2011 In Review–Part 2, The Books

Thursday 5th January: 2011 saw a couple of relatively major changes to my reading habits. My regular reader will know that I haven’t bought many new books for a while now – I have had a “to read” pile which, when you add in the books I need to complete series that I have started buying, numbered quite a way into treble figures. Until this year, I had been concentrating on individual books, or series that I had already owned all the volumes of. Last year, however, I started reading incomplete series and if I found that I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I thought, I decided not to carry on buying them. Series that fell by the wayside in this way included Jan Seigel’s Fern Capel (after the first volume) and Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker (after four volumes). I also, for only the third time that I can remember, gave up on a book – The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison. Small changes, but they are helping bring the pile down a bit more quickly.

At the beginning of the year I also bought a Kindle which, if nothing else, is saving me shelf space and making purchasing books a bit easier (at least in some cases – not all the books I want to read are available as e-books yet). I have to say that I think the Kindle is one of the best pieces of kit I have come across. Whether it is better than other e-readers I can’t say, but I have yet to find anybody who doesn’t like it and, while I doubt I’ll ever completely give up on books, I really enjoy reading on it and can see a future when all my fiction is bought on it if available.

During the year, managed to read (or give up on) a total of fifty-eight books and added, either through purchases (anything I bought, I read) or gifts, twenty-five, leaving me with a total of sixty in the to read pile at the end of the year. These figures don’t include twenty-six Stephen King novels that I bought as a special offer from a book club – I really shouldn’t be allowed to drink alcohol at tea-time – and which are still sitting in a box under my bed.

Part of the reason that I managed to get through so many books was my foray into the Paranormal Romance genre, out of curiosity to see what all the fuss was about. I managed to pick up a number of Sookie Stackhouse novels (Charlaine Harris) and the first three Twilight books (Stephanie Meyers) very cheaply. I had previously given up on watching True Blood, the TV Series based on the Harris books but found myself enjoying the books which not only diverged quite dramatically from the TV version but only took a couple of days (if that) each to read. They are, perhaps, the literary equivalent of a Milky Way bar – the books you can read between other books – but are quite fun. I was less enamoured of the Twilight books but decided to read the fourth for completeness and found myself completely hooked by it, desperately hoping that the inevitable didn’t happen and wondering what direction the story would take after it had. I doubt I’ll be dipping my toe into the genre anymore.

My crime reading has also tailed off recently. I haven’t read a Patricia Cornwall for ages but did read three Jonathan Kellerman novels this year. Again, these are novels that I seem to fly through so it’s probably a good thing that crime isn’t my genre of choice as it would probably hurt my wallet more than SF and Fantasy do.

Disappointments in 2011, as well as those mentioned above, included Rainbow Mars (Larry Niven) which I just didn’t “get” and which went straight to the charity shop when I finished it, and the five books of Juliet E. McKenna’s Tales Of Einarinn, a fairly standard fantasy which suffered, from what I can remember, by having different viewpoint characters in each book but being written in the first person which, reading one after the other, left me confused at times.

From the Science Fiction genre, highlights for me were Orson Scott Card’s Shadow Saga, a parallel series to the Ender’s Game series. I originally read Ender’s Game some years ago and didn’t particularly get on with it, finding it hard to reconcile the age of the main character with his actions. I did, however, enjoy the sequels, perhaps because in them Ender had grown up. The Shadow Saga doesn’t necessarily need to be SF, and could under other circumstances just be a completely separate technological thriller series but it was an easy read and, for some reason, I didn’t find it as difficult to accept the very young characters as I did with Ender’s Game. I also enjoyed Alastair Reynolds Century Rain – I have yet to read one of his books that I don’t enjoy – but, in much the same way as Rendezvous With Rama (Arthur C. Clarke), I find myself wanting more. My favourite from SF, though, was something I read way back at the beginning of the year (and which, in fact, only found its way into my collection when the SF/Fantasy Book Club mistakenly sent me two copies…) Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy is a Man versus aliens, navy in space story with parallels to the likes of the Hornblower era. The spaceships of the series have Captains who fill their cabins with fine art and employ what amount to interior decorators among their servants. Reading as slightly satirical in places, there is plenty of action, both in space and planet-side and I found the three books very entertaining. It reminded me of a less brutal version of David Feintuch’s Seafort Saga.

The best straight fantasy I read was Maggie Furey’s Shadowleague trilogy – generic fare but with a slight hint of science fiction entwined in its story. However, fantasy takes many forms and while the urban grime of China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station was as good as all the reviews made it out to be and, in my opinion, better than The Scar, its linked but indirect sequel, it was Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Raven books which really grabbed me. Not strictly fantasy by definition, they re-write the Robin Hood legend, transplanting one of England’s most well-known heroes to a Wales of a slightly different era. Lawhead gives his reasons in the afterword of the first volume and they certainly sound plausible to me. Most of the standard ingredients of the legend are included and each of the three books concentrates on and fleshes out a different main character (Hood, Scarlet and Tuck, as per the titles).

As usual with these roundups, I have left out many “medium enjoyment” books in order to concentrate on what I really enjoyed. Despite the series I have now consigned to the “Well, I gave them a try” category, there were more books that I enjoyed than that I didn’t (but, then, I’m quite easy to please…) Hopefully, I can continue to chip away at the remaining pile during 2012, getting ever closer to being able to buy newer novels again. You never know, I may even get round to reading those Stephen King books one day…

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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