Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Ten Favorite Books of the Year

Book-bloggers seem to be required to do something like this when a year ends, so I guess it's my turn. But I wanted to do it differently than everyone else, just to cause trouble, so I'm going to list the best book I read each month. (Let's see if I need to weasel out of any of the months as I go...)

January: it would have to be The Silmarillion (Second Edition) by that Tolkien guy. Runners-up (and things that were actually written this decade) are Candyfreak by Steve Almond and How To Be Good by Nick Hornby.

February: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, which might actually qualify as a fantasy novel (to some people, at least). Also good was Tom Perotta's Little Children, and two best of the year collections (Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Second Annual and Strahan's Best Short Novels: 2005, which is probably a huge cheat to mention).

March: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds, with Malcolm Gladwell's Blink as the runner-up. And that's probably the only time you'll see those two books mentioned together.

April: I read three really good, very different, all new books back-to-back, starting with Saturday by Ian McEwan, continuing with Accelerando by Charles Stross and ending up with James B. Stewart's DisneyWar. The last ran out of steam and outgrew its bounds as it went along, so it's the least of the three. And it might damage my skiffy credentials, but I'm afraid that McEwan's Saturday edges out Stross in the damn good novels sweepstakes, but they're both well worth reading.

May: It's really not fair to count Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities, so I'll just note I finally got to it this year. The best new thing I read this month was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, with Thud! by Terry Pratchett a close second.

June: I read two excellent Tom Perrotta novels (Election and The Wishbones), which are old and don't count. John Mortimer's latest memoir, Where There's a Will, was very disappointing. Freakonomics (by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner) was thought-provoking and interesting, but not a great book. Jonathan Lethem's book of essays, The Disappointment Artist, was fascinating, but in large part for non-literary reasons. So the best thing I read that month was The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks, despite the hurried ending.

July: I did read, and was quite impressed by, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that month, but I'm vindictive enough not to want to count it as the best of that month. Luckily, I have another excellent candidate, with the shiny glow of nepotism about it: One Million A.D. edited by Gardner Dozois. Ken MacLeod's Learning the World was also quite good.

August: I spent half this month reading Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson, which is only new to Americans. Sarah Vowell's essay collection Take the Cannoli was also notably good, and also several years old. Somewhat newer, and clearly the best, was the immense, and immensely great, collection The Masque of Manana by Robert Sheckley, which gathered a massive number of his mordantly funny stories.

September: I think Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud sneaks past David Marusek's Counting Heads on points; both are excellent novels (the Marusek is possibly the best SF novel of the year), but Stroud sticks the landing, ties up a great trilogy, and tells his story through three different viewpoint characters. Also notable in my pile this month was Ibid by Mark Dunn, a novel told entirely in footnotes and Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy, first in a new series.

October: Several good things came across my plate this month: Strange Itineraries by Tim Powers, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link (which I got to several years after everyone else), and Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell. (Though, just for parallelism, I wish there had been a really good book named Strangest Something-or-Other.) But the best book I read this month, and the most purely entertaining thing I'd read since Gaiman's book five months before, was Sean McMullen's wonderful Voidfarer.

November: There wasn't anything I loved unreservedly, but the best book I read was easily Quantico by Greg Bear. No runners-up worth mentioning here; I've already blogged about most of what I read that month.

December: David Keck's In the Eye of Heaven is a very impressive first fantasy novel, set in a fantasy world I'd think was influenced by Gene Wolfe's recent "Wizard Knight" diptych, if I didn't already know something about publishing schedules. But even better than that was River of Gods by Ian McDonald (which is guaranteed to be on no one else's list this year, since it was published in the UK in 2004 and won't be out in the US until 2006).

So, there it is. My top ten swelled to twelve through trickery, and half of them probably aren't available to most US readers yet. But they're the best books I read, and that and a buck eighty-seven will get you a decaf latte.

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