Wednesday, December 22, 2010

200th Post? Are You Kidding Me? Plus, Great Books

Yup, this is the 200th post here at the Alchemy of Writing. Does that mean we've been going well? Or slacking? Well, whatever it is, it's been fun. Thanks to everyone who's chipped in to the Alchemical conversation, and in particular to my amigos, Wanu and Bookworm, and the Fellow Sophisticates.

And it seems that for the 100th post I blurbed and linked 100 great books... so I thought Why not do it again? And then I remembered that post almost killed me. Yes, the long black tunnel, the shining light at the end... all the ex-girlfriends trying to shove me along.

Okay, it wasn't all of them.

Okay, it was.

So instead of 100 books, I'll just do some of the great books I read this year. Some people stick to the best books published in 2010... but since I'm perennially behind the publishing times in my reading it would look like I don't, you know, actually read. Which I do!

So just a collection of random great books I read this year. That should be enough. If not, I shall come and burn all your tinsel. And that stuff burns, baby. Won't need no yuletide logs, is what I'm saying.

Okay then.

Literary Fiction
Light Boxes, by Shane Jones. A weird and surreal modern fable in which February lets fall an endless winter on a small town, and nothing is permitted flight. Yet the town fights back, led by a community of balloonists. Yes, I know you want to read it. Please do.
Solo, by Rana Dasgupta. A strange novel in which stories are wound together, and what is story and what is fact becomes blurred. What sort of truth lies in the fictions we tell ourselves?
Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel. This is a beautiful and strange and stunning book, circling the Holocaust and coming at it obliquely - which happens to be both the theme and the subject matter of the novel itself. An absolutely brilliant book. I really liked Life of Pi, but Beatrice and Virgil is a better book. Perhaps a truly great one.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. I finally read it! And yes, it was brilliant. It took me awhile to get into it, but the ending (and the build-up to that ending) is fantabulously marvellous.
The Ecstatic, by Victor Lavalle. Another great book, and somewhat like Oscar Wao in its interesting and atypical protagonist. And it might be a more even and consistently good book than Oscar Wao, though it can't match the ending. More people should know about Lavalle.
Lost City Radio, by Daniel Alarcon. A riveting look at the end product of war and broken revolutions, tracked through the lost and missing - the empty spaces in the lives of those left behind.
Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg. Short stories! A wonderful and diverse collection by one of the best short form writers out there. Full of awesome.
Money From Hitler, by Radka Denemarkova. Talked a bit about this one here.
Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan. I read McEwan's newest book, Solar, as well, and while it was very good I much preferred this older, and less well known, of his novels, Black Dogs. I thought it was wonderful from the opening line. And the opening line is a beauty.

Toll the Hounds, by Steven Erikson. The latest (the 8th) in my favourite fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Like the others in the series, it percolates with madness, and its sheer size and scope and complexity is a little intimidating. But for depth of imagination, nothing beats it. Note to self: Read more fantasy next year.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. Child protagonists in adult novels sometimes grate on me, but this fine mystery was an exception. Flavia's almost sociopathic tendencies made it an interesting read.
Sun and Shadow, by Ake Edwardson. How come the peaceful Scandinavians write so many great crime novels? A mystery, indeed. And we have another fine example here.
The Big Gold Dream, by Chester Himes. An oldie but a goodie. A fantastic black detective team in old-time Harlem.
I Was Dora Suarez, by Derek Raymond. A pioneer of British noir, and this is dark indeed. Brutal and heavy, but the writing is wonderful and the mood overpowering.

The Shadow of the Sun, Another Day of Life, The Emperor, Shah of Shahs, al by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Needless to say, one of my new favourite writers. A brilliant journalist, both in terms of his writing and his willingness and ability to observe from the ground. Shadow of the Sun charts dozens of large and small stories in Africa (and is the sort of book that reconfirms my desire to be a writer), while Another Day of Life charts civil war in Angola. Shah of Shahs follows revolution in Iran, while The Emperor deconstructs the court politics in Emperor Selassie's Ethiopia.
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. A wonderful book about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, but also about race and culture and pereception in America.
Dark Summit, by Nick Heil. If you liked Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, you'll like Dark Summit. A fascinating, and riveting, look at life and death atop the highest place on earth.
The Tiger, by John Vaillant. A strange story of vengeance -- a tiger's vengeance against the man who wronged him. And, of course, the aftermath, and the necessity of further death. An intriguing narrative.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Hasn't it all been said already? A little lacking in the depth and psychology I might have wanted in this scenario, but you can't argue with the author's brilliance at pacing and tension. A great read.
Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson. A classic, and deservedly so. I mean, you know things never end well for the dogs in these books. But the narrative is fascinating, and the voice is pitch perfect. Once hooked, I'd follow that voice anywhere. And the little brother pitching stones... makes me laugh every time.

So, that's it. Great books! A strange year has passed! Anyone else looking forward to the new one? I certainly am. High expectations! Optimism is surprisingly cheap. See you all on the far side of Christmas, sated with Turkey and pie and all manner of deliriously sinful chocolates. Plus, egg nog. Can't forgo the Nog. Right? Right? Who's with me?


R.S. Bohn said...

Oh, boy. My Amazon wishlist just grew by a few... Must have book about balloonists v. February, LOL.

My favorite fantasy series (despite a few flaws), btw, is Scott Lynch's books starring Locke Lamora, beginning with the brilliant The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Optimism is cheap, the hussy. I love her anyway. :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Yeah, I liked The Lies of Locke Lamora. Which reminds me I have to pick up the second book in the series at some point... I have a bad habit of that these days.

And Light Boxes is a weirdly awesome little book. And, I suppose, could have fit in the fantasy section as easily as the Literary one. Regardless, it's wonderful.

HGrant said...

Wonderful post.

All those books... makes me want to run to a bookstore or head to my town's ancient little library.

I read two tons of books this past year, but my mind is fried right now and I can't think of their titles... except The Third Man. I recommend that one. And I read the WIPs of a couple of writer friends, all great stuff.

I'm looking forward to the far side of Xmas because I'm about to query my novel. The damned thing is really really really really ready this time. Really.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Great list. Some of them I've also heard from others so I'll have to check them out...the consensus is to read them. =) Congrats on your 200th post.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Luck, H!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Raquel. It's been a fun 200. :)

M.A.Leslie said...

Congrats on the milestone.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

It's sad to say that out of all those books listed, I've only read The Hunger Games...I know...

But I'd like to read THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, though. I love brilliant books that make you think.

Happy holiday to you! And best wishes for a 2011 full of blessings!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ M.A.


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Carolina

That's okay! I think that's sort of the fun of end of the year lists, getting to see what other people are reading and hopefully finding some new books to read.

I love finding new books. Gimme gimme gimme!

Matthew Rush said...

Wow. I have barely read any of these. I love it when that happens.

In related news I bough No Country For Old Men for my father in law for Christmas ... and he read it in a day. We don't usually get along too well, but now we're loaning each other books (he wanted to borrow The Road to get a little more of "Cormac is the Man").

See ya next year Bryan!