It’s December. Here’s my list of ten favorite reads for the year.
1. The Vagabond – Colette
Rene Neree is a divorced woman in the first decade of the 20th century who has “fallen” from society and become a vaudeville performer. The crux of the book concerns the question of whether she should give up the stage and remarry or reject a comfortable marriage in order to pursue her career. What sweeps you along is less the plot and more just Rene’s character and perceptions as she lives and travels around Europe. You have to love Colette. She’s sharp, perceptive, and funny without being genteel. In the book’s first chapter she calls a man a whore. You have to appreciate that.
2. The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati
Drogo is a newly appointed captain whose first assignment is a remote fort on the border. At first he hates the place but as time goes on he finds himself incapable of living elsewhere. It’s a bit funny and a bit sad. I wrote about this one in a One Book, Four Covers post.
3. Embassytown – China Mieville
Tons have been written about this book. It’s SF set on an alien world where the aliens speak a peculiar language that requires the development of genetically engineered human ambassadors. The main character is not an ambassador but a woman who is a colonist and has entered the alien language as a metaphor.
4. The Strangers in the House – Georges Simenon
I like books about grubby curmudgeons with substance abuse problems who despite these traits or maybe because of them can face certain challenges and succeed over them. Simenon wrote a ton of books. When he’s good he’s very good indeed. Here’s a quote.
5. Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
Post-apocalyptic wandering around radioactive England written in a crude degraded form of English – what’s not to love? Seriously. This is one of those books that can possibly make you drunk by reading it. The One Book, Four Covers treatment is here.
6. Dark Companion – Jim Nisbet
This book was just loopy. It’s a violently absurd noir novel about the relationship between a deadbeat drug dealer and his level headed Indian-American neighbor. Mayhem ensues. Sort of hard to say more about it than that.
7. Wild Life – Molly Gloss
Wild Life is set in the Pacific Northwest during the early decades of the 20th century and features a feminist single mother of five as its heroine. A child goes missing near one of the lumber camps and the woman sets out to find her despite the stories of a mysterious creature wandering in the woods. This description doesn’t do the story justice. It’s a powerful read. If you want a hint of Gloss’s style read The Grinell Method over here at Strange Horizons.
8. The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog – Doris Lessing
This is the sequel to Mara and Dann. It’s not as intense as its predecessor, and mostly focuses on Dann who spends much of the book doing nothing except moping and drugs. As with the Simenon book mentioned above I like books like this. This one also had the added pleasure of being set millennia in the future when much of Europe is covered by ice.
9. Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner
I adored this book. Another early 20th century woman refuses to accept the roles society offers her, and in this case she packs off to the countryside and becomes a witch. Here’s the One Book, Four Covers for it. And here’s a bit more. Warner’s collection of fairy stories for adults The Kingdoms of Elfin is also pretty great.
10. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
Friends have been telling me to read this for years now. The frame story involves a young Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan of all the fabulous cities Polo has visited in his travels. The cities are of course fabrications — fantasies and metaphors symbolizing human relationships with others and objects and ideas, and yeah, it’s great.
# # #
And if you’re curious here’s the list from last year.