Hello, dear readers, it has been a while. The last months of 2013 were very challenging for me and kept me away from my pond. Now I’m back with an overdue post on my 2013 reading adventures. 2013 has either been my best or my worst year depending on perspective; mine is not fixed by any means but its average is above the horizon. The year meant many things to me; my life is forever altered from the events of those months but 2013 has become and will remain the year I truly became close to stories.
Clearly, I love reading and I love writing. I have been “the girl with the book” since I was little and I am rarely without my pens & journals. This year though I discovered what stories are for in a way that I think most people are blessed never to discover. Stories can be friends, can be diverting sources of entertainment and escape to wile away an evening. Stories can give a certain cred to the reader, a certain cocktail party or water cooler cachet amongst one’s circle. Stories are edifying, sources of wisdom and wit that can help you be the person you always wanted to be. Stories can be and are so very many precious wonderful things that hold our lives together and bring artistic meaning to a writer’s life. This year though I discovered that stories are for times of trial. I don’t mean times when you’re blue. I don’t mean times when things could be going a bit better, when you just need a little pick-me-up, times that are a bit gloomy or grim.
When I say trial I mean times that blow apart everything you ever thought you were or could be. Those times when you stop thinking of time as time and start thinking of time as before and after. Those times when all other lights seem very far away and you honestly question who & what you are; those are times of trial and those are precisely the times stories become the beacon to guide you on your path. The path isn’t just the way out. This is something that stories, really good stories, get right. Frankly, sometimes, an ordeal just has to happen. The cup does not pass from you. You must carry the ring to the fire. No one can save you but yourself.
But whether you can carry that burden well, whether you can make peace with your reversal of fortune and live in that trying place, whether you can reassemble the pieces of yourself into a reality you can like: those are the questions that stories can help sustain you through asking, guiding you as you find the answers for yourself. Like any hero’s journey the path one takes during a trial is long and fraught with hazards but with stories, I at least, found I could make it easier than I thought it could be.
I needed the small to persevere and surmount. I needed to know that the weak had reserves of untold strength. I needed to know that the ordeal could be got through and that the sun would still rise. I needed heroes. And I found them. I always said certain books were good medicine. But if Agatha Christie and L.M. Montgomery are good over-the-counter medicine for a deep blue day, if Dickens can stimulate the slow day away, I found that Morris, Tolkien, LeGuin, Gaiman, McKinley, Miyabe and Bronte proved to be maximum strength rescue therapies for the soul.
My hero’s journey isn’t over. In fact, it has only just begun. Yet I have come to a place where I can say that I’m okay with that and I think I can go the distance, one step, and one story at a time.
Speaking of stories, I want to talk about the titles I read during this year of discovery. My original list can be found here and I have made efforts to update it as I went. For ease of reading I will list the titles and my capsule reviews below. I already discussed thirteen titles in an earlier post, which I’ve linked to here.
14) Dreams of the Raven by Carter
This is a fun, character driven piece of quality science fiction and a dang fine Star Trek adventure. I enjoyed Carter’s dialogue a lot. She really captured the voice of the original series. I like the fact that the calamity of possible interstellar war is really just the setting for an in-depth exploration of McCoy’s character, choices, and convictions. Well done, Carmen Carter, I think LeGuin and her Mrs. Brown would be pleased.
15) Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
An amusing piece of satire filled with geometry jokes; I can understand why my high school geometry tutor recommended Flatland to me. That said, I found the misogynist perspective of A. Square tiresome and was relieved the book was short but overall it was entertaining and clever.
16) Cloud Atlas by Mitchell
This is an extraordinary book. I found the complex structure fascinating and the characters, drawn across time, utterly captivating. In a way the novel is a series of interconnected short stories. I found the future depicted by Mitchell to be very plausible and more terrifying as a result. This is one of those books that I know I will revisit later in life and find new depths within its pages, as well as in myself, after the effort. The language, the architecture, and the ideas are all so impressive. When I think of the book of the year 2013 for me I think it was a three-way tie with this book being one of the three; more on that later.
17) Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip
I became interested in this because it made an NPR list of science fiction worth reading. I would say Song for the Basilisk is more high fantasy than sci-fi but I found it interesting. As always, McKillip has beautiful language and world building though at times I wished for more narrative clarity.
18) The Well At the World’s End by Morris
This is a book that will stick with me for years. Indeed this story was part of the after part of my journey and it helped sustain me during the worst parts of that road. I felt enchanted by Ralph and Ursula. I was especially gratified to find Ursula to be a woman who does things and has individual strength of character; one could easily imagine a novel chronicling her adventures alone. The novel has a slow start and an ambling pace but Morris does tie up every loose end with deftness reminiscent of Dickens.
19) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Funny, sweet, and enchanting, I very much enjoyed The Last Unicorn. It ended well. Waves will also have new images for me in my imagination, you’ll need to read the book to know what I mean by that.
20) The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabi
This is a bittersweet and complex book. At first I resented its lack of tidy tropes because at the time I wanted HAPPY-EVER-AFTERS but sometimes, even if that is what one wants, it isn’t what one needs. Sometimes bittersweet realities tinged with grace are a lot more salubrious. This is one of those books that stays in your brain and makes you think about your life, habits, and assumptions in a new way.
21) The Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin
This collection of stories is fantastic. They are all sci-fi and some of them feature the Ekumen universe and the Hainish from Lefthand of Darkness. There are many splendid stories in this collection but my favorite by far was the title story “The Fisherman of the Inland Sea.” It really captured the bitter sweetness of being on the forefront of science as well as the hard work it takes to live in a loving family.
22) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimen
Reading this book into the late hours by the light of my little book light was my luxurious birthday present to myself. It is an enchanting book, a fairy tale in the most classic sense that speaks to the difficulties of growing up, a process that only ends with the grave. This is the third member of my three-way tie for book of my 2013 experience. I will re-read it for years to come.
23) A Princess of Mars by Burroughs
This book was challenging for me to read, it almost didn’t survive my 50-page rule. It was so heavy with misogyny and racism that even repeating to myself “it was a different time” didn’t really help me that much. I admire the way Burroughs can keep the plot twists going, only logical in a successful serial, but I won’t be reading the sequels.
24) The Beginning Place by Ursula K. LeGuin
I’m afraid that this is a rather forgettable book. Despite LeGuin’s mastery of language and imagery I found the world, the characters, and the plot rather tiresome.
25) Ico: The Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe translated by Alexander O. Smith
Reading this was fun. I was impressed at how well Miyabe translated the energy and structure of a video game to the novel form. I liked the characters, the story, and Miyabe’s language (translated by Smith) is enchanting.
26) Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins by Maddalena Bearzi and Craig Stanford
At first, I was skeptical about how much I would enjoy this book and it did have a slow start. I found the almost anthropomorphic language used at times to describe the animals disquieting. The way the authors also, at times, seemed to condemn captive animal research despite having benefitted enormously from it struck me as hypocritical. That said, there is a lot of interesting information in this book and I appreciated that the authors did not equivocate about the hard legislative work necessary to effectively conserve primates and cetaceans for future generations.
27) Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
This is an incredible piece of allegory and sci-fi adventure. I admire Lewis’ world building and imagery; he always seems to create worlds I can see myself inhabiting.
28) Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
This book infuriated me. For as much as Lewis creates tantalizing, imaginative, and textured worlds the arrogant misogyny permeating this book disappointed me. The redeeming feature for me is Lewis’ admirable description of evil. The pettiness, the childishness, and the senselessness of the evil antagonist struck true.
A debut collection of poetry, Letters from Nowhere demonstrates a lot of passion and the promise of great talent. There were two poems that I particularly liked: “Ants and Beetles” and “The Redwood.”
This second collection by McCusker delivers on the possibilities promised in Letters from Nowhere. Manifesto for All is more polished than her first collection, the limitations of the blackout format only serving to focus McCusker’s craft with words. I have read the Communist Manifesto in the past and this collection really brought me to a new level of appreciation to Marx’s original work as well as for McCusker’s poems. There were several that I particularly liked. I also appreciated that McCusker included the original blackouts she made on the text. I like the visual drama of the format. I highly recommend this collection.
31) The Moving Finger
An old favorite, I like this poison pen adventure with Miss Marple and her network of friends of friends. Like so many of the best Miss Marple stories I also really like the romances that add heart, color, and urgency to the mystery.
32) Sleeping Murder
Clearly I was on a Miss Marple kick during 2013 because I re-read three of my very favorite Miss Marple adventures. I like that Christie had the courage to point out that sometimes people do get away with murder, for a time, but I like that her Miss Marple is there to help facilitate the cause of justice in Sleeping Murder.
33) Murder at the Vicarage
This is such a marvelous introduction to a character, I marvel at Murder at the Vicarage every time I re-read it. I like the way Miss Marple is introduced, I like the layout of the mystery, and I like the careful attention to the details of St. Mary Mead.
34) The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie
I love short story collections, especially ones that are connected throughout somehow. Seeing Hercule Poirot retrace his namesake’s achievements in a modern setting was a treat as always.
35) Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
This is one of the more challenging stories I’ve read by Christie. I’ve read it a couple times now and each time I find myself troubled by the knotty questions of innocence, guilt, punishment, motive, and angst that can be found in the patchwork family she chronicles as they face a terrible trial. There is no Marple or Poirot but it is as compelling a story as any of theirs and just as worth re-reading.
36) Shadows by Robin McKinley
I had been looking forward to reading this for months. Overall it satisfied my expectations. I liked the world McKinley created, I liked the characters, and I liked the journey she took the reader on. What I didn’t like was the abrupt, very rushed, feeling that the ending had. I hope that McKinley follows up on the adventures of Maggie and her family in a sequel.
Overall 2013 was a great year for me in terms of reading. When I think of 2013 the three books that define it for me are Cloud Atlas, The Well at the World’s End, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. As before, during, and after books go they are amazing. I hope to re-read them someday, hopefully during a less painful time. In 2013 I surpassed my Goodreads goal of 35 books by reading 36. For 2014 I plan to push my limits and read 40 books. Soon I hope to post my 2014-2015 reading list as well as some notes on what I’ve read so far in 2014. Thanks for stopping by the pond, dear readers. Here’s hoping that I will come here more often in 2014 myself.