Well, we are in that tricksy limbo stage between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (or as a friend on twitter called it, Twixmas) so this seems a likely time to attempt one of those “summing up the year” posts, with notes on wisdom gained and lessons learnt. Since I have a notoriously bad short term memory and barely any wisdom I will be summing up the year by trying to remember the best books to grace my eyeballs in 2012.*
(later I will do a post on writing and where I am with that, because the status of writing at the moment is EXCITING)
So, best books. In no particular order:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – one of many incredibly popular books I have avoided for years simply because it was always in the 3 for 2 offer at work. I know that sounds like a stupid reason, but when you spend five years of your life peeling stickers off the same handful of books you start to build a healthy resentment. Plus it was shelved in general fiction, a happenstance that can move a book down my TBR pile a few notches.
Well, I was wrong, and the shelving was wrong too. This book is science-fiction, no? A gorgeously confusing and lyrical trip through the lives of possibly reincarnated souls, Cloud Atlas is like the music being written by one of its principle characters, Robert Frobisher; we speed forward in time, and then back, always buffeted by echoes and hauntings. Brilliant, beautiful, moving.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – this won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year, so I’m willing to bet it’s shelved downstairs in the more respectable General Fiction section, despite being the most fantasy book that ever fantasied. Honestly. This is your standard fantasy trope of a young hero growing to manhood and finding his calling, but told through the eyes of his friend and lover, Patroclus. It’s a vivid, dream-like book full of teenage lustings and tortured love, and the depictions of the gods are genuinely chilling.
The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – this is a book about conflict; the futility of war, the grotty scrambling horror of it and the terrible waste of life. It’s also really fucking funny, and contains the sort of characters that I dearly wish populated all fantasy books; witty, morally dubious and above all, real. The highlight for me was Craw, your typical “I’m getting too old for this shit” soldier, who faces several difficult decisions throughout the course of the book and continually tries to do the right thing, despite the hopeless shitstorm of war and muck.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Yes, I’m really quite behind on this one. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle last year and it instantly rocketed into my top 10 books of all time, so I was looking forward to this; not to mention that Stephen King is a big fan too. It’s a genuinely weird, hypnotic novel, with possibly the most chilling opening paragraph I’ve ever read. It scares and delights in equal measure, until you realise that the delights are in fact all a trick of Hill House, and you are as much under its spell as Eleanor.
Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell – According to Goodreads I read four books in this series at the beginning of the year, but since I don’t exactly trust Goodreads or my own terrible memory I am plucking this one out for praise. The Saxon series tells the story of Alfred the Great through the eyes of Uhtred, a Viking raised as a Saxon and grown to become one of the king’s most trusted warriors. My little summary makes it sound terribly dry, but Uhtred the Wicked is a fabulous example of a first person narrative that drips with character, and Cornwell is extremely skilled at taking huge historic events and bringing them down to a personal level. If you’re a fantasy fan who perhaps hasn’t quite taken the step into historical fiction, I highly recommend this series and Cornwell’s retelling of the Arthur myths in the Warlord trilogy.
And that’s it! A special mention for The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King – I re-read the first three Dark Tower books this year and that one particularly still blows me away. Great stuff.
So what about you? What were your best reads of 2012 and what are you looking forward to next year?
* I should note that I also read many excellent books by writers who are also friends – I decided not to include them here because inevitably I would forget someone and then look like an Evil McFannypants. I may do a follow-up post titled “You Should Read These Books or I Will Give You a Severe Look”.