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The Year in Reading 2012

December 11, 2012

Thanks to the magic of goodreads.com, I have been keeping track of my reading. I rarely write reviews there, however, which I realize means I should *actually* be going to something like LibraryThing, but all my shit’s in Goodreads already so I think I’ll just keep using it. I’ve included a list of all the books by their star rating at the bottom of this post. Now, a straight up “list” by stars isn’t actually all that illuminating on what I actually enjoyed this year. Looking over these titles there are a few themes:

This was the year of self-help, apparently

Seven out of forty five books had a self-helpy or a creativity-managing bent to them, eight if you count Writing 21st Century Fiction which I kind of don’t, because, full disclosure, my boss wrote it! (It’s great, and I would say that even if he didn’t sign my checks.) At my last job I had read parts of The Now Habit, but reading the whole thing was interesting. Ultimately the book I took the most from in terms of “How to suck less at things” was Getting Things Done, even though for my personal process, I discard a lot of the physical paraphernalia (I barely have space for seven folders for my clients on my desk, let alone 43. WTF, David?) Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour work-Week was interesting, but bro-y, and I don’t think applies to me very much. I’m also constantly struck at how much of these productivity modality systems seem there so that the person using them can create more widgets, or fobs, or whatever. I liked Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit better than The Artist’s way, but by far my favorite book on creativity and the creative process was Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker.

Now, this book is not going to be for everyone. Sayers is writing from an explicitly Christian standpoint, and uses the idea of the Holy Trinity as a tool to talk about art, and the things that go into making good art. (NB: I do not mean that she talks about how good art must be Christian art.) Sayers is my favorite writer of all time, pretty much, and I’m just now branching out into her oeuvre beyond the Wimsey novels. Shame on me! This year I also read a book of essays about Sayers by Dawson Gaillard, which seemed … fine, if dry. I read for the first time Striding Folly,a collection of Wimsey short stories, and re-read Strong Poison and Have His Carcase, for a piece I’m writing for KGB (and a possible other Secret Project that I’m pulling together the proposal for.)

This was also the year of … romance novels?

I read a ton of romance in 2012. I did a little freelance assistant-y type work for the always-excellent Thea Harrison, and in the course of that had to read all the books in her amazing Elder Races series of paranormal romances. *Had* to. That makes it sound like someone held a gun to my head when in reality I zoomed through three of the novellas on one epically terrible bus ride to Boston. The woman gives good worldbuilding AND writes great sex, IF you know what I mean (I’m assuming you do, unless you’re a child, in which GET OFF THIS WEBSITE THIS IS INAPPROPRIATE.)

My favorite romance discovery this year is Tracey Devlyn. Tracey is one of my newest clients at the DMLA, and her Nexus series is Regency-era romance like I’ve never read it before. Far from being wilting virgins or awkward society ladies pining for their One True Love, Devlyn’s heroines are strong, self-sufficient, and have motivations of their own beyond falling on the nearest quivering member. In A Lady’s Revenge, her heroine is an undercover spy against the French. How fucking badass is that? And her gentleman love interests are fully developed and conflicted in a way that you don’t often see in historical romance. Her next book Checkmate, My Lord comes out in April.

The three Fifty Shades books are on different sections of the list, as I started out feeling “meh” on the books and enjoyed the series less and less as it went on. Other people have written much more entertainingly and informatively about the particular evils of this series, so I won’t elaborate here. Suffice to say that if you want to get into the erotica “trend,” read the infinitely superior Bared To You by Sylvia Day. The sex is hotter and performed by actual people instead of cardboard cutouts masquerading as characters, and there is an actual plot and real motivations. And did I mention the sex is hot? Once again, any children reading this, get off my website.

Speculative Fiction

This year in an effort to educate myself on scifi/fantasy books I’ve missed (or books that are popular) I read three books that everyone had been telling me to read forever: A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Scar, and The Name of the Wind. I keep having conversations with people about Name of the Wind, because the worldbuilding in this book is so perfect I could cry. Something is keeping me from really “getting” the protagonist, however- his narration smacks of Misunderstood Boy Genius, and all his problems seem to stem from people being mad at him for being good at stuff. The world that Rothfuss has created is so lived in, so real, that even as I was rage-reading and wanting to punch Kvothe in the face, I looked forward eagerly to the next page.

A Canticle for Leibowitz was straight up amazing, however. I realize that I am about 30 years late to it but I don’t care. It’s a nearly perfect book, and I am so sad that the author committed suicide. I also loved The Scar. I had attempted Perdido Street Station and stopped about a quarter of the way through, but my friend Rachel convinced me to give Mieville another try and to start with The Scar. I loved this book. Bellis Coldwine is a fantastic character—prickly and sure of herself and devastated in betrayal. The Armada is one of those settings that I want ten bajillion more books about. I think the next book of Mieville’s that I’m going to attempt is The City and the City—or should I go with Embassytown? Either way, I’m going to try to get through another book of his before attempting Perdido Street Station again.

I think my favorite speculative book this year has to be Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery. He’s the author of Liberation, which is the book I playfully call “The Book That Got Me Hired,” a masterful, hallucinatory journey with six international criminals who band together to end slavery after the dollar collapses and along with it, the United States.
Longest sentence ever on my blog? Possibly. But where Liberation was expansive and frenetic, Lost Everything is focused and tense. It follows two men—Sunny Jim and Reverend Bauxite— headed north up the Susquehanna River, hoping to reach the house where Sunny Jim’s son is staying with his sister. They’ve got to reach the house before the Army catches them and executes Sunny Jim for an act of terrorism committed during the decades-long war, the origins of which no one can recall. And they have to get there before the Big One hits—the storm to end all storms, a massive maelstrom that leaves nothing in its wake. It’s a book about family, and duty, and hope in the face of certain annihilation, and it’s the first book in a long time that had me weeping at the end.

Other favorites:

The Diviners was a fun, intricate, dark YA novel that I was super pissed isn’t a standalone because now I have to wait like two years for the sequel.

The Heresy of Formlessness and Revelations of Divine Love– religious reading, again, but how can you go wrong with Julian of Norwich? And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Mosebach makes the case in his book for the benefits to the more “conservative” structure of worship, which I found interesting.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy– I hadn’t ever read any LeCarré before, and this was pretty great. Although I have to say that Peter Guillem’s love story in the book didn’t do anything for me.

and finally

Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente. This book. Oh god, this book. It’s the only book currently on my “flail” shelf on Goodreads.

There’s still a few weeks left in 2012, and I’ve got a couple of books running at the same time, including Tom Pollock’s THE CITY’S SON (my coworker Amy’s client). I am putting most of this reading on hold in the next few days so that I can get through a lot of the work I have to do before I go home for the holidays, and when I’m home I foresee a lot of time on the couch in the living room, reading.

Five Star Books
Thames: The biography by Peter Ackroyd
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
Dorothy L. Sayers by Dawson Gaillard
Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
Lord’s Fall by Thea Harrison
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
A Lady’s Revenge by Tracey Devlyn
Hunter’s Season by Thea Harrison
Natural Evil by Thea Harrison
Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach
Unnatural Causes by P.D. James
Why Have Kids? By Jessica Valenti
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Scar by China Mieville
Cover Her Face by P.D. James
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (rearead)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Four Star Books:

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
True Colors by Thea Harrison
The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Three Star Books
Bared To You by Sylvia Day
Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Sky Conducting by Michael Seidlinger (which I reviewed for KGB)
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell
The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
Fifty Shades of Grey
The Lampshade by Mark Jacobson
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Two Stars
The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick
If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
Fifty Shades Darker

One Star
Fifty Shades Freed

my 2011 Year In Reading post

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012 2:27 pm

    Just my opinion about the Mieville, but either of those two are excellent. I’m pushing Embassytown as one of the best SF novels of the past decade. As such, it’s more straightforward than The City and the City, which is deeply Kafkaesque. I just started reading Kraken.

    We were using the Sayers translation for our Dante group (along with the Esolen version) and found her version closest in spirit to Dante if occasionally a bit too orthodox. Good stuff, though I would avoid the bio of Dante by her collaborator, Barbara Reynolds, who also penned (apparently) a bio of Sayers. Reynolds, in spite of her claims that she offers a radical new view of Dante and the Commedia, is thoroughly conventional in her approach, and dry to boot, though the actual details of Dante’s life are fascinating.

    I just started reading P.D. James a year ago. I was amused by the teleplay of “Cover Her Face”—they added a drug dealer into it (!) to make the ex-army guy more of a badass/villain. She’s seriously into deepseated neuroses and quasi-theological guilt! “A Taste of Death” features everything but a hair shirt.

    Anyway, my two-bits.

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