Old and new friends.
This was a full year of reading for me, 38 volumes of (more-or-less straight) fiction, another 28 science fiction novels, and 28 volumes of non-fiction. Some could slide from one category to another, I suppose (is Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology science fiction?).
I read three books by Adam Roberts (The Real-Town Murders, Bethany, Jack Glass); three by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man, The Weight of Glory); three by Neil Gaiman (Norse Mythology, The View from the Cheap Seats, and with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens); three by Peter Heller (The Dog Stars, Hell or High Water, Celine), and four by William Gibson (The Peripheral, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties).
The best new finds in fiction I read this year included Peter Heller, The Dog Stars (The Last 1956 Cessna 182); Adam Roberts, The Real-Town Murders, (R!-town) and Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (a marvelous series of short stories).
Two excellent new non-fiction offerings were Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project and Philip Allen Green, Trauma Room Two.
I think that Martin Luther King, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, and Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem should be required reading, but I had read neither of them before 2017 (see Jerusalem and Birmingham).
In 2018, I am hoping for some new fiction from Donna Tartt and Neil Gaiman (no novels since 2013); William Gibson, Emily St. John Mandel and Stephen Carter (no novels since 2014); and Mary Doria Russell and David Mitchell (no novels since 2015).* Indeed I have Agency, Gibson’s next, on pre-order from Amazon.
But there are lots of great books out there already.
*David Mitchell wrote From Me Flows What You Call Time, but that won’t be published until 2116, so I need something in the interim, I think.
I tend to read too many books at a time, sometimes. I have six going right now, which is clearly too many:
E.I. Wong, Poet Robot
Kevin Wignal, A Death in Sweden
David Weber, On Basilisk Station
David Mitchell, Ghostwritten
Lisa Randall, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs
Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk
I’m a little stalled on Guinness and Randall, but I’ll finish.
I promise I will give you some thoughts on Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself, and Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, each of which were fascinating (but in very different ways).
David Mitchell, it seems to me, has a gift for conjuring a story-illusion, seducing the reader into the narrative, and then dropping the reader out of the dream abruptly. I find myself initially frustrated (” . . . but I wanted to know what was going to happen to that character! I liked her and I want to . . . .”). Then within 2-3 pages, he has drawn me into the next dream. He is very, very skilled at this.
Cloud Atlas (2004) wraps back on itself in a chiastic structure which is fun to sketch:
The structures of Ghostwritten, The Bone Clocks, and Slade House are unique, but Mitchell displays his maddening, enthralling, wonderful gift in each of them.
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell.
One nice thing about this site is that it gives me a place to keep track of the books I am reading. It has allowed me to be a little more introspective about what I read. (I seem to require a couple of books a week to maintain my sanity.) About a third of my reading is re-reading, which makes sense to me, anyhow. Wouldn’t you want to go back and visit old friends in addition to meeting new ones?*
My favorite newly-discovered author of the last year is probably Emily St. John Mandel. I read Station Eleven, then picked up Last Night in Montreal, and The Lola Quartet, and enjoyed all three. Yes, they are quirky and have some repetitive elements, but I liked Ms. Mandel’s writing and will continue to follow her.
The best new** fiction I read this year includes (in no particular order) Andy Weir, The Martian (2014), Stephen L. Carter, Back Channel (2014), Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2014), William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014), Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (2014), David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (2014), and Neal Stephenson, seveneves (2015). All were well-crafted and enjoyable, but I will let you look elsewhere for reviews. I usually pre-order anything by Gibson, Carter and Stevenson, and will probably add Mandel and Weir to that list.
I read two excellent new** nonfiction books: Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit (2015); and Jeff Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison (2015). Mr. Smith was the most horrifying book I read recently,*** as it was an account of a politician who was sent to prison for a year for lying about a fairly minor campaign violation.
Eric Metaxas’ Miracles (2014) was strikingly different from C.S. Lewis’ book of the same name. Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor (2014) was an encouragement about the significance of work. Roger Kahn’s Rickey and Robinson (2014) was a great story about baseball and society by someone who lived through those important years when baseball was being integrated.
And how did I miss this one when it first came out: Cheryl Strayed, Wild (2012), a fascinating account of a troubled woman who walks the Pacific Crest Trail? Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light (2013) (last part of WWII in Europe) was well worth the 900-page investment.
Caveat Lector. It should go without saying that some of these will be uninteresting, unedifying, or even upsetting for some readers. What I think I can assure you is that none of these books are poorly written. Let me know if you have any thoughts about these or others on my sidebar.
**Published since January 2014.