The best books I read this year, loosely categorized.
Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture
Fantastic. Jace Clayton has an unnervingly well-placed finger on the pulse of modern music culture, in a way that makes you feel out-of-touch no matter how much music you listen to. I feel like I understand the music industry, global commerce, music-making, and people around the world better after reading this book. It blends together all those aspects and manages to be writing about music without making you miss the music (but the website for the book has playlists, just in case you do). A personal non-fiction book, a style I turn out to like quite a bit (Word by Word has a similar style).
Beyond Historical Fiction
The Atlas of Forgotten Places
A book picked up at the library on a whim turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year. Tying history with stories of personal struggle and tragedy, this doesn’t tie up neatly and doesn’t come across as try-hard either. A reminder of reality in a novel.
This story follows two sisters in World War II through their wartime decisions and the present-day. Not quite as brilliant as “All The Light We Cannot See” but just as moving.
Egan’s research shows in the vividness of the storytelling and the mental imagery constructed. You can feel the weight of the decisions made by the characters and their physical burdens in the novel.
The Three-Body Problem
I didn’t manage to finish the trilogy, but this novel stunningly takes the prospect of alien contact and puts it in context of Communist China, with some perspective from competing American, and Russian global interests too. Reading it the same year as Arrival (Stories of Your Life and Others) leads to echoes of similar themes, but the approach is so vastly different that I only thought of the comparison in writing this, not in reading the novel. This book is solidly sci-fi, but the role of history seemed so relevant to the story that I’m categorizing it here.
The Japanese Lover
The first I’ve read by Isabel Allende, and a love story hidden inside a story about the Japanese internment during World War II and the havoc it wreaked on families, alongside the present-day immigrant experience in the United States.
Pleasant Feel-Good Discoveries
The Hating Game
A brand new author on the romance novel scene wrote this and it is delightful. Doesn’t rely over-much on existing romance novel tropes, and manages to be well-written even while you’re rolling your eyes occasionally. Depicts the internal struggle that prevents many of us from believing something is real all too well.
The Royal We
This may be loosely Kate and William fanfic, but I. Am. Here. For. This. It made the rounds at book swap this year and I maintain that it took the classic trope of “ordinary person meets royal but doesn’t know they’re royal” and makes it unexpected and a delight.
Morgan Matson novels
The Sarah Dessen novels of a new age, with less tragic character backstories. Enjoyable discoveries for this year, and I’m looking forward to her next one due out next year. Eligible Curtis Sittenfeld is a delight. I didn’t realize this was a Pride and Prejudice rewrite until the end, and that made me like it more. An enjoyable read that helps you realize just how much of modern romance fiction is based on the tropes (first?) established in Pride and Prejudice.
Proper Literature or Vague Classics
The Unwomanly Face of War
This was devastating. A vivid window into the reality and the legacy of women who fought for or worked for the Soviet Union in World War II, her work manages to be both a record of history and an critical eye cast toward the Soviet government. Just as unrelenting as Voices of Chernobyl. I am inclined to seek out all of her work.
Stories of Your Life and Others
The first eight stories were great. Skip the rest of the collection. Perfect for the overly-analytical people that try to analyze rather than experience their emotions. The film Arrival was based on one of these stories.
A beautiful book of personal essays interwoven with research. Brings the human back to science and medicine. Also swapping this book at book swap led to my first encounter with “the first page” and my friends' desire to have me read the first page of books aloud for a podcast.
Finally read this novel and it has stayed vividly with me over the past few months since reading it. A clear precursor to so many novels that followed it, and a great reminder that what is online is never truly only online.
Graceling Realm series
Court of Thorns and Roses series
Six of Crows duology
I grouped these three series together because they handled in varying degrees:
- Mind control and/or a race of superpowered/magical people
- Romance (from hints at beginnings of love, to explicit seduction)
- Warring states and the steps that those embroiled among them must take to win power
- Redemption of the self in the face of personal insecurities
The Graceling series was the best of these three, I’d wager. I read the third and the second books in the wrong order on accident, and might prefer that order instead of the intended order. That could be because I’m a less attentive reader than some. For a focus on heist and revenge adventures, read the Six of Crows duology. Not much of a romance thread through these books, it focuses more on coming of age and learning what matters. For the most romance, make it through the near-insufferable first book of the Court of Thorns and Roses series and follow it through to the end of the third book (then reconsider rereading the first book). The next few books that aren’t out yet are spinoffs, so if you, like me, have a rule about not starting series before they end, never fear. This series has the most similar tropes to the Graceling series, so consider reading them far apart.