As this year draws to a close and I finish reading my 75th book and somethingdy somethingth short story, it seems like an appropriate time to drop a whole pile of reading recommendations. In this post I’ll cover books. Short stories will come soon. #SFWApro
As this stray 2017 gets flushed away by vodka tonics and nachos, I find myself reflecting back upon the year and all its greatness. Sure, it wasn’t always wonderful, but there were some aspects of this year that I was pretty damn happy about.
I mean, I read a lot of books. A LOT.
In this last week of the year, I finally managed to hit my 100 books for the year. As a fairly slow reader, this is a pretty nice accomplishment. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, dedicate time in the evenings to read, and just generally work hard to consume stories.
And some of them were quite good.
Books of My 2017
Following are some of my favorites of the year. They aren’t necessarily books that came out this year, but they’re books I READ this year. And I liked them.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – I loved this book, and it’s wonderful. I read it early 2017 and I still think about it from time to time.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – This is a beautifully written book full of Russian folklore. It was a pleasure to read, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel.
City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – This whole series is good. This is powerful fantasy deeply rooted in the issues of the day, but full of those stand-up-and-cheer moments that really only happen when you get really, truly involved with the characters.
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin – Another fantastic series. Deeply powerful books and for sure worth your time.
Guns of the Dawn by Adrien Tchaikovsky – I’ve read a bunch of Tchaikovsky’s work this year and Guns of the Dawn was my favorite. Such richly realized world and characters drew me and kept me going the whole way through. It’s long, but the audiobook is read by Emma Newman and she’s fantastic at pretty much everything.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren- Picked this audiobook up randomly from the library’s Overdrive and was floored by it. Chapters alternate between rich, powerful descriptions of botany and the events of Hope Jahren’s life. It’s a wonderful book and, I mean, she’s a paleobotanist. Isn’t that just the best word?
There were many other great books, but hey I gotta draw the line somewhere, right? You can follow me on Goodreads if you’re really interested in tracking my reading as it happens.
Short Stories of My 2017
In addition to books, I spent a whole pile of time reading short stories. I’m working on improving my own short story writing, so one of the things I’ve done is crank my reading WAY up. This, actually, made the completion of my 100 book challenge a lot harder. I mean, I made it anyway, but it was tough.
Here are a few short stories I read that really had an impact for me. Some I’m using to teach my classes, while others are just cool.
Oh, and there’s so much more out there. My goal for next year is going to be 75 books and a whole lot more short fiction. There’s so much happening out there in the world of short stories, that I feel like I’m missing quite a bit.
John Scalzi’s Don’t Live for Your Obituary is a collection of essays–blog entries really–formed into the loose structure of a book. If you’re familiar with his Whatever blog, you’ll probably recognize a lot of material. I’m not going to go into a lot of details on individual pieces. Scalzi is a great writer, and he, um, knows how to write.
The real question is: should you buy this book?
If you consider yourself a rabid Scalzi fan, then you’ve probably already bought the special edition of the book and made a place for it on your shrine next to your scrap of Hawaiian print fabric and your complete archive of John Scalzi film reviews from the Fresno Bee.
*slowly backs away*
The book is a treasure for writers. Scalzi has a strong background in financial advice, and he applies that advice to writing as a career. Yes, he makes way, WAY more than most writers will ever make, but he got there by starting with a strong understanding of money. In particular, he teaches the good lesson of valuing your work, and that’s something early-career writers absolutely need to hear.
This book also collects quite a few essays regarding the publishing industry. As a writer it’s fascinating to see how all the various gears fit together (or don’t) in publishing. That stuff will always be interesting to me, and Don’t Live for Your Obituary does a fantastic job of shining a light on those dark corners we don’t normally get to see and oh my god it’s dusty back there when was the last time anyone cleaned?
Part of the book is about various interactions with other authors and famous people. It’s fine. If you’re into that kind of thing, these stories are just as entertaining as you’d expect Scalzi’s stories to be. It’s not my thing, but if it’s yours, then I think you’ll be happy.
So should you buy it?
If you’re a writer: Look, if you spend the whole $35 on the special edition hardcover so that you can read about financial responsibility, that’s fine. That’s just fine. Maybe get it from the library, though?
If you have a friend or relative who is a writer: Buy it for them. A physical copy. They’ll like it. Or they’ll sell it and buy ramen noodles. Either way, you’re helping their writing career.
If you’re a reader: Look, this isn’t FICTION. I know you want another fiction book from Scalzi, and it’ll be here soon enough. But, this isn’t it. I don’t know, maybe head down to a bookstore and read a random essay. If you find it entertaining enough, then shell out the money. It’s a good book, and a fun read, but there’s no narrative cohesion here. It’s just a pile of (somewhat more polished) blog entries.
The Trials of Solomon Parker by Eric Scott Fischl is a “What would happen if you could go back and fix your mistakes?” book which succeeds when it breaks away from the expected pattern for such a book.
Which it does.
It succeeds a lot.
Maybe it’s just me, but the book’s title character pulled me into this book. Sol is a hard-working guy with a good heart. He’s fiercely loyal to his fellow miners, even if they screw up. He doesn’t always make the right choices, but he’s close. Like, really close.
Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Sol goes through some tough times. If you get attached to the guy like I did, you’re in for some tough spots. He has to make some tough choices, and he needs to take some risks. It’s not easy.
But it’s worth it.
This is historical speculative fiction, which I admit isn’t my usual thing. Butte, Montana circa 1916 is brought to life in this book in incredible detail. Turns out the different aspects of that town in that point in history are absolutely fascinating. With the boom brought on by the mines (wow, the mines were cool, too) Butte’s population shot up in no time at all-and had the growing pains to show it. Throw in some pivotal struggles to unionize the mine workers and you have a pretty damn interesting point in history.
Sometimes a book just nails the ending and I want spend time discussing it with someone.
City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett comes out May 2nd, and if you’re not reading it by May 3rd I’m going to scowl at you SO HARD.
This book is a kind of James Bond fantasy but with emotionally impactful action and a whole lot of depth. Nothing wrong with pure escapism, of course, but this isn’t it.
You know what? Fine. Just read it for the outstanding action sequences. It works on that level better than pretty much anything else out there.
City of Miracles is the final book in The Divine Cities trilogy, and closes things out very nicely. It departs in tone from the previous two books, but not in a bad way. In fact, the change is very welcome and we get a nice endcap to Shara and Mulagesh’s stories. It’s a better end to the trilogy than we probably deserve. Every book in The Divine Cities series is fantastic and that’s pretty damn impressive.
Plus, I mean, it’s Sigrud. This is a book all about Sigrud, and it’s a book worthy of him.
Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl is the kind of story you should read while chugging cheap whiskey straight from the bottle and cussing up a storm. It’s an intense ride full of alchemy, death, and violence.
Sometimes it’s nice to read a book with villains who are easy to hate. This book fills the need and then some. With truly evil-but-in-interesting-ways antagonists and deeply flawed protagonists, it tends to get a touch dark, but don’t worry! Just when you think it’s dark, it’ll Continue reading Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl