So I sat down to write my “Best Books of 2011” post and I realized I was going to have a little trouble. You see, I didn’t write down the books I read last year, and I’m having trouble remembering them. Then again, maybe that’s part of the weeding-out process: If I can remember them after all this time, they have to be pretty good, right?
It was a tumultuous year for book buying and reading for me. My go-to bookstore closed. I got a full-time job. I traveled overseas for two months. But I did still manage to read a fair bit. In fact, when we returned from our trip we had an extra suitcase, entirely filled with books.
So without further ado, my Best Books of 2011 list:
1. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Ever since I first picked up Shiver in a bookstore and read the first few lines, I’ve been a huge Maggie fan. There’s something to be said for making language invisible, but as a writer I sometimes like to pick up a book and just roll around in the beautiful words. For those who don’t know, Maggie is terribly talented at many things. She was first published in her early 20s, after having worked full time as a portrait artist. The thing I admire most about her is how much better she gets with each book. The Scorpio Races is her very best yet. I read it while driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 1, which might be the best possible place to read this book. Cliffs, beaches, the fear of imminent death… what more do you need? I couldn’t tell you. I thought it was perfect.
2. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
I don’t read much contemporary YA literature, and I’m not sure this one even counts, but it makes me want to read more. I loved the restraint Nova showed in not giving us all the answers. I loved the chapter headings. I loved the sense of mystery and foreboding. I loved the lake, and all its stories. I admit I was surprised by how much I loved this book, but it left a deep impression. It makes me want to reach deeper and become a better writer, as all good books do. Unsettling and beautiful: Just my kind of story.
3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
When I was younger I just gobbled up post-apocalyptic fiction. It was my favorite kind of story. Back then these books were relatively hard to find, and I pretty much just read my Isobelle Carmody novels over and over again. Then came the YA boom, and vampires, and finally post-apocalyptic overload. It seems like every second book is about the end of the world. You would think this would be exciting for me, but unfortunately I haven’t found too many that live up to the quality I like. So while book after book was released, I’ve kind of sat back and waited for the cream to rise to the top. The Hunger Games was cream. Ship Breaker is definitely cream. What I like about it: The completely different setting. So many post-apocalyptic worlds these days seem interchangeable, but this one is completely and totally unique. It’s believable and beautiful and heartbreaking. Also, the writing is magnificent. It’s more restrained than Stiefvater, but it’s another one I could just roll around in. The character voices were so unique and the world just made my brain spin. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
Aside: I read this while driving through the desert towards the Grand Canyon, which is thematic if not accurate.
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
You know when everyone tells you you should read something and that rebellious side of you rears its ugly head and you find yourself resisting? Everyone has always told me how wonderful Laini Taylor is, but this is the first time I’ve actually given her a go. Somehow I thought if she was such a fantastic author, the kind who won awards and whose books made it on prestigious lists, then maybe her stories were more educational than entertaining. Wow, I was wrong. I am so glad I finally picked this book up. I read Daughter while in Montreal (which, by the way, might be the perfect place to read it if you can’t make it all the way to Prague) and my traveling companions actually had to drag me out of the car to see the city. All I wanted to do was curl up with this book forever and ever. Which might be why I was so mad when it ended. Warning: Daughter is the first in a series. Its ending isn’t really an ending. But other than that: So, so good. My favorite part was voice. Let me tell you, Laini Taylor has voice just leaking from her pores. Love, love, love.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
The only reason I can’t add this as a full entry is that I haven’t finished reading it yet. I bought it just before the end of 2011 and have been slowly savoring it since. I can’t tell you if the book is fantastic, because you never know, it could totally fall over in the back half, but the first 100 pages have totally hooked me. I love atmosphere and I love a good mystery, and this book has both in spades.
So, how goes my own book, you ask? Pretty good! New Years slowed me down a bit, as did going back to work, but I’m still over my goal, so cheers to that!
Here’s where I’m at currently:
30000 / 70000 words. 43% done!
I’m hoping to get to 50% by the end of the weekend, so I better get hopping!
Lately I’ve found myself getting unreasonably annoyed at this manuscript for not being done yet. Unreasonable, because I started writing Restless not even 12 months ago. By this time with my last novel I hadn’t even finished the first draft. Last time it took me six months to revise. I’ve been working for four weeks and I’m almost halfway there.
I don’t know where our unreasonable expectations come from, but I think when you find them you need to kick them in the arse. It doesn’t matter that such-and-such writes two books a year. Such-and-such isn’t writing the same story as you. Her life and process are completely different. What matters is your story, and what it needs. What matters is putting your best effort it, day after day. Nothing else.
I need to remember to pat myself on the back for my achievements, and I suppose this blog is one way I do that. I love my story, I’m making good progress and I’m doing my very best. Those things deserve celebrating.
So how will you celebrate your achievements today? And how do you keep your expectations in check? Are there any fantastic books you read last year that you think I should read?
Happy weekend all!