Super-Mega-Booklist – The Books of 2012!

With 2012 just about to hit that culturally significant but inherently meaningless end point, let’s do what humans do best and make it have meaning. Here, then, are the books I read in 2012, in the order they were read, and my quick closing thoughts. Another post, highlighting my favorites, is on the way!

Quick stats: 

  • Gender parity, woo-hoo! Completely by accident, too.
  • 29 are fiction, the rest non-fiction. That surprised me.
  • 2 books abandoned, one SF and one Fantasy, both critically beloved.
  • 2 door-stoppers, the latest GRRM volume among them.
  • Research books for the two novels I worked on included if read cover to cover.

I’ve been really digging into Numbers for the Mac (our version of Excel) and really getting off on the number crunching possibilities. I may start keeping a spreadsheet. We’ll see.

And here are the books of 2012!

Steampunk (Volume 1) edited by  Ann and Jeff VanderMeer — Another book that’s been in my to-read pile for an embarrassingly long time. (I’m working on it, okay?) I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag, but loved the stories by MacLeod, Gentle and Chapman.

Blackout by Mira Grant — And that was Book Three. Yes, I was so caught up in reading them that this book didn’t even make it to the fleeting “currently reading” section of this page. I so thoroughly enjoyed this series. I have been talking it up to all my buddies. Whatever world-building quibbles I had about the world where this takes place, they were minimal — and normally I have a hell of time getting over stuff like that in a book. It speaks to how much I loved these characters and how much I loved Grant pairing a zombie apocalypse with journalism and political corruption. A series not to be missed, IMNSHO.

Deadline by Mira Grant — Book Two in the Nom-Zombie-Journalism series. Library book that, once I finished it, I went to my computer and bought ebooks of it and the third book. More coherent thoughts with the final book’s entry, above.

The Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko — Third book in this Russian translation. Reads like a thriller but set in a fantastic post-Soviet 21st Century. There is one more book in this series that I have to ferret out. (Yes, I know, ‘late to the party’ as the last came out in 2008. HUSH.)

Feed by Mira Grant — Nom! Nom! Nom! Zombies! Apocalypse! Journalism! Politics! Serious author crushing. I loved this book to pieces. Must read all the rest.

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku — Books like this are fish food for my muses. I really enjoyed his Physics of the Impossible, but was hoping for something a little more practical and actionable (fiction-wise) out of this one. I can haz disappointment. (And dude’s living with some pretty wicked rose-colored glasses. That’s all I’m saying.)

The Fall of The Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman — This is the third book, chronologically, in the Riverside series, though the second published. If you hear happy, fluttering noises through the Internet, don’t worry. That’s just me.

A Baronial Household of the 13th Century by Margaret Wade Labarge — This was for research for the current WIP rewrite and it has been so useful. Labarge works from primary resources, specifically the household records, to understand the inner workings of life in the 13th Century. It was so good, I’d like to scare up my own copy and it’s got me hunting down her other books. (The title I give is for the version I have from the library, but the link on Amazon.ca goes to a more recent and retitled version of the same.)

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters — Dipping back into historical reading. I love Water’s books. She writes beautifully and her characters like you’re slipping in right beside a real person as they live their life. Not disappointed!

Little, Big by John Crowley — I’m a 100 pages in, but just not clicking with it. Abandoning it for now.

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King — The twelfth book in the Mary Russell series, directly following the events of the last book, The Pirate King, which is listed below. It was a solid entry into the series, but I think I’d have preferred if Pirate King and this book had been published as a single volume, though I suppose tonally they are quite different.

The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen — I picked up this book because I loved her other how-to book, Writing the Life Poetic, which lives on the favorite shelf. This book a scattershot of buckle up, open yourself, stop self-sabotaging, suggestions on carving out time to write and office-management techniques. It’s writing agnostic, so it’s for non-fic and fiction writers. I’m not clicking with it. For a more robust book on career management, I’d recommend Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer. For no-nonsense discipline, writing technique and encouragement, check out The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi — Wow. I really enjoyed this. There is so much well-thought and intriguing world building, delivered so well, that it keeps your brain crunching for hours. And yet, it’s only the smallest sliver of the world. The only downside is that it really is a book one of three; the first arc is completed, but you have only just started the adventure. (I used to think the wait between novels was unbearably long for direct sequels, and then I started watching Sherlock …)

Logical Chess Move By Move by Irving Chernev — A belated VP-reading. (I had no idea you could even castle, or move en passant. How sad is that?) I’ve hauled out the family chessboard, something that I remember being old when I was a kid, to replay each game. Really fun!

How To Read Like A Writer by Francine Prose — I’m glad I came across this now than years back. I think I knew enough that the advice in this book wouldn’t have helped me back then, just confused me more. A love letter to good books and learning from them.

They Became What They Beheld by Edmund Carpenter — I came across a reference to this on Tumblr, a quote that was compelling enough that I had to track the book down. Carpenter’s book, an anthropologist’s thoughts on how people view themselves and how it changes based on successions of cultural and technological change, was published in 1970. Yet it predicted a great deal of how behavior would be shaped in the coming decades. (But has regressed in others. I would love a another volume by him written near the end of his life that deals with the changes that have taken place since this book was published.)

The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin — I’m a fan of his A Song Of Ice and Fire series, which lead me into his other work like Fevre Dream (which is terrific). Finished the book feeling a bit let down — this could have been much shorter, more focused. The level of description is really extraordinary, and when dealing with things like a fantasy world of his own making or recreating the world of riverboat majesty it is very much needed. But to describe the 1980s when it was published in the 1980s? I rationalized it as the M.C. is constantly contrasting his present to the days of his lost and idealistic youth, but even that grew to be too much for me. I wanted him to hurry up and get on with it.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland — Much enjoyed. I need to make a list of all the books I should have read 20 years ago. Invariably, I ended up missing something awesome, but this sort of book just wouldn’t have been on my radar back then. Shame. Totally cried.

The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin — Book two in her first series. Another great read, thoroughly enjoyed. The protagonist is blind, but she can see magic in strange and interesting ways. Reading the book made me think of those fractal math artworks done on a dark background. Very cool. And, deeply crunchy world-building and commentary on class, religion and culture. My kind of book!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See — Swinging back to historical novels. This is a stand-alone novel set in China in the 19th Century where two women use women’s only language nu shu to communicate in secret and share their lives. Lovely and sad, which is about par for a See novel. (Not that I am complaining — otherwise, I wouldn’t have read three of her books by now. *g*)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain — I caught her TED talk about introversion, and then sought out her book. Laughed out loud in places, recognizing my own discomforts and difficulties. Last chapter perfectly described my relationship patterns with my ex-boyfriend (wish I’d had the book back then). Significant quibbles with her cross-cultural comparison chapters, mind you.

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner — [inarticulate squeeing] Came to this backwards, reading the forth book, Privilege of the Sword, last year some time (and loved it). AH! So, the “middle” book actually occurs after, chronologically, Privilege, some sixty years afterwards. Meep! I want more of Richard and Alec. :3

Corambis by Sarah Monette — The forth and final volume in her Melisune series.  Been holding on to this one for a long time because I knew it was going to be the last one. In fact, I think I came to the whole thing after it was finished, or just near the end. Nicely done.

Power and Light by Roger Zelazny — The second volume in the Nesfa Press series. Finally finished this in a wonderful four-day glut of reading. Lovely!

The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of Imagination by Steven Swann Jones and Fairy Tale: A New History by Ruth Bottigheimer were for research, the later really making some really interesting points.

Story by Robert McKee — I’ve seen this title floating around the Internet as one of the go-to books regarding plot. And I was not disappointed. I killed half a mechanical pencil underlining this bad boy. Nice, and terribly useful.

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon — This book follows my little rule that if I come across the same thing at least twice, if not three times, in totally unrelated ways, it’s the Universe giving me a nudge. These are the diaries of a Japanese woman living the Emperor’s court in the 10th Century. Very lyrical, very sarcastic, very … captivating. Hmm.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury — Very, very conflicted about this book, and likely my last Bradbury for a bit. This is the third book of his that I’d read where the start were a few short stories that were then assembled with more short stories in the same vein and collected into a book. All short chapters, running from full stories to vignettes. I really took issue with how his female characters are developed (at one point, three different women who get their own story are all named Hellen, when there was no repetition in names for any of the much larger male cast). Had to push through to finish it, hate to say. The farther he gets away from reality, the more I like him. The closer to home, the more he itches.

Pirate King by Laurie R. King — This is King’s eleventh in the series, making it the book series I have followed the longest in my reading lifetime, just edging out Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles (which I also can’t recommend highly enough). More British wit and derring do served with Sherlockian goodness and pirate adventure. And, as expected, delightful.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson — I picked this up on a whim and sucked it back like a Long Island Iced Tea in the middle of August. Very lean prose (was that the translation?), very much focused on research and the lives of the two protagonists as much as the mystery. Will read the rest of the series. (Also blogged passionately and spammily about the movie adaptations, divided into parts onetwo and three.)

To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis — This was lovely! No wonder people had raved about it to me for so long. I get it! (I did a Fan-casting post, which you can find here.) Highly recommended!

From The Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury — A quick read, so quick I’d picked it up and finished it before I could update the page. Lovely and lyrical. Sad and supernatural, and very human too.

The City and The City by China Mieville — This has been on the TBR pile for about a year now, picked up I think at Ad Astra 2011. (I think.) It’s my first foray into Mieville’s writing, and I really enjoyed it. Worried I might not like his other stuff, as it’s supposed to be more ornate. Only want to be sure is more Mieville.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin — Hoooeee, what a book! Took me a month to get through her and I suspect some of that speed (har har) had something to do with the new Kobo, which I will blog about soon. And, waffles, I still really like the series, but I do feel that splitting the book into FEAST and DANCE did not help matters, and that DANCE came out the worse for wear because of it. (Also, whores. God love ’em.)

Whedonistas! edited by Lynne Thomas and Deborah Stanish — On the heels of Chicks Did Time Lords (below), comes this title, focused on all of Whedon’s work in television. Because it focuses not on one fandom but the vision of one creator, I felt like I got a lot more milage out of this one. Or, perhaps they were hitting their stride?

The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How To Change It by Charles Duhigg — I bought this as a life-hack book, but boy, it’s fucking cool. It’s so weird and neat how people organize their lives, consciously or otherwise, and how people and groups often function in the same ways. Was a library read; have now ordered a copy.

Virga: Cities of the Air by Karl Schroeder — This is a double book, and since I’ve read the first, I’m diving into the second, Queen of Candesce. Loved the first one, and loved the sequel. Got very riled up when the heroine appeared to make a bad choice, but ended up not. Got very emotional at the ending. Epic stuff. It also strikes that Niven cord that was wired into me when I was about thirteen.

Chicks Dig Time Lords edited by Lynne Thomas and Tara O’Shea — [Insert squeeage here.] [Seriously, just squeeage.] Also, I need to read more feminist stuff.

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi — I have always loved maps. I remember cracking open my first fantasy novel and finding that map to another world and falling in love. This extended map-as-metaphor treatise is very interesting, a meta-text to the writing process.

Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right by Judith Tarr — for research, as one of the main characters in the WIP I’ll be editing is on a horse a great deal of the time.

The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust — Compilation of the first three published books in his Taltos series. I’ve read the first, so diving into the second. You know how a series starts to get comfortable in that boring and familiar way, the sort that lets you stop reading? Yeah. This series isn’t like that. At all. I’ve ordered the next compendium, The Book of Taltos.

The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders — The subtitle is, “How the Victorians reveled in death and detection and created modern crime.” Essentially, we’ve been ‘watching’ reality TV for a very long time. But it’s interesting to see the echo effect on how the rise of journalism and murder-as-entertainment informed actual policing and crime, which then in turn influenced journalism and entertainment, and back again.

Once Upon a Time: On The Nature of Fairy Tales by Max Luthi — Research for the current WIP, this is a translation of a study of fairy tales. It’s dated in parts, very dated, but there is useful stuff to extract.

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber — This came highly recommended. Funny thing, when I was reading it, I was stuck thinking it had been published in the 70s, because that’s the copy I had. It was well done, but I kept thinking something was just a little off and I couldn’t figure out what. Then I finally figured out it had been published in the early 50s and my brain went a-ha and my opinion of it rose dramatically. While set in the late 40s, it does not real like it was written then. At all. Very impressed. (Though, the whole women as irrational thing irked me to know end. But, the times, I know.)

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See — I loved the first book, Shanghai Girls. The sequel does not disappoint, but boy, if I thought the invasion of China by Japanese forces was a rough read, the starvation and desperation that See depicts during the Great Leap Forward is just crushing. Fabulously researched, and characters that feel and act like real people.

The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon by Theodore Sturgeon — A belated VP recommendation. Collection of short stories and novellas. Hate to admit it, but I ended up putting it down two-thirds of the way through. I really like his style, but a lot of the stories seemed to go on far longer than they had to. I did some web-snooping and it looks like most of these are not among the ones he’s best known for, so I’m not giving up on Ted, just this sample.

Among Others by Jo Walton — Lovely. It reminded me a lot of Deathless by Catherynne Valente; not in tone, but in effect it had on me as a reader. There were so many times when I was reading it where I was caught flat-footed by some incredibly sharp, life philosophy nugget and I’d have to put the book down and really think on it. Treasure it. I’ve often said, of books I come to late in life, “why didn’t I find this when it came out 20 years ago?” With this, I find myself thinking, “I wish this had been written 20 years ago, so I would have understood that I was not alone.” (And every time she mentioned a book that I’d read, I squeed.)

Alan Clark: The Diaries 1972-1999 by Alan Clark — This is his actual diary, edited of course. This was a brick of a book, a real monster, but so fascinating. So many contradictions built into one man; which is how we all are, but rarely do we get to see. Reading it felt voyeuristic at times, and the end (the only way a diary, or anyone, ends) is very moving.

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand — This was a book listed in Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy in the section Intrusion Fantasy. It was as good as the Rhetorics of Fantasy made it sound. And likely a book I will read again, something I don’t typically do.

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