My fave books this year

As you’ll see I’ve added a new poll for fave books. I’m pretty sure that the last option will win, given that there are so many books published every year, getting consensus is harder and harder. It’s tricky enough finding people who’ve read the books you’ve read, let alone finding someone who feels the same way about them you do.

So, the poll to the right is made up of books I loved written by people I don’t know.1 This was so I could reduce my candidates and also because sometimes I feel like all I do is recommend the works of my friends. Now, it’s true, I happen to have some extraordinarily talented writer friends but it does get a bit tired.

I also have picked books that are a little bit under the radar. The Night Watch books are international bestsellers, but everyone I mention them to has not heard of them, or has only heard of the movies based on them. I still haven’t found anyone who’s read all three. Not good enough! And Walter Mosley is not exactly an unknown, but, well, what can I say? I adore his books.

As usual in my descriptions I’ve tried to be as unspoilery as possible.

  • I’ve talked about Skin Hunger here. My opinion has not changed: it’s one of the best novels I’ve read in years.
  • Touching Snow is an astonishing novel. It’s a problem novel about an abused kid in NYC and yet it’s funny and wry and keeps going completely unexpected places. I hate realism and I hate problem novels but I adored this book. I cannot wait for Felin’s next book. I believe I am not alone in this assessment.
  • Shannon Hale’s fairy tale re-imaginings are stunningly beautiful. They’re joyous and gorgeously written and end just how you want them to without you even realising that’s what you want. At the same time they manage to be about class and power and the battle of the sexes, which I think some readers of hers manage to miss. I’m trying to figure out if that’s a good or a bad thing. Book of a Thousand Days may be my favourite of hers.
  • The final volume of the Night Watch series, Twilight Watch, was every bit as good as the first two (Night Watch and Day Watch). I love dense political fantasy. This may be my favourite trilogy of the past decade or so. It has magic, bureaucracies, not to mention tragic love and death. I can’t wait to re-read all three back to back. (Adult novel.)
  • I love Walter Mosley. As far as I’m concerned he can do no wrong. Blonde Ambition is the most recent Easy Rawlins’ mystery and might well be his last, which would be a shame, and yet so many of his other books are genius that I really don’t care just as long as he keeps writing. I’m not much of a reader of crime novels. I have a few favourites like Patricia Highsmith and Raymond Chandler and Walter Mosley is up there with them. If you’re going to read the Rawlins books go back to the first one, Devil in a Blue Dress and read them in sequence. Each book gets better and better. If you’re not up for a series then read The Man in the Basement. It’s genius. (Adult novel.)
  • The Secret History of Moscow reminded me a teeny bit of the Night Watch books, not surprising given that they’re both set (largely) in Moscow. Secret History has more of a fairy tale feel to it but the same darkly comic view of the world suffuses everything. This is another book I couldn’t put down. (Adult novel.)

So what were your favourites published this year? And why? I’m especially interested in hearing about books I may have overlooked.

Don’t worry, Mely, I will also post about my fave manga/manhwa/graphic novels of the year.

  1. I met Kathleen Duey and M. Sindy Felin Book Awards after I’d read their books and I’m not sure a brief meeting at a formal event counts as “knowing” them. []

Sherwood Smith on World Building

Because I am very behind on reading blogs—and pretty much everything else in my life—I missed this lovely riposte by Sherwood Smith. She’s responding to M. John Harrison dismissing world building. He’s not, though, he’s dismissing bad world building. Just like all those people who say that omniscient narration is evil and wrong. Nope, only when it’s done badly.

You should go read Sherwood because what she says is exactly so:

My objection is this, that worldbuilding is one of the ways humans play. Just as reading is a form of play.1 Many people don’t even know they are worldbuilding. Children worldbuild all the time. They will establish with a few quick rules what each item in the yard represents, and play at that a while, testing that everyone’s on the same page, and then someone begins a “what if?” “What if we all turned into ponies?” “What if the ponies fly?” “What if race cars had brains?” My son, at four, who never willingly reads a book, had had the living room converted to a world that was internally laid out–he didn’t tell us what was what. We could only guess by the sound effects he made as he motored about; then at one point he got the pots and pans out of the kitchen, laid them carefully out into a man shape, pointed the TV changer at it, expecting it to come to life. He cried, the world crashed down, and we had to explain where his rules and this world’s rules clashed, but it was clear that that giant robot had had a role in his ongoing story.

What she said. Read the whole thing. The comments are pretty fascinating too.

  1. The argument that reading ought not to be play, but ought to be useful and informative and force one to think is, I believe, just another form of the great clomping foot of the puritan ethic. []

World building

Someone else asked me how I go about world building when writing fantasy or science fiction or historical fiction. (I’ve written all three.) Once again the question made me go all inarticulate and respond randomly and lamely: “How do I breathe?” “How does a butterfly flap its wings?”

Clearly I need to figure out how I go about world building. I’m fascinated by writing process and this is a large part of mine. I have to quit it with the inarticulate spluttering.

So those of you have written novels not set in this world—how did you go about your world building? Or, to refer to a recent discussion on Gwenda’s blog, what story do you tell yourself about your world building?

DragonCon panels

Because I have friends who insist on proper con reports I thought I’d talk about some DragonCon panels. Most of which were excellent and peopled by knowledgable and entertaining folks.

First I must rant:

Hey, Author People, yes, you lot, who respond to every question with deeply tedious plot descriptions of your own books and never mention anyone else’s work—I have written down your names and the names of your books. And I will NEVER EVER EVER buy them or recommend them to anyone. You are boring and the death of many a potentially good panel. I am filled with hate for you and your kind.

Okay. I feel much better now. Now onto the good panels which were all part of the YA thread. So many thanks to the folks what ran it: Bev Kodak, Suzanne Chatham, Lydia Watson, Karen Smith, Heather Lauer, Tara Smith, and Mary Moline! You are all deeply awesome.

My favourite was the one I did with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and Scott which was excellently moderated by Bev. We nattered about how we write together, swap ideas, critique each other, and how important it is for us to be part of a writing community. This involved sharing anecdotes from those dark days when we thought we were the only ones incapable of finishing a story or ever selling one. Or—now that we’re published—meeting the deadlines from hell. It was a lot of fun and only marred by being cut off before enough people could ask questions. The few we got were dead smart.

I also enjoyed the panel where Maureen Johnson went berko at the two members of the panel who dared to dismiss the “expanding pants” section of YAland. By which they were referring to Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and all the other chicklit YA books. As Maureen writes those kind of books and considers their writers and readers to be her people she was somewhat ticked off. I ably assisted her by pointing out the quality of not only Maureen’s books but also Meg Cabot’s, Sarah Dessen’s, Rachel Cohn’s, Jaclyn Moriarty’s and many, many others.

I find dismissals of whole genres particularly bizarre when they’re coming from lovers of a genre like fantasy and sf which is routinely dismissed as trash. Can we all agree not to trash a genre unless we know it well? Reading one or two or even a dozen examples does not cut it.

My most embarrassing moment was on the YA around the world panel. I was bemoaning how little non-English YA gets translated. Then Cassie Clare pointed out from the audience this little thing called manga. Der! I smack my forehead. How did I forget manga?

My favourite panellists—other than Holly, Cassie, Maureen and Scott—were the librarians. Specifically, Susan Fichtelberg, Bonnie Kunzel and Diana Tixier Herald, who not only have an encylopediac knowledge of the field but are also witty and smart. They kept bailing us out when we’d describe a book then flail hopelessly for the author or title. They knew. Every. Single. Time. They also kept referring to YA books for their examples and not TV shows or movies. I’ll admit I was a little depressed by the folks who only used media examples and seemed not to have heard of even the most famous YA writers.

Fortunately, they were few in number. The vast majority of the audience and panellists were dying to talk about J. K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Jonathan Stroud and Stephanie Meyer—an excellent fight broke out about her character Bella Swann—and oodles of others including Holly, Cassie, Scott and me. I also enjoyed the opportunity of telling many more people about the glories of Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, which I managed to mention not just on all my panels but from the audience of many more. Read it!