While working on my 2012 movie superlatives, I figured I should make a list of book superlatives too. Although it’s harder being snarky here — I want to be honest about some of my frustrations, but I also don’t want to piss off people I could someday, potentially, work with. It’s bad when you burn bridges before you even really have bridges to burn.
Well, who knows. I once got hired for a job merely by being candid about why I needed it. Anyway, here’s what I have for books, 2012 . . .
*Any books you see on this list may (clearly) not have been written in 2012 — this is simply the first time I read it. Also, while I did try to keep spoilers fairly light or otherwise non-existent, I’m afraid there are serious spoilers for George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Yeah, I do spoiler warnings for books written in the early 19th century . . . because I’m AWESOME.)
The Book Superlatives – 2012
Favorite Opening Line:
“A midwestern town. You know its name. You were born here.”
–Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge
I had never heard of this book when I picked it up at the University Book Store in Seattle, but I was mildly interested in the summary on the back cover and more than interested when I read this first line. It’s just a great way to draw the reader in. Second person POV doesn’t work for everyone, but I love it when it’s done well. Plus, I’m basically from a midwestern town that just happens to be located in California, and while I wasn’t born there — I might as well have been. And I do know its name. I know it’s Bible sign and teeny little library and grocery/hardware store too.
This book welcomed me home, only with the promise of (more literal) bloodshed. I went willingly.
The Siege of Winterfell
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
I absolutely love this series, and the book was an easy read — neat trick, at near 1,000 pages — but it felt like we were building to several Big Things happening and then . . . none of them happened. Some of them I could get around, but the fact that we never got the battle between Stannis and Bolton? Ack! I was waiting the whole book for that!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Oh. My. GOD. I wanted to kill this man so much. I wanted to leap into the pages and strangle this man with my bare fucking hands. Dr. Frankenstein is the whiniest, most irresponsible schmo in all the universe. Never mind his three separate fits of hysterical madness that leave him insensible for weeks or even months — he makes the Creature, becomes horrified by it, and is relieved when it goes missing, just so he doesn’t have to think about it anymore. Like, thanks for not having even the most mild concern for either your creation or the human race, you ass.
Oh and later, when the Creature is trying to blackmail Frankenstein into creating him a mate, Frankenstein eventually refuses — which seems silly to me, but hey, at least he’s taking a stance and attempting some small amount of responsibility — except how he does absolutely nothing to seriously secure the safety of his family or friends afterwards. UGH! I HATE YOU!
And while we’re at it . . .
Most Frustrating Book:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
When you despise the protagonist with every fiber of your being, it can be awfully hard to get through a book. Besides, I think the Romantic period may not be my era. Some of the language is just beautiful — some of these words I’d etch into my skin — and some of the prose is just the most melodramatic, wretched whining I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if people were gnashing their teeth and wringing their hands and slipping into catatonia this much . . . Jesus God, how did anybody get anything done in the 1800’s?
Book That Made Me Cry Like a Baby:
Passage by Connie Willis
I had some difficulties with Passage, but I ended up being extremely grateful that I made it all the way through, even if I had, like, three emotional breakdowns while reading it. One of the things I really liked about this novel was how it dealt with grieving and the fear of death in such a straightforward, candid way. I get tired of stoic characters quietly accepting that death has come for them. I mean, that’s okay for some stories, but this here . . . it didn’t read as artificial. It didn’t read as manipulative. It read honest. And I connected hugely with it.
Best Use of Sharks:
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
I won’t detail the actual moment I’m thinking of for anyone who hasn’t read the novel, but seriously: go read the novel. This is the best (and, well, possibly only) fantasy epic with killer sharks you’ll ever find.
Most Annoying Romance:
Kvothe and Denna
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is a pretty awesome book — funny, smart, and packed with awesome side characters — but my main stumbling block is Kvothe’s lovestruck mooning over the mysterious Denna. Denna’s actually okay in scene, but she’s torture to read about — every time Kvothe goes on about how beautiful she is or how much every man in the galaxy loves her, I just want to vomit a little. I really kept hoping there would be some last minute twist where Kvothe was describing some other woman — because I liked pretty much every other female character more than I liked Denna. (Again, in scene? Not so terrible. But she’s the elusive, mysterious woman that every guy wants — and that’s an archetype that gets old fast.)
I will say, though, the part where Bast says that Denna has a crooked nose? Made my whole damn day.
Most Unapologetic Love Letter to the 80’s:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Good lord, this one. God knows I can’t go five minutes without making a pop culture reference, but this book can barely go two sentences without mentioning a movie or a video game or a toy from the 80’s. It’s a lot of fun, actually, despite the fact that I think Cline could reign it in now and again: there’s something sort of nice about being the target audience of something, and while I didn’t get every reference — I’m a bit more familiar with the 90’s, honestly — a lot of it felt like it was directed at me.
It’s cool, being a grown-up and getting to relish in your geekiness.
Book I Would Most Like to See Turned Into A Movie:
Territory by Emma Bull
There have been several films about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday but never one quite like this. This is exactly the kind of weird western I would love to see on the big screen, a retelling of the days leading up to the OK Corral . . . only with a lot more magic than you got in Wyatt Earp or Tombstone. This book was a ton of fun to read, and I think it could make an awesome movie.
Most Surprisingly Awesome Return of a Previously Annoying Character:
Theon Greyjoy/Reek – A Dance with Dragons
I don’t mind telling you that Theon was probably my least favorite character in the Song of Ice and Fire series — even worse than Catelyn, even worse than Cersei — I hated reading from Theon’s POV in the second book, and I was beyond ecstatic when he appeared to have died. I didn’t actually think he would stay dead, mind, but I really, really hoped.
So I was completely disappointed when he came back as Reek in A Dance With Dragons. But . . . I was also pleasantly surprised (and more than a little bewildered) when he slowly become one of my favorite POV’s to read. I don’t know that I ever truly pitied him the way I probably should have, but I felt maybe a teeny-tiny bit sorry for him, and his story was actually pretty interesting.
Most Annoying Return of a Previously Awesome Character:
Dany – A Dance with Dragons
Dany isn’t my absolute favorite character — that’s a tie between Jon and Tyrion, at least in the novels, where I actually like Jon — but she’s always been pretty cool, and I’ve enjoyed reading her POV . . . until this book, where I mostly just wanted to slap her. I get that she’s young and not everyone makes sound decisions all the time, but her little love affair with Daario was just maddening. She wasn’t behaving in Cersei levels of stupidity or anything, but I was getting worried for a while. (Hopefully, she will return to her previously awesome status in the next book when she flies back on her dragon.)
Best Example of an Author Turning a Story on its Head:
Dark Harvest – Norman Partridge
Again, I won’t say too much here — I’m trying to limit my spoiler use to a couple of books only — but when this novel starts out, you think you know what kind of story it is. You recognize a lot of the classic horror elements: small town, killer scarecrow, Pumpkinhead, etc. But the further you go, the more you realize Partridge is playing with those elements and giving you a new kind of story . . . which is just the sort of thing I eat up with a spoon.
The Friday Society – Adrienne Kress
Not every book has to be an easy read, of course, but it rarely hurts. This YA steampunk story flew by, and while it’s sometimes a little too tongue-in-cheek for me, I had a good time reading it. Sometimes, you just need something silly and fun, and I appreciate Kress’s dedication to making strong, likable, and flawed heroines.
Worst Heart Knowledge:
Sensing a Killer
Death is a Lonely Business – Ray Bradbury
Okay, I feel a little bit like a heel for this, considering that the man was a legend and only died this year, but I did say I wanted to be honest, so . . . I liked this book (I loved Elmo Crumley), but I did have trouble getting past the inciting incident, where the unnamed writer protagonist is creeped out by a particularly smelly person on the bus, then later finds a dead body and somehow just KNOWS that the smelly bus guy murdered the dead dude. You know, cause the narrator’s a writer. And he Feels things.
Actually, I don’t have any problem with him thinking this — as the book goes on, it pokes a little fun at the narrator, which made the story loads easier to read. But the fact that he’s right? I just never swallowed it. There’s just no reason for him to know this, none. I’m a writer, and I can tell you that many people on the bus weird me out on a regular basis, but I cannot pick out a murderer on the #14 downtown, no matter how strange he might smell.
Quentyn Martell – Burned to Death by Dragon
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
I know. You’re thinking, Carlie, you did read books BESIDES A Dance with Dragons, right? And I did, but to hell with it. I’m pretty deeply invested in this series and anyway, I probably won’t get to read the next one for another five years at least, so might as well get in as many superlatives while I can.
Besides, Mr. Martin writes some of the very best deaths, and nothing made me laugh quite as hard as Quentyn’s death in A Dance with Dragons. Cause, sometimes, a character acts like a total idiot, right, and you think to yourself, Jesus, you should totally die for this. If this was the real world and not a story, you would completely and 100% die for this. And then . . . Quentyn actually did! YES!
To quote Shakespeare: “Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”
To quote a popular bumper sticker: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”
Best Making Up For Your Particularly Shitty American Education Book:
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Despite the fact that I have an English degree, I actually haven’t read that many classics. Between an occasional lack of initiative, a strange hodgepodge of college classes that focused mostly on poetry or short stories, and a high school that ran out of the assigned books, I’m kind of the Worst Little English Degree in the world.
So this year I made a long list of books I should read over my lifetime to correct this issue and picked a few to start with in 2012. (I only picked two short novels, a play, and an epic poem because I’m a big believer in toeing the water, not jumping headfirst into the pool. Also, there are frankly other things I’d rather be reading.) And considering most people first read Vonnegut when they’re twelve or thirteen years old . . . well, I figured I should fix that because I’d only read one short story.
And it was easily my favorite self-assigned work. Also my Best WTF Book. Because seriously. This is a weird damn story.
Book That Most Drove My Inner Feminist Crazy:
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Admittedly, this was probably only to be expected. Still. Eve had a couple of few moments of surprising awesomeness, but she mostly just acted like a dumbass. And then Adam bitched about her wickedness for, like, years, and Milton made sure to remind me every four pages or so that women were inferior to men and meant to serve their husbands and blah blah blah.
Bite me, Milton. Bite me.
Favorite Graphic Novel:
Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
I’ve never been able to explain it, exactly, but I’m completely fascinated by sidekicks, especially all the various incarnations of Robin. I always feel like Dick Grayson, in particular, gets really shitty representation, and I’ve been wanting to see or read a more compelling look at him for years. So this book was awesome because I got to read Dick Grayson taking over the role of Batman and witness how it changed both him and Batman as a superhero. I am definitely eager to read more of this arc and Scott Snyder’s work in general.
Favorite Short Story:
I learned a lot of things at Clarion West this year, and one of the more important things I learned was that I needed to read more short stories. Well, I need to read more in general anyway, but definitely short stories — it’s a great way to try out new authors, and you’re missing a whole lot of fantastic writers if you’re only willing to read novels.
I have a lot of runners-up for this one: Joe Hill’s, “Abraham’s Boys,” Terry Bisson’s, “They’re Made of Meat,” Ken Liu’s, “Paper Menagerie,” and Genevieve Valentine’s, “Armless Maidens of the American West.” But I think my very favorite was the first story I ever read by Maureen McHugh, “Ancestor Money,” which is one of the more interesting portraits of the afterlife I’ve ever seen. I just connected with this one.
Least Favorite Book:
A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli
I haven’t read a lot of Southern Gothic, so it might just be that the sub-genre isn’t my thing. I’m not sure. But despite the fact that the lyrical prose was often dark and lovely, I didn’t much care for the story as a whole. The plot was a little too convoluted for me with too many mysteries that didn’t come together the way I needed them to.
Favorite Book of 2012:
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This was close — I really enjoyed Territory too — but The Lies of Locke Lamora was such a fresh, exciting, violent look at epic fantasy. It is both incredibly funny and deeply brutal. I miss things, of course — we all do — but it’s hard to genuinely surprise me, and Scott Lynch managed to a few times in this book. And — so long as the surprises aren’t cheaply earned — I really appreciate when someone can do that.
Also, Locke’s a great protagonist surrounded by a bunch of awesome side characters, and I felt a lot of personal investment in both the story and in everyone’s survival. The sequel, Red Skies Under Red Seas, is awesomely already in paperback and on my Must Read List for 2013.
And finally . . . . Favorite Quote:
“No man will ever kill himself for the love of me.” – Penelope – The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
I saved for this one for last because trying to pick a favorite quote from all year was my most ridiculous idea ever, and I have to post a huge number of honorable mentions which were on my, heh, short list. But despite all the other great lines, this particular one just stuck with me all year. Margaret Atwood’s characters frequently annoy the crap out of me, but if I could eat her prose up with a spoon, I would.
“And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with.” – Penelope – Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
“And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives where grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we still had duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains who the spoiler has not seized.” – Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
“I just have to keep you here . . . until Jean shows up.” – Locke, The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
“It was his intention, at first, to follow the example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at the Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today; Dr. Montague was forced to engage assistants.” – The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
“His mom died of cancer last winter, and his dad drank away his job at the grain elevator the following spring. There’s enough rotten luck in that little sentence to bust anyone’s chops.” – Dark Harvest – Norman Partridge
“Come not between the dragon and his wrath.” – King Lear – King Lear – William Shakespeare
“You lack the requisite spine and testicular fortitude to study under me.” –Elodin – The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
“It wasn’t even a good note. ‘If you are reading this I am probably dead.’ What sort of a note is that?” – Bast – The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
“Billy was loopy with time travel and morphine.” – Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
“So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.” – Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
“Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do birds say? All there is to say after a massacre, things like poo-tee-weet.” – Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
“Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell. ” – Paradise Lost – John Milton
That’s it for 2012. See you in 2013!