

Man, screw you. I recently read "Bird by Bird" (200 pages) in only one week and I felt like a king.

Robin said...

17,27,48; I read Paper Towns and loved it. I'd all but given up on teen novels (except for Scott Westerfeld and Holly Black), but he gave me new hope. I keep wanting to read his other books, but I DON'T HAVE ANY TIME. GARAGGGH.

20. A friend made me read Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy when I was 14 or 15. Her ideas are good, but her writing is pretty blah.

32. I'll have you know that I LIKE being angsty and pretentious and misunderstood and also, I LIKED Catcher in the Rye, and I can form opinions about books that I haven't read and be pretentious about it if I damn well please, so THERE.

41. I started this and loved it. If I wasn't already a squealing Oscar Wilde fangirl, I am now.

She wrote another series about an air stewardess who is afraid of flying, and an Islamic terrorist that had a disappointing ending, but otherwise was quite good. I'm glad you discovered this one.

64. I have never heard of anyone who has read Persuasion and been sorry for it.
The Austen I really want to read (so that I can recommend it) is Northanger Abbey. Having hated Jane Eyre, nothing could make me happier than Austen making fun of gothic novels.

88. WANT.

89. LOVE. SO MUCH LOVE. When it comes to Batman, Frank Miller can do no wrong. He even made Robin a girl and it didn't totally suck. (You should also read All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. Despite the hokey title, it's actually very good. Not at all the Batman and Robin out of kid's cartoons.)

97. I read about half of this series and then lost interest. It was fun, but like a lot of Vaughan's work, not very deep.

Ethan, have you ever read anything by Charles de Lint? He's written a lot of fantasy/sci fi. I haven't read anything by him, but a number of his books have been illustrated by an artist that I adore, Charles Vess (who, incidentally, also did some of the art for Sandman).

Also, I second Nat. Screw you, man.

Ethan said...

I accept all metaphorical screwing with good grace.

Furthermore, Robin, I've read a few of de Lint's books. He varies from middling to decent, but seeing him ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES VESS would be REALLY EXCITING.

Also, Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen books. Okay, favorite of three. It should be noted that it was published in 1818, while Jane Eyre was published in the 1840s and is not considered "true" gothic, just gothic-influenced, since the gothic genre APPARENTLY ended in 1820. If you want the books Austen was going after, you have to read Ann Radcliffe and other 18th-century gothic. Which, don't. Having done so DID make Northanger Abbey better, but that's really the only benefit. You'll have plenty to laugh at reading it with Jane Eyre in mind.

If you want good "true" gothic, read "Melmoth the Wanderer," which incidentally Oscar Wilde LOVED. (Published in 1820, considered the last true gothic novel.)

Ethan said...

Also, Robin, I appreciate that you apparently bothered to read and respond to the entire list. Not many people would be that nerdy. ;)

(Nat, I appreciate if you did so too, but I don't want to make any asses out of my umptions.)

Robin said...

Adding Melmoth the Wanderer to my neverending to-read list.

I know Jane Eyre isn't "real" gothic novel material, but I haven't read anything else from that era that would qualify.

Also, Ethan, I actually skimmed much of the list, so I'm not quite /that/ nerdy (;

Ethan said...

Well, Robin, I'm actually glad to hear you say that, for your sake.