2017: The Year in Reading

As of today, 12/22/17, I’ve finished 50 books this year.  I’m gonna be honest; a lot of what I read was a bit trashier than usual.  I read a lot of escapist fiction, a lot of genre fiction, the sort of books that you’d buy at an airport before a long flight.  I needed junk food, and I allowed myself to indulge, thoroughly.

And yet, you know what?  When I look at the grades I handed out, I enjoyed pretty much everything.  There were a few exceptions – one book I described as “one of the dumbest books I’ve read in a long, long time” – and there were a few books that I picked up and simply couldn’t get into, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m giving up on them for good or not.

In any event, because most of what I read was short, fast, and dirty, I’m not sure I have enough highlighted Kindle passages to do my “Favorite Sentences of 2017” post.  It is what it is.

I suppose I should arrange this list in tiers.  All lists are presented in the order in which I read them.  You’ll notice some trilogies are staggered; for the most part, and this is weird, the second book usually dragged a bit but was necessary to get up the otherwise excellent finale.  All italicized blurbs are directly from my GoogleDoc; I should probably admit up front that my memory is shit and next year I should write my blurbs in a bit more detail, because I barely recall reading some of these – especially some of the ones I loved.

A+ 

  • Dan Chaon, “Ill Will”
  • Amor Towles, “A Gentleman in Moscow”
  • Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad”
  • John Hodgman, “Vacationland”

These are the four best books I read all year.  “Ill Will” took me by complete surprise and had me riveted from cover to cover; “Gentleman in Moscow” was a complete delight; “Underground Railroad” should be required reading for literally everyone in the USA; and “Vacationland” is the best thing Hodgman’s ever written, which is saying quite a lot.


A

  • Ian McGuire, “The North Water”  – riveting, bleak as fuck, very satisfying conclusion.
  • Ben Winters, “Underground Airlines” – remarkable.
  • George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo” – stunning; only wish I hadn’t raced through the end.
  • Liz Moore, “The Unseen World” – didn’t quite go where i thought it was, but it’s marvelous.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Agents of Dreamland” – i loved this, and only wish it wasn’t so short. would love to see this fleshed out. MORE SIGNALMAN
  • John Crowley, “Little, Big” – ethereal and dreamlike, massive and dense, gorgeous and weightless.

 


A-

  • Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland, “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” – very good. could be a good franchise starter, or not.
  • David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon” – heartbreaking. a story that needs to be told, even if the writing is a bit dry.

 


B+

  • Christopher Boucher, “Golden Delicious” – (started at end of Dec ’16) a wonderfully whimsical hybrid of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Full disclosure – CB is a friend of my wife’s from high school.  But I’d give this book high marks anyway.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, “Borne” – very interesting, didn’t quite live up to expectations but still engrossing
  • Ben Winters, “The Last Policeman #1” – a standard-issue detective story but with a magnificent premise, and very well written.
  • Ben Winters, “World of Trouble (Last Policeman #3)” – a very good finale to a very engrossing series.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Crooked Kingdom” – very satisfying conclusion to 6 of Crows.
  • N.K. Jemisin, “The Stone Sky” – excellent ending to a brilliant trilogy.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Justice (book 1)”
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Mercy (book 3)” – I didn’t write blurbs for each of the three books; this is an excellent trilogy and should be read in one go.
  • Paul La Farge, “The Night Ocean” – beautiful, haunted love story.
  • Michel Faber, “The Crimson Petal and the White” – very long, but very good; ending is very abrupt.
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, “Homesick for Another World” – what a dark, fucked up group of stories.

 


B

  • Federico Axat, “Kill the Next One” – pretty good, twisty pyschological thriller. every time i thought i knew where it was going, it swerved. the possum remains an enigma.  (EDIT: I have no idea what I mean by that.)
  • Anthony Horowitz, “Moriarity” – that’s a pretty good twist at the end, i’ll give it that.
  • John Darnielle, “Universal Harvester” – really interesting premise, marvelous writing; the thread gets lost towards the end, but that’s ok.
  • Andy Partridge, “Complicated Game: Inside the songs of XTC” – very wonky, probably only meant for hard-core XTC nerds.
  • Sarah Pinborough, “Behind Her Eyes” – kind of a trashy novel at first, but it gets better and features a real-deal mindfuck of a twist ending.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Lathe of Heaven” – yeah, it’s a classic.
  • Dan Choan, “Await Your Reply” – covers a lot of the same ground as Ill Will, but still very interesting.
  • Dexter Palmer, “Version Control” – meandered for a bit, but the ending was quite good.
  • Sylvain Neuvel, “Waking Gods (Themis #2)” – very quick read, much like the last one. lots of surprising deaths. fun, if slight.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Six of Crows” – reminds me quite a bit of the Locke Lamorra books.
  • Stephen King, “Mr. Mercedes” – if SK wants to start writing murder mysteries, this isn’t a bad way to start
  • Stephen King, “End of Watch” – an above-average trilogy, with this final installment returning to SK’s supernatural roots… too bad the characters aren’t particularly interesting.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Sword (book 2)”
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “The Short Drop (Gibson Vaughn #1)” – fun, somewhat Jason Bourne-ish.  you can see this as a movie pretty easily.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Cold Harbor (Gibson Vaughn #3)” – a satisfying conclusion from the meandering of book 2
  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”- very absorbing, quasi-true-crime account of a Glasglow serial killer from the 50s.

 


B-

  • Ben Winters, “Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2)” – a step back from #1, but still engaging.
  • Patti Smith, “M Train” – The first few chapters were great… and then they basically repeated themselves for the rest of it.
  • Christopher Fowler, “Bryant and May and the Burning Man” – standard-issue murder mystery.
  • Stephen King, “Finders Keepers” – very loose connection with previous novel; not his best. interesting villain, though.
  • Jac Jemc, “The Grip of It” – a spooky haunted house story that never quite resolves.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaughn #2)” – a step back from #1, but necessary to start the events of book 3.

 


C-

  • Jonathan Lethem, “A Gambler’s Anatomy” – he’s still a great writer, but this was boooooorrrrrrring

 


F

  • Derek Taylor Kent, “Kubrick’s Game” – one of the dumbest books i’ve read in a long, long time.  Dan Brown would throw this out.

 

 

Plans Sorted

1.  I have been trying to avoid the internet over this last week, primarily because I haven’t yet seen The Last Jedi.  But since today’s a half-day at work, and since there’s a movie theater literally across the street from the office, I have my afternoon plans all sorted.  And then I can get back to having regular internet access again.

2.  I’ve said this a lot here lately (to the extent that I’m here at all), that I’m feeling weird about doing top-10 lists for 2017.  This year sucked, and I’m in no mood to celebrate it.  That being said, since I haven’t yet finalized anything, that still gives me the option of making changes to these hypothetical, non-existent lists.  And to that end, let me say that Gorogoa, for iOS, PC and Switch, is one of the most inventive and unique puzzle games I’ve ever experienced.  This Kotaku piece is a great read of the work that went into developing it.

3.  There are several reasons why I bought an Xbox One X, even though I don’t yet have a 4K HDR TV.  For starters, I’ve grown to prefer the Xbox One user experience; for another, the XoX makes all my existing X1 games look better.  My recent, very enjoyable experience with Assassins Creed Origins has reminded me a lot of The Witcher 3, and now that the Witcher 3’s graphical upgrade patch has been released, I’ve been going back and putting it through its paces.  Without having a 4K TV, obviously I’m not getting the most out of this update, but I can say that there is a noticeable difference.  I can also say that between the two new graphical modes, “4K” is more enjoyable than “Performance”, because 60 fps feels kinda weird with certain games.  Maybe it’s different on a real 4K TV; someday I’ll see for myself.  I will say this, though, which is a weird thing to say – The Witcher 3 might be one of my favorite games of all time, but after playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, The Witcher 3 feels a little weird in my hands.  To put it another way, The Witcher 3 is still a better game, but ACO feels better to actually play.  Does that make sense?

I will see about lists next week.  I know that nobody really cares except me, but it’s my blog, so, hey.