Sunday 5 January 2014

Selena's Year in Books

Inspired by Tim's post about his year in books, I am adding my list and commentary here, mostly because I like the look of all the book covers in a grid that so simply and elegantly conveys my literary 2013.

The Quantum Thief
Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)
The Lathe of Heaven
Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet
A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden
Catwings (Catwings, #1)
Stand on Zanzibar
The Last Unicorn (The Last Unicorn, #1)
War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime
Ender's Game
Queen of Angels (Queen of Angels, #1)
Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)
The Wall
Le Lai de Lanval
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
Watching War
Faitheist: How An Atheist Found Common Ground With The Religious
The Terminal Experiment
Who Fears Death
The Alchemist and the Executioness
The Purchase
Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene
Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)
Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)
The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction
The Last Runaway
Salt Fish Girl: A Novel
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

This was the year of sci-fi for me, as I applied to McMaster under the Science Fiction banner and thought that if I'm going to be studying sci-fi, I probably should seriously get down to reading some of the books I've been meaning to read for a long time. Dune was the first I picked up and it would be hard for anything to top it; but Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, though extremely hard to read at times, was its own kind of brilliance.

 Tim already wrote about The Quantum Thief (and the sequel, The Fractal Prince, which I haven't read) which was a wild ride I wanted to take up again the moment I'd finished it. It was definitely one of my favourite books of the year. It's really rare to encounter a book that immediately demands a reread, especially ones so dense and pretty much incomprehensible. I had no idea what was going on for most of the book, but it was so atmospheric and stylish--with characters that were so wry, intelligent and completely badass. I mean, check out that cover.

 It was a good year for non-fiction too. The highlight here for me I actually encountered in one of my Fall term classes, Romanticism, War and Peace. Mary Favret's War at a Distance is probably the most beautiful academic book I have read. She weaves excerpts from the Romantic poets--Wordsworth, Cowper and Coleridge most notably--into her literary and cultural analysis and her work becomes like a poem itself. Apart from the style, her argument (that since the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars, we in the West experience war as simultaneously distant and, as war-infused language and imagery and affect, as a part of everyday life) was both fascinating and frightening. If war is now an innocuous part of the everyday, how do we end it? If we are all accustomed to living in a state of constant siege, how can we resist violence when it manifests, especially so far away from us personally? These are really, really important questions that too few people are thinking about. I hope that my own academic work, though not directly dealing with Favret's subject, will be as beautifully crafted as Favret's War at a Distance--and as poignant.

Two children's books charmed me this year: Catwings and The Last Unicorn. I read Catwings to Istra in two long bouts sitting on the green hill behind the Ajax townhouse and perhaps that was part of the charm of it, and also just watching Istra's wonder and excitement at the very idea of a winged litter of kittens making their way in the world. It is a very sweet book and hopefully in 2014 and beyond we will get to the rest of the books in the Catwings series.

I read The Last Unicorn aloud to Istra as well, as a bedtime story. The Last Unicorn isn't really a children's book, as it was pretty complex at times, especially the poetic interjections. Despite the rather adult language, Istra pushed us along by insisting that we read this every night until the finish. I'm not sure how much she really understood--for example, the butterfly's poetry was near-Shakespearean in its word choice and order--but the main story had a fairly straight-forward arc that Istra latched onto. Apparently this book has long since been made into an animated movie, but as the writing was a big part of the delight of this book, I think the film probably could never stand up to the book.

Of course, in between reading all of these books, I have been writing one of my own. I'm on my fourth round of major revisions. Maybe after this round I might release it into the hands of a few selected readers for testing. Hopefully someday my cover will appear in some "A Year in Books" lists.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to notice (isn't it?) that there's a fair bit of overlap between our grids this year. There is a surprising (never thought about it before) amount of books we actually read together (Cypherpunks, Faitheist, Little Brother). And the books we, often influencing each other, read relatively around the same time, though separately (Queen of Angels, Quantum Thief, Crowbar, Oryx, Beowulf, The Wall). I also notice (again, a bit to my surprise) the number of books I (somewhat proudly?) recognize as having nudged (with varying degrees of intensity) you towards -- mostly old sci-fi favorites or classics (Dune, Ender, Quantum, Zanzibar, Terminal Experiment, Parable, Lathe).

    It's funny how you ended up reading The Last Unicorn to Istra. It was a book I became interested in and had tossed on the e-reader, hoping to get to sometime. Looking for a bedtime story, you came across it and assumed it was a children's book -- I guess due to the title and the cover art. I was rather surprised to learn you were reading it to Istra. And she was liking it. Unicorns are indeed magical, it seems. And I still haven't gotten to read that one.

    Your description of War at a Distance is certainly compelling (again). It's interesting (sort of) for me to note that where our grid diverges is greatly around the academic/theory books. I did read part of Ecocritism (a book I actually put you onto, though the only reason I came across it was because it was a topic you were interested in), and found quite interesting, but never finished. Your extreme adoration of War at a Distance adds to my fear of looking at it however: what if I do, and don't like it? Or worse: disagree with it?! Maybe someday I'll take it up secretly, if it's lying around... and the mood strikes.

    I see also you're also developing the essential literary skill that every writer desperately needs: shameless self promotion! Sounds impressive. Good work.