Part one is here.
And, we’re off!
7. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell is Emily’s favorite author of the year. For that matter, she could be mine as well. In Eleanor & Park, Rowell somehow delivers a work that manages to be delightful and heartbreaking, joyful and devastating, funny and tear-jerking, often all on the same page, if not in the same paragraph.
I can’t recall any other book I’ve read that gets high school right, or being a teenager in love right, or nails the rage and depression of being the helpless young victim of abuse the way Eleanor & Park does.
This is a book to satisfy both folks who love YA romance, and people like me, who detest the vast majority of it. This isn’t just a love story, it is also an ode to music and rebellion and freedom and transcendence and self-discovery and the need we all have to somehow find ways of letting people see and accept those places in ourselves that we keep secret.
Rowell released two books in 2013, with one on the way this year. If that is any indication of how prolific this talented young writer is going to be, we all have reason to be excited.
8. All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy writes amazing novels, that’s just what he does. His work gets under a reader’s skin, clean and no-nonsense prose that is at once tough and elegant. He never feels to me like he is droning on, and yet he is still remarkably descriptive. One never merely reads about the post-apocalyptic wastelands, the savage border territories, or the Mexican horse ranches McCarthy writes about, we inhabit those places while we are reading and for some time afterward.
All the Pretty Horses is a beautiful novel about passion, and desire, and the limitations we all face in a fucked up world like ours. It is proof that McCarthy doesn’t need to rely on savage violence to move a reader, that violence being something many of his novels are known for, and rightly so. This novel, while it still has a moment or two of more muted violence than you’ll find in, say, Blood Meridian, would be a great place to start for someone curious about McCarthy’s work but uninterested in cannibals, psychotic nihilists, or large gangs of monstrous outlaws murdering and pillaging their way across the North American West.
9. Embassytown – China Miéville
Everything Miéville writes is fascinating. His work is weird, and he is proud of it, and that is just one of the things that makes his work so satisfying and original. He is supremely talented, with prose that is visceral and complex. He never does the same thing twice, and has even claimed he wants to write a book in every genre eventually. Yet, with every genre he writes, he puts his own beautifully mad twist on it, making him the sort of author you should read in a given genre even if you think you don’t like said genre.
Embassytown is science fiction, set in a future where humans have colonized the stars, on a planet where a small city of people live amidst a mysterious alien race they call the Hosts. STAY WITH ME. Embassytown is, among other things, a way for Miéville to play with ideas of language and metaphor and meaning, and I can’t really say much more without spoiling stuff.
As always, it is evident that Miéville is a brilliant human being. I am running out of books by this wild, crazy, socialist genius that I haven’t read, so hopefully he will continue to pump out books at a steady clip.
10. Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Ugh, depressingly terrible cover. As is often the case with genre books it seems to imply that the artist never actually read the book, but instead was just told about a particular scene or concept and went at it.
Anyway, Hyperion first came to my attention because of a genre class Emily took with Nancy Pearl, the world’s most famous librarian. When Nancy Pearl recommends something, you should pay attention to it. I did, and got the book from Powell’s in exchange for some other books I didn’t want. Then former RtM writer W saw the book in a photo and gushed about it for a while, and it moved to the top of my personal reading queue. Aren’t you glad you know that story now?
Hyperion is everything W and Nancy said it would be. Told as a frame story, where much of the action actually takes place as a series of characters tell stories about why they are returning to the mysterious world of Hyperion (named for the Keats poem) where they will likely meet their doom. Each chapter thus shifts into an entirely new genre, with a new voice. It’s a joy to read as Simmons somehow brings all that together into a single narrative, revealing a little at a time to introduce this terrible planet.
The book engages deep territory, and I can’t wait to get through some more books on my ‘To Read’ shelf so I can grab the second book in the Hyperion Cantos.
11. Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
More Rainbow Rowell. Her first novel, while not as good as Eleanor & Park, is still more than worth your time.
The story follows a guy trying to figure his life out who takes a job doing electronic security at a newspaper, or in other words, he reads flagged emails to make sure no one is doing anything inappropriate. He comes across emails between two best friends at the paper, and quickly becomes enamored with their banter and conversations. As the back cover of the book says: “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you.”
Immensely likable characters written in Rowell’s playful but stirring voice makes Attachments another winner.
12. Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
And, more Gaiman. I know a lot of people don’t like short stories, but I love them more all the time. This is especially true with writers like Gaiman, with a voice I love and a wide swath of tones, themes, interests, etc. It makes it so that each new story goes to a wildly different place, and that can be a whole lot of fun in the right hands. Obviously, I think Gaiman is a prime example of “the right hands.”
A dark, 100 word story about Santa Claus; a man who unwittingly invites the end of the world because his fiancé cheated on him; a werewolf detective; an old lady who finds the Holy Grail at a thrift shop… Smoke and Mirrors has a little bit of everything.
Long live the king.