For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year. 2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief. Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.
One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished. I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.
Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy. Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned. Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.
When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine. This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?” His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”
And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018 happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved. Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good. Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.
It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.
2018 Books by the Numbers:
- 68 read
- 20,382 pages
- 26 unique publication years
- 40 unique author names
- 19 female authors
- 23 male authors
- 26 new to me authors
- 98 books new to the stacks
- 48 new to the stacks read
- 7 new to the stacks Pearl Ruled
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Margaret
- Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills. My review focuses on the use of Scripture as justification.
- The Armored Saint by Cole, Myke
The Queen of Crows by Cole, Myke
- Heloise is the hero we need now. Tight, intricate, suspenseful story about a young woman leading the uprising against the religious order in charge. Book 3, The Killing Light, comes out in 2019.
- A Visit From the Goon Squad by Egan, Jennifer
- Freakin’ brilliant. We spent a month on it, I read it three times. Don’t let the non-linear style throw you off. Egan tells a hell of a story.
- American Gods by Gaiman, Neil
- What happens when Old Gods realize they’re being squeezed out by the New Gods? Just as fantastic on the second read.
- My Journey in Creative Reading by Gallowglas, M. Todd
- Don’t know how to review this book since he’s also my mentor. Every bit is so good and resonated so deeply I knew I had the right guy.
- The Geek Feminist Revolution by Hurley, Kameron
- My love letter to Kameron who speaks the truth about being a woman so hard. I continue to learn a lot from her about feminism and writing. GFR has earned a permanent place on my reference shelf.
- The Calculating Stars by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Fated Sky by Kowal, Mary Robinette
- Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all. Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected. Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
- Beloved by Morrison, Toni
- Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic. Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
- Binti by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: Home by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Okorafor, Nnedi
- Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant story about a young African woman who breaks tribal taboos to go to university on another planet. My review focuses on bigotry.
- River Queens by Watson, Alexander
- Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio. His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
- How Fiction Works by Wood, James
- Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works. My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.