I was delighted to make it to 30 books in 2013
despite the demands of the PhD. I proved to myself that investing in books I really want to read rather than dutifully trudging through unread books I own is worthwhile so I'll be keeping that in mind this year and allowing myself non-academic book purchases.
Nada (well, nothing finished)
1. Adventure of the Empty House, The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, and The Adventure of the Dancing Men from The Return of Sherlock Holmes in the Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Still longing to get back to the full length stories but they are much more rounded in The Return of Sherlock Holmes
than The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
2. The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke
Loved this, read in no time at all and completely adored the city and the stars and all the other rich descriptions. I sense that my imagining of Alvin's robot was significantly shaped by Eve from Wall-E though...!
3. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
What a book! I had nightmares the second night of reading it which, although not fun, is always a hallmark of a book that I'm really connecting with. Incredibly affecting, beautifully crafted narrative, tremendously magnetic narrator with flaws, faults and deeply felt pain and...wow. Yes. Really hit home with my own long term fears of losing my mind and watching it go but being unable to stop it...amazing.
4. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
In a future where there is no war or hunger and all inequality is ended it fucked me right off that all women did was keep house, have babies, and make dinner for their husbands. Supremely depressing resolution, supremely unhappy making. And I don't believe in a resolution being positive when it says that all that humanity must be lost - I'd rather we remained children in the universe. I was struck at Clarke's ability to make Karellen the only character we ever have any sort of lasting emotional connection with. Him and Jan....this book made me sad. And angry. So I suppose it was extremely good?
5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
Picked this up in a charity shop because the title rang a bell. It was a good read and very compelling stuff but it ended incredibly abruptly and whilst I understand why it ended the way it did, I still felt a little cheated.
6. Saga: Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Try as I might, I couldn't limit myself to a chapter a day and ended up reading all but two chapters in one sitting. Oh god it's so good! Lying Cat and The Will probably my favourite characters but actually really liked the journalists who came through in this volume. Argh, more! Soon!
7. Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
Took me about 7 years to find a second hand copy of this in a Brighton second hand bookshop (the restriction I had placed on my buying it given the connection to the city) so this was really exciting to finally get hold of. I adored it - I always thought the Dicky Attenborough film was good, and it is, but compared to the book? A hollow imitation. The film strips every female character of motivation and agency - and these are some really complex, interesting female characters. The awful, grinding, absolute poverty that Pinkie and Rose come from simply does not translate in the film (or if it does, it's now lost in time and generational differences/cultural reference points) and without that, their actions become directionless/inexplicable. The book just makes sense, and it is all shades of grey and damning indictment of a society which lets those at the bottom slip under, and, to a lesser degree, of the Catholic church's dogma.
8. The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
I've had this book for about 3 years and never got further than the first 20 pages previously. This was a mistake because it's tremendous. I love that the main thing moving the plot along is just the cruelty of time. Relativity is a brilliant villain. And what an ending! Such authorial compassion. The way homosexuality is handled is, I suppose, of its time (1970s) but it wasn't so awful as to spoil my enjoyment.
9. Goodbye Chunky Rice - Craig Thompson
Not as good as Blankets but better than Habibi. Made for a nice read and had one particularly affecting panel. Quite a difficult to follow sub plot though.
10. Good Dog - Graham Chaffee
This is officially an adult graphic but non of it really has adult content and despite the hysterical reviews on back cover, it doesn't hold a torch to Animal Farm or Watership Down. That being said, it's a good story about a dog, albeit a melancholy one.
11. Masquerade - Terry Pratchett
Yay! Greebo! Also hijinks and such. One of the Discworld's that came before I started reading and I never got to when I tried to read from the beginning. As enjoyable as a Pratchett ever is.
12. Small Gods - Terry Pratchett
Reorganised my bookshelves at my parents house and pulled this out, having never finished it when I bought it 16 or more years ago. After getting through the dry introductory section that put me off last time, I really enjoyed it. Old school Pratchett; left me considering what he does with male and female characters - Brutha, Rincewind, Carrot all male characters who are good sorts, through and through, and get to stay in the books with no real character development. Conversely, lots of interesting female characters Sybil Ramkin (later Vimes), Magrat, Adora Belle, Angua, are interesting and independent, and through-and-through good, but they get married and then disappear into the shadows of their husbands, or disappear entirely in the case of Magrat. I'm not sure how I feel about that because I don't want to be annoyed with Discworld. Susan Sto Helit is only woman I can think of who doesn't suffer that fate, but she does disappear, unlike, for example, the much less likeable Moist Von Lipwig. Hmm.
13. Behold the Man - Michael Moorcook
The best thing I can say about this is that the narrative technique was interesting. It was shitty anti-women bullshit, navel-gazing Christianity revisionism, which in turn wasn't nearly as clever or original in doing that as the author thought. Nope.
14. Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett
I think this will be the last new Pratchett I read. So much has gone from it and there wasn't a single good female character in it - plenty of characters who *used* to be good female characters were just shadows and wives and background noise. And just a nothing of a conclusion. Felt like a waste.
15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
I forgot how slow this one is, and how the grammar catches you awkwardly. Still a better world than this.
16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling
I must be getting old, spent a long time wanting to shake Harry and Ron. And oh god, the crashed Ford still makes me feel guilty by proxy. My favourite in the series up next...
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling
Oh Lupin, Lupin, Lupin, I love you.
18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling
When Harry hangs on to Cedric's body, that's perfect writing, basically and everything about Harry's affect from then to the end of the book is just spot on. Makes me howl.
19. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - JK Rowling
I love who Harry is becoming in this book, love how real his hurt and angry and irrational lashing-out seems. I ache for Sirius' loss; when Lupin hangs onto Harry to stop him going through the curtain after him? Kills me.20. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - JK Rowling
I remembered this as being tiresomely plotted with very little action but I think I read it slower than I have previously and as a result the pacing was more agreeable. I did a real close reading of Snape in this, this time, knowing the 'truth' about his actions and it holds together pleasingly well.
21. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling
I kept putting off starting this as I didn't want to lose Dobby, Fred, Tonks, and most of all, Lupin, again. The cruelty of their deaths never gets less and I am still pissed at Rowling for doing it. Sobbed and sobbed as Harry walked along with the ghosts of Sirius and Lupin, as I have so many times before. Had secondary level of reading happening where I refuted all the crap I keep seeing on Tumblr about Snape and Dumbledore being terrible people to name your kids after because they weren't through-and-through good guys. Personally I think heroes who act against their nature, or inclination, in order to do the right thing are more worthy of reverence than Superman-types, but there we are. Certainly it's why I find Dumbledore and Snape such engaging characters, and Snape's life in particular, to be an unmitigated tragedy.
22. Now and Forever - Ray Bradbury
I picked this up impulsively in the library as I scanned the blurb and it said it was a rewriting of Moby Dick
set in the future/ship was a space ship and whale was a comet. Turns out this book is two novellas, Somewhere a Band is Playing
and, the one I wanted to read, Leviathan '99
. They were both written in fairly open faced prose and were an easy quick read but I never got engaged. Somewhere a Band is Playing
wound up being rather indulgent and didn't move me. Leviathan '99
was better but suffered for being too short and not developing any sense of claustrophobia, as Moby Dick
does, or loyalty to Ishmael or the Captain - the Forever War
totally nails that part of space travel.. It also missed the great sweeping Romantic reflections on beauty and nature which, given they are speeding through freaking space past planets and comets and stars is a MASSIVE oversight. All in all? It was no Fahrenheit 451
23. The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov
This was a really easy read with a compelling plot but the resolution was fairly dissatisfying, as was the sudden Christianity. And, in the final quarter, the sudden, wholly unnecessary section about how women put make up on, those peculiar creatures! lolz! Which just underlined the problem which up until then I had been prepared to ignore, namely that in a future where a complete overhaul of the way we live, work and eat was reasonable, and the positronic brain had been invented, and technology functioned in astonishing ways, women still just had babies and stayed home. FOR FUCKS SAKE EVERY MALE SCI-FI WRITER EVER WHY IS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE FEMALE LEADERS BUT NOT FUCKING HUMANOID ROBOTS AND INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL?!?!?! Also, less angrily, loads of stuff lifted from this for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
which is no doubt not news to everyone else, but was for me.
24. A Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
This was...disappointing. I explicitly sought out woman-authored, woman-protagonist science fiction because, as above, I've been getting increasingly frustrated with sausage-fest futures. This disappointed for being really woolly science-fiction, no hard sci-fi elements and really focused on emotion and physical descriptions and narratively-dull sex scenes. I didn't realise until just now it was written in the 70s which contextualises it better for me but still not a life changer. It was very dry in places, and I can't understand why there was only one, brief visit to the dystopian future as that was considerably more interesting than the utopian Mattapoisett. I also can't get on board with a utopia being at war (which was plot hole anyway given the obsession of Mattapoisettians with eradicating waste in all other areas of life) and the death penalty continuing to exist. It reminded me of Swastika Night
and News from Nowhere
, neither of which are gripping reads but are worth giving time to if you've got no better options/like to be well read within the genre.
25. The Clone Rebellion: Republic - Steven L Kent
This is such a promising series but about half way I through I realised there were NO WOMEN. And then it started to make me angry. There are so many ways women *could* have been in it, for a start - why not make the Liberators women? Then there'd be this amazing social commentary going on about society's fear of strong women and retribution/revenge. I liked all the war and explosions and armour stuff though. Military sci-fi apparently appeals. Just not sausage fest military sci-fi.
26. On Red Station, Drifting - Aliette de Bodard
I bought this in reaction to my previous read. It was dreadful. Lots of godawful grammar and comma abuse that even outdoes my worst habits. Then the story...which was very nearly good but failed to do anything science fiction-y and was just 'imperial China in space!!!!!' Yes, there were female leads, yes they were in charge of their own actions and destinies but that's not enough - they need motivations (precious little of that for any of the characters) and some sort of characterisation (again, not so much for anyone) and some of the components that make me read sci-fi, like actual science fiction rather than a broadly magic system of psychic communication. I finished it out of spite, not enjoyment.
27. Virtual Light - William Gibson
I loved, loved, loved this all the way to the last 50 pages or so when the narrative sped up and the careful, painstaking storytelling fell to the wayside to the point it was difficult to grasp how the plot was resolved. I was also, unexpectedly, disappointed with the happy ending. It felt inauthentic. I loved Chevvy though - yay decent female lead! Really enjoyed the threaded narrative of the end of the AIDS crisis and the conceptualisation of the shift to radical groups and massive division between rich and poor post social/economic collapse. It was just a really rich, textured world. Must read more Gibson.
28. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 1 - Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson
I was a bit on the fence about this all the way through and glad I was able to borrow it from the lirbary rather than commit to buying it. I liked all the references to musical idols I just didn't quite...click with it. I think I'm uncomfortable with the fantastic elements which is obviously what the series is built on...It's just not as me as Phonogram
, I need to stop expecting everything McKelvie and Gillen write will be.
29. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne
This was an impulse charity shop buy and I'm glad I did. I think I managed to get a good translation and it read very quickly. Ultimately, the fiction of the science was a little too much of a stretch for me, although I did reflect I would have happily suspended disbelief had it been set on a distant planet and not Earth - funny what a little knowledge will do in that respect. I enjoyed the Victorian-Romantic reflection on landscape of Iceland and Denmark so much I plan to re-read Frankenstein in the new year so a Good Read.
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, The Adventure of the Priory School - Arthur Conan Doyle I read these two sometime in 2014 but as they are short stories I only count them as one book if I read more than three. So recorded for completeness.