Jan 02 2015

Taking Stock of 2014

Three themes emerged in my reading this year, without great conscious intent on my part; well, four if I count getting back to a more typical number of books read. The year did not feature any births, international relocations, invasions by neighboring countries, or major changes in employment. All of that helped in finding more time to read.

The first theme was Rick Riordan. Kid One is a huge fan and wants to discuss; ergo, I am reading them. And while I’m well outside the target audience, they are still good fun, heartfelt, and not completely obvious.

The second theme is fantasy/science fiction in translation. This is doubly fun, as the assumptions that the authors are proceeding from or the tendencies that they are extrapolating are different from the Anglo-American background that I come from. Alien worlds (or future histories or alternative histories or fantasy settings) built by someone from a foreign culture are put together differently, and I like that. I’m looking forward to reading more in this vein.

(As a side note, I only read three books in German this year, but two of them were very long, and one of them I translated, so I read it with great care. Possibly more care even than the author and his German-language editors, but that’s another story.)

The third theme is Poland. I used to have what was generously referred to as a reading knowledge of Polish. It never got as far as reading books in that language, just articles, and it has long since gotten very rusty. Nevertheless, I like Poland, Polish history and Polish literature lots, even though I have so far only managed to live there for a summer. (I suspect I am in a small minority that really likes all three of Germany, Poland, and Russia.) At any rate, there was more Poland this year than in a long time, and I was glad to pick up that thread again. There are several more books related to Poland or by Polish authors near the top of the to-be-read piles, so this trend is likely to continue.

I re-read four books this year, all after I had recommended them to a friend. They are also all books I need to be careful about picking up at all, because I find it very hard to put them down again once I have started. They are The Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin (to my mind, his best book qua book), Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Hands down, the best book of non-fiction I read was Just Kids by Patti Smith. Beautiful and touching, a memoir of her early life and a love letter to Robert Mapplethorpe. Other top non-fiction included Inside the Stalin Archive by Jonathan Brent and Red Fortress by the formidable Catherine Merridale. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor concluded his story of walking from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1938, but it was unfinished at his death, and it is not quite as brilliant as the first two volumes.

Top favorites in fiction included Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin, and the aforementioned re-reads. Tintenblut and Tintentod, if you read German (although the author professes to be very happy with the English translation). Casting Fortune nearly completed my reading of John M. Ford’s works; only two short story collections remain, at least until I start re-reading. Special mention goes to The Vagrant King by E.V. Thompson, rollicking historical fiction that tempts me to say that they don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Full list, in order read, is under the fold with links to my reviews here.

Ancillary Justice — Ann Leckie
Uhura’s Song — Janet Kagan
Dickens, Dali & Others — George Orwell
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store — Robin Sloan
Mistress of the Empire — Raymond E. Feist, Jenny Wurts
The Death of Dr. Island — Gene Wolfe
Just Kids — Patti Smith
Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters — Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse — Rick Riordan
The Armageddon Rag — George R.R. Martin
Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth — Rick Riordan
Wired: A Romance — Gary Wolf
The Mind of Bill James — Scott Gray
Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian — Rick Riordan
Roadside Picnic — Arkad and Boris Strugatsky
A Nation on Fire — Clay Risen
Casting Fortune — John M. Ford
The Broken Road — Patrick Leigh Fermor
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH — Robert C. O’Brien
Oracle Bones — Peter Hessler
Down and Out in Paris and London — George Orwell
Das Atom und die Ethik — Heinzwerner Preuß
The Rapture of the Nerds — Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
The Human Division — John Scalzi
Tintenblut — Cornelia Funke
Inside the Stalin Archive — Jonathan Brent
Day of the Oprichnik — Vladimir Sorokin
The Captain is Out to Lunch… — Charles Bukowski
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There — Catherynne Valente
Red Fortress — Catherine Merridale
Hollywood — Charles Bukowski
The Caryatids — Bruce Sterling
Manna From Heaven — Roger Zelazny
The Mapmaker’s War — Ronlyn Domingue
The Taste of Ashes — Marci Shore
Black Glass — John Shirley
The Vagrant King — E.V. Thompson
The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two — Catherynne Valente
Under the Frog — Tibor Fischer
Just Send Me Word — Orlando Figes
The Rhesus Chart — Charles Stross
Good Omens — Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Lost Hero — Rick Riordan
The Unquiet Ghost — Adam Hochschild
A Confederacy of Dunces — John Kennedy Toole
Names for the Sea — Sarah Moss
Shades of Milk and Honey — Mary Robinette Kowal
Glamour in Glass — Mary Robinette Kowal
Tintentod — Cornelia Funke
The Last Wish — Andrzej Sapkowski
Of Dice and Men — David M. Ewalt
Odessa — Charles King
The Magician’s Land — Lev Grossman
Without a Summer — Mary Robinette Kowal
Darkness at Noon — Arthur Koestler
Warsaw 1920 — Adam Zamoyski
Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie
The Slow Regard of Silent Things — Patrick Rothfuss
The Son of Neptune — Rick Riordan
The Mark of Athena — Rick Riordan
Finding Poland — Matthew Kelly
Brick City — Warren Elsmore
The House of Hades — Rick Riordan
The Days of Anna Madrigal — Armistead Maupin
Poland: A History — Adam Zamoyski
Blood of Elves — Andrzej Sapkowski

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