Booklist 2005

31 December, 2005 at 4:58 pm (literary)

Well, it’s the end of the year and everyone is making his or her Lists. Some people are striving on the Überlist project and coming up with 106 things to accomplish in the next 365 days. Other people are going over the best films or albums or books of the year. I should like to contribute to the Best Films of 2005 discussion, however, not only have I not seen every film that came out in 2005, but I haven’t even seen every film in 2005 that I thought would be good. So even if my measure of selection to see only those films that I suspected would be quality was accurate — which, objectively, is certainly isn’t — I still wouldn’t be able to say with personal certainty that, oh, A Very Long Engagement was the best film of 2005 because I didn’t see Capote or Shopgirl or Mandalay or a dozen other challenging, intentional pieces of film or entertainment.

Last year at this time, I wrote a little paen to Julian Gough about how Juno and Juliet was still my favourite new book, three years after I’d first read it. With that in mind, I set about attempting to catalogue the books I read over the course of this year in order to try and find a new contemporary favourite. This didn’t work for two reasons: 1) my cataloguing was terrible, and 2) most of the books I read this year were for various library literature classes, and they were terrible across the board.

What was interesting to me was that I found that the majority of the books I read this year were left unfinished. Even if a book was light entertainment, the six weeks during which the local public library allowed me to keep it were insufficient for me to find the time to read all of it. And, by and large, I would find myself uninspired by the prose or the story and return it without much of a backwards glance.

The rest of this post is analysis and breakdown of the results that I do have catalogued, and it will be image-heavy. Since I can’t seem to hide something behind a “cut” as they call it on LiveJournal — both conditional tags and the span class “fullpost” seem to be failing me — I humbly apologize for the load time on the blog until this post cycles through into the archives. It’s annoying the hell out of me too, I promise. EDIT: Thank you, WordPress! As a single post, ignore all this, but in archives, please click below to… read on!

Children’s and Adolescent Lit

I read an enormous amount of YA lit between January and May, and most of it was terrible. I won’t bother to list the sheer abundance of badly-composed tripe that I was forced to read because it was hot or edgy. Unfortunately, despite my own love for crime fiction and entertainment fiction, I require that my prose be crafted with some semblance of lyricism, and so many of the books I had to read were muddled, clumsy, and generally uninspired in their wordplay. How one could work so hard to try and have an accurately teenaged voice and yet have no fun, no elegance with it is quite astounding. Anyway, the above nine are the best of the bunch, and those that were turgid or painful have been left off of the list, despite the fact that they’d help my read:unread ratio.

Of note: The Penderwicks is lovely and fun and is winning all sorts of recognition. I Am The Messenger is Australian and has a marvelous premise, that doesn’t hold up at all at the end. Pity, as the blurb and the opening really hooked me. Boy Meets Boy is fascinatingly constructed, but loses itself a little too much in its fairy-tale setting. I think I might have liked it more if I was gay and looking for a romance novel with my constituency front and center. As it is, I think my lack of emotional need for such a book made me notice the flaws more. However, the winner is Brock Cole’s devastatingly well-written The Facts Speak For Themselves, which is depressing as all get out, and written with a stark prosody that doesn’t skimp on the excellent observation and finely managed storytelling.

Genre and Light Fiction

Read a decent amount of Elmore Leonard and all the Liza Cody I could get my hands on. Found a Ross Thomas that had previously eluded my collection, and read the newest offerings by Peter Lovesey and Terry Pratchett. Time and Again was dull and internally illogical, The Librarian was mildly entertaining, but too stuffed full of genre fantasy, and Witch Hunt was nicely crafted, but lacking a certain intellectual tang to make me hunt out other books by the author. Gaiman’s new offering was a pleasant balance between the insufficient lightness of the likes of Stardust and Neverwhere and the ambitious density of American Gods, while Greg Rucka’s newest novel was able to downplay some of the appalling genre conventions the previous volume fell victim to, and ended in a nicely gripping rush… But the book has made me ever more certain that I am saturated with discomfort at the psychosexual trauma to which all Rucka heroines are heir. I think I’m done with him.

Best of the bunch was either Ross Thomas or Alan Ayckbourne, whose plays I should very much like to produce one day.

Novels and Classics

These were all quite good, with the exception of Chekhov, who I don’t understand or appreciate. Stop weeping all the bleeding time, will you! Russians are supposed to be patient, stolid! Not crying at the drop of a bleeding hat!

Anyway, yes, I have only just read The Great Gatsby for the first time. It was pretty good, but I don’t imagine I would have liked it very much if I’d read it in tenth grade. There wasn’t much I read in class in thenth grade that I liked, and tenth grade pretty much put me off of Toni Morrison for life, so Fitzgerald might have actually been better served by waiting. A Long Way Down was an excellent attempt by Hornsby to write something of substance, much more successful than How To Be Good, and he handled the different narrators with clarity and expression. And I rather wish that Lovely Bones hadn’t had that ill-advised possession/sex moment, because otherwise it was a masterwork in tone, language, despair, perspective, and fatalism. Shame to take from the whole like that, but similarly Stephen Fry’s excellent Revenge can’t sustain either its rising action or its ending, which is a pity, as it was an excellent revivification of Compte de Monte Cristo.

Unfinished Reads

And now we come down to it. Looking at this list, it seems clear that I have actually read more than I haven’t finished, but the character of the year feels like I have been abandoning books left and right, and my record keeping failed to enumerate the volumes that I didn’t even start, but returned to the library uncracked.

So what was the problem? To some degree it was a year-long case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach, and I would grab library book just because I felt the need to replenish the possibilities and promise of curling up with a book. Instead, however, I found myself curling up with a DVD, or spending lots of time on the V, or not having as much time as I hoped, period. But a large part of it was that the books didn’t deliver the joy that I was looking for: Nory? Dull. Louis Drax? Great idea, but didn’t grab me. A Hundred Years of Solitude, The Iprcess File, Artemis Fowl, and The Final Solution were dull, dull, dull, dull. None of them had the sense of language and invention that I was hoping for. They weren’t as badly written as Misfortune and they weren’t as labored in concept as The Pleasure of My Company, but they all failed to please or interest. At one point in my life, I was determined to finish every book I started, so that I could judge the entire work, and not just an impression. Now, I just abandon anything that I feel is worthy of my time or effort. And large passels of books fell limply from my fingertips as I could not find the energy to keep my grasp on them.

They weren’t all bad. The theatrical version of His Dark Materials needed a closer read of the novels for comparison, and I’m almost done with that, so I plan on trying again. I hope to finish Mailman, as I think I’ll quite like J. Robert Lennon’s stuff. A Very Long Engagement gave me some interesting perspective on the film version, but I didn’t find myself enjoying the book as anything but a companion to the film, so I dropped it. It’s pretty good, but its definitely its own beast. Roger Rabbit met a similar fate, with the interest in the differences in adapation waning to reveal only a lack of patience with the execution.

Next year I hope to find joy and wonder and the unexpected discovery of contemporary authors. It’s what I hope to find every year while I read, and its why I prowl the New Books section of my library with a gleam in my eye. I look forward to taking risks and having the imagination of authors and the craft of wordsmiths justify those risks. I have a sure-fire recording system set up, and we’ll come back in June for a status report on how 2006 is shaping up. And if anyone wants to help me with that whole “putting content behind cuts on Blogger” thing, I’d be wicked grateful.

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