This year has flown by (don’t they all?), and thinking back to my life at the start of the year, it’s amazing how much has changed and grown in my life, in particular with kids and writing (unsurprising, given that those are about all that goes on I’m my life bar work and sleep. Although odd gaming sessions are reappearing, so I shouldn’t complain…maybe it’s time to reactivate my other blog on gaming with kids…hmmm…).
But this post isn’t really about that. Listening to Pub Talk TV’s latest episode on revision there was a comment that struck a chord. It was along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here) “worthwhile stories are the ones that stick with you,” and it’s something I believe in strongly, both in terms of projects that haunt you to be written, and also books to recommend and re-read.
I do spend more time than I should re-reading old favourites, but I’ve realised that this has held me back on keeping up with the latest literary trends. So this year I’ve made more of an effort to branch out into new books, although given that I’m also economising (nursery fees are still crippling until my eldest starts school), I’ve been ransacking my local library service as my first port of call. This has lead to a somewhat eclectic mix of reading material, especially as some take a while to come through the reservation system.
So, from a range of genres and decades, these are the books I’ve read for the first time in 2015 that have stuck with me:
1. I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson
I got this because of the hype around it, but actually put off reading it when I got it from the library because I wasn’t in the mood for that romancy-type stuff. Then I became poorly and needed something my poor frazzled brain could cope with.
And slapped myself for my arrogance.
This book is stunningly written, both in terms of vibrant voices and emotional intensity. I have less artistic skill than a monkey smearing its faeces on a wall, yet even I was seeing in colours and looking up painters and sculptures and seeing them with new eyes.
It’s one of those books that you read as a writer and weep with both promise and despair, because to turn a phrase like that…
2. The Martian, by Andy Weir
I’d heard this described on Writing Excuses as “Robinson Crusoe in space”, and it immediately shot onto my tbr list. Then the film came out and I managed to pick it up in the supermarket (alongside Peppa Pig’s Halloween Party and That’s Not My Bear. Neither of those quite making the list, sadly).
This book is brilliant. I ploughed through it, and now my husband is doing the same. The combination of science and wit is so engaging, although I would have liked a teensy bit more biology (the guy’s meant to be a botanist after all!), but his technical knowledge is (as far as I can tell) bang on. The tension throughout is beautifully played, as are the characters.
3. Dawn (Book 1 in the Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood Trilogy) by Octavia E. Butler
I tweeted about this book when I got it out. It’s technically one that I read many years ago (during uni finals, had to return book to the library then promptly forgot the name!), but I think it still deserves a place in this list because it stuck with me for over 10 years, until I finally worked out the author’s name.
Lilith is a strong lead character to fights all through the book, both physically and mentally, and I love her the more for it. Despite it being an older book, I love that the scientific and social issues are still relevant (well, not so good that the social issues are, but you know what I mean!), and the world-building is stunning.
4. A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
2015 was the sad year that lost us this great man, but reading this book was utterly enlightening, entertaining and often reassuring that there’s hope for all of us.
Although not a writing book, it includes many honest and humorous insights into the writing life, including the drudgery of book tours and the procrastination involved in actually writing the books in the first place. There are also articles, letters and speeches on a range of topics from nuclear power to dementia to the plight of the orang-utan, which caused some issues in writing because nearly every page I was pausing to write down another story idea his imagination had sparked in mine.
5. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I’ve heard a lot of praise for this book, so it’s unsurprising that it’s made this list.
There were elements that disappointed me slightly (the “twist” at the end, if it’s meant to be such, felt a little obvious, and some of the dialogue and description felt a little heavy on the racial stereotypes, although that could be symptomatic of the age in which it was written, or just my personal taste). But these are quibbles against an excellent storyline exploring the issues of childhood pressure, bullying, manipulation of political ideas, and the attributes needed for high level military command.
Plus it’s all based around computer games. Awesomeness!
6. Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig
This is actually the second in the trilogy but it’s the one my library had in stock so I started there (and will go back to book one when I’ve finally cleared my backlog of “to be read” books staring at me accusingly from the corner!).
I love Chuck Wendig’s blog, so it’s not surprising that I also loved the voice that comes through in his books. It’s violent and crude and poetic. Miriam Black is another strong female, this time with an awesomely terrible superpower. The book is uncompromising with it’s violence and the only downside it that it seriously affected my sleep because I couldn’t put it down until I got to the end.
7. Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
This is a bit of a bonus one as I haven’t actually finished it. Another book that I’ve heard widely hyped, it’s not got quite the level of voice that I’ll Give You The Sun (I’m clumping them together as YA, possibly unfairly), but the mix of science and story is very clever, and made me realise it’s the direction I want to be taking my own writing in more. Plus, after being a little sceptical about the whole fairy tale plotline, I’m now excitedly spotting the references and trying to work out how the climax is going to play off.
So those are the novels that stuck with me this year. There may be others (the ever present sleep deprivation excuse), but these are all books that I both enjoyed and recommend, and that left me with an urge to read more by the authors, and/or a feeling of something worth holding to. There have also been a number of short stories (as I’m starting to dabble more there), but I may save those for a separate post.
In the meantime I’d love to know what books other people have read that have made an impact on them this year, especially any new releases.