2013 and The Year In Books

So I wrote all this stuff the last week of December. Brace yourselves…

I have decided to commemorate 2013 with a scathing review of its assets. Yeah, I know that the year isn’t over yet. But it might as well be. I mean really, what else is going to happen between now and then? (Cue the alien invasion).

So let’s start with…

Book It

The Year in Books

I read too much. So much so that my Kindle exploded (see: the Year in Terrible Things). This is the second Kindle to have exploded on my watch in two years. I am currently borrowing a brain shattering Kindle Fire until I can swing a new e-ink number, so I can achieve my reading goal of 150 books. Yes I intended to read 150 books in 2013, and with only three more books to go, it appears I might just make it.

When I say I read 150 books, I am not talking board books or shitty romance novels. So far this year, I’ve read Faulkner, Woolf, Bronte, Stoker, Dr. Michio Kaku, Homer, David Levithan, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, A.S. King, and so on. And on.

Some tomes of note include:

Angelfall and World After by Susan Ee
This story is messed up. And I loved it. These are the first two books in the post-apocalyptic YA horror series “Penryn and the End of Days”. Here, our protagonist is a teenage girl with an un-medicated schizophrenic mother and paraplegic little sister, trying to stay alive while angels wage war on mankind.

Of all the dystopian, apocalyptic series I’ve been privy to, this is the most sophisticated in character disillusionment of any of them. As far as Penryn is concerned, keeping her tattered, tortured family together is the only thing keeping her sane; the only thing that matters. Even when good things happen, she never once fools herself into thinking that the humans will survive, or that anything other than the end is nigh. She harbors no false hope, and exists in a state of reality. For a novel aimed at teenagers that’s sort of amazing.

There is a strange dynamic between the two leads, the archangel Raphael and Penryn, and while the storyline pushes towards a possible romantic climax, you can’t forget for a second that this series is horror. It’s not Caitlin R. Kiernan, but it’s very dark, and pretty graphic. Dismemberment graphic. Mutilated children graphic. And even the ‘romantic’ aspect of the plot is more affection than anything. Raffe sees Penryn as a pathetic human, a lower creature. Penryn sees Raffe as a monster, and the means to an end. So don’t worry. If you read this you won’t throw up. Or at least, not for the sugary, unrealistic, teenage romance reasons.

So check it out. And don’t let the angel thing turn you off. In this story, angels don’t know if god exists either, so it’s not religious schlock being shoved down your throat.

Still With Me by Thierry Cohen
I was sort of excited to read this book, it seemed like an interesting idea: A young man commits suicide on his 20th birthday after his best friend/lifelong love rejects him. And that, it would seem, would be the end of that, except he wakes up the next morning to find that it is now his 21st birthday. His life has moved on without him, a full year, and he has no idea what he did during that year or how he got to this new stage of his life. Every morning he wakes up and it’s another year and another birthday, and he is lost like someone suffering with DID. As the years (days) pass, he sees his soulless self gain everything in life he ever dreamed, only to selfishly and tragically lose it all. The story is part science fiction, part spiritual redemption. And I suspect it would have been pretty great too, had I been able to read it in its original French. Instead it reads almost emotionless – bland, flat. Seeing as this was a national bestseller in France and in other markets, and has been translated into fifteen languages, I think the problem is with this particular translation.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I had to read this one for a class I took over the summer. Everyone hated it. I loved it.

To the Lighthouse follows a family as it hosts friends and neighbors at their summer home on the sea. They’re 1920s-ish, upper middle class white folks, who have fancy dinners and keep some degree of society. But that’s not what turns people off about this book. It’s not simply a book of rich white people on vacation; it is a complex study of human relationships, and entropy. And it’s told in what is called stream-of-consciousness writing, which briefly became popular around this time with authors like Faulkner, but which Woolf (arguably) perfected.

Stream-of-consciousness writing follows the thought process of the writer or the character. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re thinking about how tired you are and how much work you have to do and what is going on with your best friend and how come they haven’t cal – oooh! A Squirrel! That’s stream-of-consciousness. Many people find this too confusing to read. But it’s how we, as humans think, how we take in information, and so if you read it, and give it a chance, it not only makes sense it makes the story more believable.

So this particular story looks at every character like threads in a tapestry. Their lives, their thoughts and feelings interweave, and over time they fade and fray, separate and come loose. We see exactly what happens when those threads are picked apart, when some are removed, how the tapestry unravels in some places, how it becomes stronger in others. And time  – like I said, entropy – is another character here. Time passes and you feel it.

I love this book. So read it. And after you read it, check out Virginia Woolf’s biography. She was pretty awesome.

A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller
This book is just… downer doesn’t really cover it. The entire book is a man dictating his life story into a tape recorder, in preparation of his upcoming suicide. Yep. Rosy. So much so in fact, it became one of those situations where I only finished the book at all because I have this thing where I have to see it through. I finish every book, no matter how shitty it is. When I’m in, I’m all in.

The book is set and was written during the late 1950s/ early 1960s. So in that aspect it’s very interesting, very much of it’s time. And it’s beautifully written, don’t get me wrong. I just genuinely didn’t like this book, because I genuinely didn’t like the lead character. He is miserable and sad and blames everyone around him for the fact that he is an asshole living the life of an asshole. He doesn’t do anything to fix things or to take ownership for his situation in life – which by the way isn’t so bad. He’s a completely successful individual career-wise. And you know, maybe that’s what the writer was going for, and maybe that’s was Miller’s motive in writing the character. But as a reader it did nothing for me.

And trust me I do not look for sunshine and rainbows and happy endings. Not at all; that stuff is in no way realistic. It’s just if I wanted to read whiny self pity from over privileged apathetic people, I’d give a shit about Twitter.
In related book news, Gaiman released The Ocean at the End of the Lane this year, to much acclaim. Even though I have it, had pre-ordered it, even, I haven’t read it yet. BECAUSE IT’S TOO DAMN PRETTY AND I DON’T WANT TO WRECK IT. It’s autographed in green ink, for cripes sake. The second I open to the first page, the spine is going to crack I’m going to crease and then tear the first page and spill gravy on it. And I’m a vegetarian – I don’t even eat gravy. BUT THAT WILL HAPPEN.

Aside from the books I’ve read, I’ve also acquired some real doozies this year. My great aunt had been slowly liquidated her late husbands’ books to me ever since I found a deposit of them she was unaware of in a closet in her spare room. They are mostly in the ‘little snippets of knowledge vein’ or are novels very specific to his tour in Morocco in WW2. They have awesome titles like What Happened in History (I was flipping to the back page to see how it ends, when my aunt came over and said “Oooh, see how it ends!), and I Never Met an Arab Like Him. Yep. Never.

This same uncle, John, was also fond of marking his dictionaries, and as I grew up I’d find things stuck throughout marking the words he looked up. He liked to write the word he was trying to learn over and over again on snips of paper, or use dental floss to mark pages. Yesterday there was a grand ransacking of their apartment (see: the Year in Terrible Things), and I finally took the dictionaries home with me. I also found a smaller, pocket dictionary I’d never seen before. It too was full of snippets of paper. But when I read them they weren’t just words he was trying to read: there were things in his life he was trying to remember. Like how earlier that day the Boston Globe had a picture of him in a major article on Veterans who served in North Africa. He didn’t save the article, he just wrote about it. At least he listed enough information that I’m sure I can find it.

The Guide To Reading

I also found a gorgeous little volume at a flea market called The Guide To Reading for $2. And it literally is what the title implies: a list of what books to read, what passages, in what order, and even on what day of the week. It’s a rather presumptuous little thing, really.

The Guide to Reading Content

So that’s it for The Year in Books, but I’m not done with 2013 yet. Gird your loins for The Year in Music.

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