Shaken and Stirred
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15 (or so) books that rocked in 2003
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For some reason this year I find myself wanting to take stock of things I consumed, to remember the things I read and listened to and watched. So, the first in a brief and indefinitive series of stuff. If I were nicer, there'd be links for everything, but I figure if your interest is piqued enough to seek out more information, you are perfectly capable of googling by title or author. These are not reviews, they are not in order (except for number one), they are not anything but some recent, or upcoming, books that I think are worth your while. (I don't do plot summaries; no spoilers within.) Here we go.

Favorite reads of the year Ė Heavily weighted to books read in the last six months or so, because itís hard to remember what I was reading before that. There are also so many books I havenít read yet that came out this year, books that mock me from my bedside table or their bookshelves. But I did actually read, or attempt, a fairly sizeable amount of new fiction this year due to our move a block and a half away from the downtown library and its fantastic new book selection. And Iíve tried to limit this list to new books, mostly because if I tried to remember everything Iíve read this year my head would explode. I also tried not to search my memory too hard but see what popped in as particularly memorable. So, here it is, some of my favorite reads this year.

1 THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB by Karen Joy Fowler. Yeah, yeah, I know it doesnít come out until next year, but I read it this year (twice). This book is special and perfect. Make sure it gets into your hands as soon as humanly possible.

2. FITCHERíS BRIDES by Greg Frost. A wonderful gothic novel, which takes all the old conventions and makes them fresh. One of the most impressive things about this book to me is its structure, and how the writer manages to pull off an extremely complicated maneuver of making necessarily repetitive plot developments into edge-of-your-seat moments through character development and lean yet grand writing. This book should have won the World Fantasy Award.

3. THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA by Kevin Brockmeier. This book haunts me, and is also a structural wonder. This is one of the few successful novels made of linked short stories, but not in the traditional way of doing that, not at all, Iíve ever read. So much so, it bears comparison to nothing else. Itís a beautifully written account of hope and despair and the horror of the unseen moment.

4. MIDNIGHTERS by Scott Westerfeld. Again, this oneís not out yet, but I read it this year and you should immediately secure it once itís available (go pre-order). If youíve missed Buffy this year, if you like smart teen fiction, if you like being absorbed into a pocket universe filled with cool stuffóyouíre gonna love this book. My favorite thing of Scottís so far, itís a book anyone should get a great deal of pleasure out of. And itíll have a cover blurb by Ursula Le Guinóso there!

5. TRAMPOLINE, ed. Kelly Link. So many wonderful stories that I know Iíll revisit this volume time and time again. Christopherís, Richardís and Karenís stories are three of my favorites from recent yearsóall different but all with that sense of invisible magic about them.

6. NEVER MIND THE POLLACKS by Neal Pollack. I hesitate to put this one here, because I just read it and because thereís a part of me that feels like it was too easy a read. It didnít ask very much of me as a reader, but was effortless, even the savagery never really felt savage. But it was one of the most enjoyable reads Iíve had in a long time and left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling for a book that references so much despicableness. Nothing here surprised me, but there were moments that delighted me.

7. KALPA IMPERIAL by Angela Gorodischer, trans. by Ursula Le Guin. I loved this book so much. I love Latin American fiction, especially that particular mix of oddity and the political that speaks with such relevance. I was excited by this book as Iíve been by all my favorite Latin American authorsóBorges, Galeano, Cortazar, early Allendeóand also that magician Italo Calvino. This is a book I know Iíll come back to and find changed.

8. DAYLIGHT by Elizabeth Knox. Another sly gothic tale, this one modern yet crusty, full of vampires retro and new. Like all Knoxís books, this is a marvel of lean writing and excellent plotting. What Iím asking for when I say I want an excellent page-turnerósomething that demands that I keep reading it because itís so good, but with a sense of urgency too. This is almost a mystery novel, too.

9. JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE and WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD by Jincy Willett. Two books that deserve their own number, but really what Iím saying here is Jincy Willett is one of my favorite discoveries of the year and to find the brilliant collection and then get a really different but equally excellent novel published ten years later in the same yearÖ I feel lucky. This is a writer who is only herself, and isnít afraid to become something new at the same time.

10. THE FINAL CONFESSION OF MABEL STARK by Robert Hough. Caveat: Iím not putting this book on here because I think itís a great book; itís a good book, but flawed. Iím putting it on because it taught me about Mabel Stark, which is worth something.

11. TITHE by Holly Black. Itís been a long time since Iíve enjoyed fairies this much. The rough feel of the real world and the fairy world in this book make a completely believable backdrop for a teenager that finds out sheís not what she thinksóand she has green skin to boot. Iím not sure this was published this year, but I read it this year so neener.

12. AND NOW YOU CAN GO by Vendela Vida. Like a good independent film on paper. Slice of life stuff, but nicely turned and tightly constructed. Could have lost the third world country.

13. THE KING IN THE TREE: THREE NOVELLAS by Steven Millhauser. I love Millhauser, and if youíve never read him, I can almost guarantee you will too. Start here, start anywhere. Heís a gifted stylist, but the best things about his stories are how odd, lovely and thematically strong they are.

14. I, LUCIFER by Glen Duncan. This book made me laugh, lots. Itís a rambling, rollicking cinematic read.

15. THE FACTS OF LIFE by Graham Joyce. I didnít feel this novel was magical realism or fantasy or whatever-it-was-marketed-as so much as it was a fantastic piece of storytelling about a clan. A family, with all the warts and warmth that entails. And, of course, Joyce is a great writer.

Sentimental favorite: THE 17TH ANNUAL YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR, ed. Datlow and Windling. This is always a strong volume, obviously, but this year in particular Yearís Best was filled with things I almost missed, and ended up loving. A fitting end to Terriís end of this partnership.

More listy-goodness to come.

earworm: "17 dreams," Luna Live

random rec: anything above

namecheck: George "The Dog" Rowe the Dog


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