Year in Review

It seems to be expected that one should complain and lament this entire last year. I have neither the desire nor the right to do so. If I were to complain–even about the legitimately discouraging events of the year–I would feel as though I were looking down on the truly good things that have happened and tossing the literal baby out with the bathwater because, chief among this year’s review:
  1. We had a baby. Our second. His daddy is holding him right now, while our eldest plays with a alphabet train one of his Grandma’s got him. I had a smooth labor and uncomplicated delivery (don’t get me wrong, it still resides in its own very unique category of difficulty and pain) and he is healthy and happy and seems to want to talk as soon as possible. He’s not yet two months old, but he’s all about it.
  2. Our oldest is nearing two years, and he is bursting with personality (also very talkative) and is shedding his babyhood for toddlerhood day by day. I am fascinated by him as he grows.
  3. We went to two weddings this year. One was my brother’s, bringing a wonderful new sister into the family, and the other was that of a dear, dear friend (one who will pretty much own the acknowledgments page of my book if it gets published). Both were joyful celebrations and opportunities to see family and friends that we rarely get to see.
  4. I spent 4 months in my hometown with family this year due to my husband’s travel schedule. This was both good and bad. I missed him, both for myself and on behalf of my son. But I got to spend quality time with family and in my hometown (city, really), which is always a joy.
  5.  I did two rounds of revisions with my agent. It’s so hard entrusting your work to other hands, but when I got over my initial resistance and got down to the work, I was certainly grateful to her (I suppose that ought to go without saying, but you live, you learn). The suggestions can be daunting, and the work of them as well, but it’s good stuff, all told.
  6. I read 20 books this year, and I liked quite a few of them. 20 doesn’t seem like many, in the grand scheme of things, but it was actually a good number for me considering all else that was going on. I’ll list them all here, and give some notes on some of them.
Books of 2016
I read a lot of SFF this year. Normally it’s more of a mixed bag, but this year was the year of fantasy for me, apparently.
  1. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. This book was complicated for me. Great writing, and some of the best world-building I’ve ever seen, but left me feeling hollow and frustrated due to other aspects of the book.
  2. Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Enjoyed this. Fun. Clever. Solid, quick read. Like a fantasy Jane Austen
  3. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson. 
  4. Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmad. Loved the setting.
  5. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. Brilliant “Ellis-Island-era-immigrant-fantasy” story.
  6. A Criminal Magic, by Lee Kelly.
  7. The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu. A few special scenes in this book were particularly powerful.
  8. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. A solid, old-school fantasy with good themes and an interesting world.
  9. Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. LeGuin. My favorite of the three Earthsea cycle books I read
  10. The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Powerful at times, but I felt conflicted about the purpose of the themes in this one.
  11. Updraft, by Fran Wilde. Woah, crazy-good world-building here, enjoyable writing. All-around fascinating book about a world where people live in bone towers, high above the clouds, fly on silk wings, and survive by sinister secrets. I had a few minor issues with one of the character arcs, but they were not enough to keep me from flying through this book (ha-ha). I got a really good visceral sense of the wind in my ears and leaping of towers over a sea of night-dark clouds. Oh, and it was clean (no language) which is not something I require, by any means, but something I appreciate. I think the sequel to it is already out, so I may be getting on that soon enough.
So, next up, historical fiction. This is a genre I love, but I didn’t get as much of this year.
  1. Ijaam, by Sinan Antoon. A prison story, told in a confusing mixture of misery, memory, and torture-induced fantasy. Set during the Iran-Iraq war. Very dark, but necessarily so.
  2. Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein. Set in Ravensbruk, a memoir-style story. Worth the read.
  3. Ben-Hur, by Lew Wallace.
  4. The Ugly American, by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Anyone interested in U.S. Foreign Policy, and any flaws and failings thereof, should read this book. It’s not perfect, but it is very good.
Sci-Fi, next. Something I don’t read a lot of, but have dipped my toe into lately.
  1. The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata. Very intriguing.
  2. Mechanical Failure, by Joe Zieja. 
General Fiction
  1. The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton. Weird and confusing, but interesting still.
  2. The Father Brown Omnibus, by G.K. Chesterton. A mixed bag of detective fiction short stories. A few the stories were downright offensive (see: racism of the early 20th century) and those were usually pretty bad in general as well, but I still enjoyed a lot of the others.
And this is shameful, only one non-fiction book this year. I really like non-fiction, but I just didn’t give it the time it deserved. I have several high on the list for next year.
  1. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. Interesting read. It was touted as an inadvertent analysis/explanation for the rise of Trump’s popularity among a certain group of voters, but that’s not really what it is. Those factors of cultural resentment that foment racism and a desire for some powerful government figure to fix all–these are mentioned barely in passing. It’s just a memoir about life in a culture of poverty, low expectations, unstable family, addiction, teen pregnancy, and what it takes to escape that life (at least one, loving stable family member, it seems). He is very critical of the hillbilly/white working class culture of his youth, while still being proud of his family. His experiences are statistically comparable to cultures of poverty regardless of region or race. The book intrigued me because the guy had a few similar tracks to mine. I was raised in a stable, loving home, and I know nothing of Appalachian culture, (at all), but I was from a blue collar family (like him), joined the Marine Corps and deployed during the Iraq war (like he did) and then used my GI Bill to go to an otherwise unattainable private University (he went to Yale for Graduate school, way out of my league, but still). I have a distinct memory of a professor asking a lecture hall full of some 150 students if any of them thought of themselves as blue collar. Maybe four of us raised our hands. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or ostracized or anything, but I knew my life experience was just a bit different than most of my college peers. So…good book, and some interesting thoughts about Appalachian culture and poverty and success.
So here are a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2017:
-Republic of Fear, by Kanan Makiya: About Ba’athist Iraq. I’m actually reading this one right now
-Saddam’s Secrets, by Georges Sada.
-In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson: A portrait of the rise of Nazism in Germany through eyes of the American Ambassador’s family
-The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoyevsky…I want to enjoy some classics this year as well.
-Eugenics and other Evils, by G.K. Chesterton
-Iraq in Turmoil, by Ali Al-Wardi
There are so many more, but those are just off the top of my head. Happy New Year, and may it be blessed and full of joy!

 

 

 

 

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