My Year in Books, 2018
This year was a really tough one for me. I put down more books unfinished than I ever have before in my entire life. This downward spiral of disappointment in my favorite pastime thankfully was highlighted by some of the best reads I have ever had.
I started the new year with a book acclaimed by so many established and famous writers I thought I was in for a treat. Kindle bundles two of the Book of the New Sun volumes together, penned by Gene Wolfe, so it was #1 and #2 as one complete volume. I stopped somewhere about three quarters of the way though the bundle, so well into book two.
What a disaster of a book. The real tragedy is the writing is actually quite good. The function of his prose is beautiful. But it’s a sexist, misogynist, incel wish-fulfillment tale and I couldn’t stomach it. The fact that so many men worship this book is actually terrifying to me. I really, really dug the concept though - Earth so deeply far into the future we’ve lost all our technology in some horrible nuclear age that happened millenia ago in the story and whatever humans were left re-populated the now called “Urth” and we were in the middle ages all over again, with “magic” being any leftover technology we once had. It’s a cool concept, and I liked it a lot. It’s really too bad he objectified every single woman in the story so much it was obvious he’s only read porn and never had a real relationship with one.
Oh yeah, and it is one of the first “meta” stories with an unreliable narrator in fantasy, as opposed to lit fiction. So of course people think this is somehow genius. I cannot state how hard my eyes roll enough.
The next book I picked up was Three Hearts, Three Lions by Poul Anderson. It was ok. Simple, trope-y and old-fashioned with the added banger of being horribly sexist and womanizing in every possible way. Not a classic by any stretch. It just happens to be thrown in as one merely because it was published in 1953. But just because something is old doesn't make it any good. It's really just average. It's cute though you can see how much this influenced Gary Gygax for Dungeons & Dragons!
The next book was The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I put this one down as well; could not finish this book -It was horribly bland. The characters were exhausting, boring, droning. The spectacular tragedy is that the writing is actually good. He's a crafter, but is not a good storyteller.
I wanted to like it, I love post-apocalyptic fiction more than anything. It was a cool world, fully realized. But again, the characters were monotone. Disappointment after disappointment.
The next book was a non-fiction tale; Black Diamonds, the rise and fall of an english dynasty by Catherine Bailey. Thankfully, it was completely fantastic. I loved every second of this book. Every single second. I still think about it, months later. I’m completely obsessed with Wentworth Woodhouse and the 365 rooms of that house. I can’t stop thinking what a banger miniseries it would make, the stories are ripe for the plucking! I’d read it again and again. It was that good.
Next was The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. Written back in 1924 this is fantasy before there was fantasy. One of the progenitors of the genre in every way. It was pretty great. Some parts were a bit taxing, a trifle boring, even — but there was a spectacular payoff at the end that signed it off as one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever read. Plus, the prose was deliciously beautiful. Not enough craftsmen left anymore. Fantasy is in a sad, sad state these days. But I digress.
Next was Mythago Wood. Eh. I finished it at least. Then another non-fiction, Magical Folk; British and Irish fairies ad 500 to the present. What a load of CRAP this book was, complete rubbish. Not only was it written horribly it seemed to be researched only on shoddy websites with false information. Embarrassingly bad book. Negative 10 stars.
Next, interspersed through the middle of the year I also read some non-fiction here and there. I mostly just read before bed! But I also finished The History of William Marshal translation by Nigel Bryant. It’s a story written for his family in the 13th century about the towering spectacle of a man William Marshal, who is so stupendously fantastic I cannot begin to summarize him here. But there are theories that he was the basis for Chretien de Troyes’ Lancelot character. Yeah. He was the man. I loved this book, was fascinating to read a translation of middle english and how not-so-different people are, even now.
I did have the distinct pleasure this year of reading The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I’d been holding onto this book for years, waiting for the right time. I knew it was perfect. I knew it was beautiful. I knew I would love it and of course, I did. It completely lived up to the hype. It is probably one of the best books written. If you love fantasy, this is it. The prose is simply glorious too. 100% perfection in every way. I think I finally read it because I had had such a hard time liking anything else I’d picked up yet so far. I’m glad I did.
So, because I just finished the perfect fantasy I went for Sci-Fi. I really don’t know why I bothered with a David Brin book, but I did. Existence. It was ok, it was just like watching a film. Which I think is how he writes now because some of his earlier works have been made into films and he is desperate to try and get another one done. LOL It was alright.
Next I read the prequel/sequel to Mists of Avalon, Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and her ghostrwiter who cobbled together short stories after she passed. It was ok. Nothing compared to her opus of Mists.
Next I thumbed through a collection of journal articles edited by my favorite scholar Ronald Hutton called Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain: A Feeling for Magic (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic). It’s basically exactly what it says it is. Pure research material.
There was also Home by Francis Pryor of Time Team fame; whom I always loved his episodes. He gets so excited! I’m a fan. It’s a non-fiction book about mesolithic Britain and how home life (theorized, of course with some really great archaeology work in the past 30 years) spurred on revolutions in culture in Britain. Was an excellent read. Highly recommend.
I picked up another Nick Harkaway book called Gnomon. Interesting book. I finished it but it wasn’t my favorite. I still think about it a little, it was strange. I didn’t like a single character the entire time, but I remember them. I didn’t care what happened to anyone, but I remember what did. Hmmm. Clever ending.
After that I picked up Malazan’s Book of the Fallen book One, Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. Eh. Another book hailed and lusted after by rabid fantasy fans. It is alright. I get it, it’s a wild span of books with delicately crafted plotlines crawling across thousands of pages, yadda yadda, I get it. It’s not hard to grasp or to see. In fact, once I began reading it was thinking to myself, ‘gosh this reads like a Pathfinder campaign’ (Pathfinder is just like dungeons & dragons, basically a table top role playing fantasy combat gaming system) and sure enough, when I do a little research, that’s exactly what it is. A young Steven Erikson and his friend put together this RPG world and wrote a story for it. It’s really not that revolutionary people. But man, do people worship these books. It’s silly. He also writes too much, he needs an editor and a style coach. But you know, don’t get me started on what people think is “good” these days. I’ll go on for pages. If it wasn’t so up it’s own butt by being some 10+ volumes of eyeroll, I’d actually like this book but I’ll finish this one and just look up the story on the rest because I cannot be arsed to spend my time reading a Pathfinder campaign. I mean, I play Pathfinder with my family and playing the epic storylines is much more fun that reading someone else’s bad writing attempts at their stories. If he could have only kept it to a trilogy and spared down his writing, I’d daresay he’d really would have had something there. Too bad.
I am almost done with The Witch: A History of Fear, from ancient times to the present by Ronald Hutton. I absolutely love it, very scholarly work, very top shelf. I have learned quite a bit. Apparently some reviewers on goodreads have called it ‘dry’ because he writes in a research/professor tone but I didn’t find it difficult or dry or boring at all. I guess I just enjoy learning a lot.
Also thumbed through about half a dozen other non-fiction research based books this year, but not full reads. Stuff like Life on a Medieval Barony and Open Field Farming in Medieval England, Decision Making in Medieval Agriculture and Medieval Farming and Technology. Doing research for a game that’s coming out in a few years and I don’t mess around :)
So that’s 15 books and some change. Less than last year and I didn’t even finish some of them. Gnomon was a whopper, took me forever to finish. Existence too was long. No excuses really just is what it is.
I’ve got many more in my queue, don’t judge me for reading some of these much later than I should have. Wuthering Heights, Senlin Ascends, Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, Fortune’s Children, The Fifth Season, Gormenghast (read Titus Groan last year), and the new Tad Williams which I am basically just waiting around for, Empire of Grass. On to 2019!!