Mark Kelly wondered a few weeks ago why I was so dismissive (in various posts at the SFBC Blog) of the slew of year's-end "best of" lists coming out in late November. Mark made the good point that reviewers had already seen pretty much everything publishing in 2006 by then. That's true, but I think beside the point -- there were still six good weeks of reading time left at that point, and I'm certain that none of those list-makers had read every strong contender for their lists by then. (I know this because I know I could have read another couple of dozen good books this year -- and possibly altering the below list quite substantially -- and I'm sure they don't read that much faster than I do.) Closing down the accounts on a year six months early is like knocking off work at two in the afternoon -- it feels good, and is quite refreshing, but let's not pretend that it's a full day's effort.
For better or worse, I waited until the very end of the year to decide on what was the best. (But I also did my list in a very idiosyncratic month-by-month way, even though the second-best book in one month might actually be better than the "best" book from another month. I have no real excuse for this system, except that I did it that way last year, and that it works for me.)
January: Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners was good, as was Greg Keyes's The Blood Knight, but the best thing I read to begin the year was Jo Walton's Farthing.
February: Alex Irvine's The Narrows was very enjoyable, and I liked all of the pieces of A Feast for Crows (while not entirely believing they cohered into a single novel). Alastair Reynolds's Pushing Ice was his most readable novel to date, with a great narrative drive. But the book I remember best from this month was volume six of the collections of Bill Willingham's Fables comics series, Homelands.
March: This is a tough one -- I read both The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch) and Glasshouse (Charles Stross) this month. Lynch wins on points, since The Lies of Locke Lamora was purely enjoyable from beginning to end, while the cheap "hey! traditional sex roles are evil!" laughs in Glasshouse kept annoying me. I was also quite impressed by Lies's structure, especially since it was a first novel.
April: Another tough choice, since I read a number of good collections for World Fantasy, plus three very different good novels: Lunar Park (Bret Easton Ellis), Three Days to Never (Tim Powers) and House of Chains (Steven Erikson). But I have to give it to Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, which I fully expect will be the Dark Carnival of our generation.
May: I could say Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, but that's a bit of a cheat, since it was on my list for 2005 from the first time I read it. There's also Hal Duncan's Vellum, but my feelings about that are more mixed -- it's a tremendous achievement, but I don't love it. No, I think the best book I read in May was another comic: Andi Watson's transcendently everyday Little Star.
June: I could almost say Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith or Tom DeHaven's It's Superman!, but I actually liked best a novella from a small British press (and an author I hadn't heard of before) -- Simon Morden's tough-minded military Lovecraftian tale Another War.
July: John Scalzi's Old Man's War was tremendously entertaining, and Peter Watts's Blindsight was much like Vellum (technically amazing and bursting with ideas, but not a book I could honestly call my favorite). But the favorite slot has to go to the Marvin Kaye-edited The Fair Folk, a book I finally read after my fellow WFA judges told me it was really good.
August: I read a lot of pretty-good books this month, but the only real outstanding one was Peter Carey's semi-fictionalized travelogue Wrong About Japan.
September: Daniel Handler's Adverbs (somewhere between a fix-up and a novel) wasn't quite as good as I hoped, as was Haruki Murakami's collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Joe Hill's debut novel Heart-Shaped Box was an amazingly readable supernatural thriller that dragged me headlong through it, and would have been my fiction pick this month, but...the top book has to be Chip Kidd's Book One: Work 1986-2006.
October: The runner-up is Matt Haig's The Dead Fathers Club, a touching retelling of Hamlet with a great voice. But my favorite, and one of the best series-ending books in a long time, is The End by Lemony Snicket.
November: Best of what I read this month, by a wide margin, is Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, which manages to integrate an extended piss-take on James Bond into the already gleefully complicated structure (of Lovecraftian horrors, brain-sucking bureaucracy, and ground-level spycraft) established in The Atrocity Archives, like a juggler showing off by tossing up a rake to join the flaming torches, cream pies, and iron bars already in the air.
December: It has to be Midnight Tides, the latest (for me right now, and soon for US readers who don't buy books from overseas) in Steven Erikson's ridiculously ambitious epic fantasy "Malazan" series.
So, to sum, up, the Top
Jo Walton, Farthing
Bill Willingham and various artists, Fables Vol. 6: Homelands
Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora
Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts
Andi Watson, Little Star
Simon Morden, Another War
Marvin Kaye, editor, The Fair Folk
Peter Carey, Wrong About Japan
Chip Kidd, Book One: Work 1986-2006
Lemony Snicket, The End
Charles Stross, The Jennifer Morgue
Steven Erikson, Midnight Tides