Best of 2001

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Sat Dec 29 01:09:36 EST 2001

Usually I don't make New Year's resolutions because...I forget why, but
probably because I don't stick to them and what's the point of taking more
guilt trips than I need to?  But I am making two of them this year, figuring
I might be able to handle that many.  One of them is to keep a reading
journal--or maybe a reading log.  I spent far too much money at the
bookstore tonight and as I drove home in my chilly car I realized that I
couldn't remember which books I'd read this year (as opposed to last year or
the year before that).  It was disturbing somehow to think that so much time
has slipped by.  So I thought, maybe I should keep a list or something.
Plus it would let me finally collect data on just how many books I actually
read in a year.  (I have a guess, but it's probably wrong.)

And it would also help me keep better track of my Best Of list.  This *is*
something I do every year: my personal list of the best and worst books I've
read in one year (not necessarily those *published* in a given year, though
it often works out that way).  Only my list isn't the top fifty or the top
ten, even, and I don't break it down by genre; it's just a bunch of
categories that I seem always to have at least one nominee for every year.
Since we've had so much fun in the past sharing what we like to read, I
thought I'd present mine for your delectation.  You can play along at home,
if you like.  You'll probably come up with better and more numerous
categories than mine.  The one overriding theme for this year was that I
finally admitted the brutal, unflattering truth:  I am a comic book junkie.
The only reason I don't buy actual comics is that they feel too fragile to
actually read.  I'd rather buy compilations in sturdy bindings.  Still, I
broke my own rule and started buying the effervescent Girl Genius series by
Phil and Katja Foglio.  But it's true, I love comics.  And I'm a GIRRRRL.
How embarrassing.  :)

Best Book of the Year: This is usually a book that a) I was unable to stop
reading until it was finished and b) I could not stop talking about to other
people after I'd finished it and c) left me feeling physically and
emotionally wrung out.  This year it was _The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier
& Clay_ by Michael Chabon.  The Pulitzer committee for once demonstrated
remarkable good sense.  I don't know, maybe only comic book fanatics will
love this one, but I couldn't stop reading it.  Even now, thinking about it
gives me chills, as I flit from one scene to the next trying to decide what
about it made it so mind-blowingly good...the first escape? the creation of
the Escapist? the "Radioman" sequence?  There's just no good answer.

Most Addictive Book: This is a book that I read at least twice in a row
back-to-back, dreamed about, fantasized about, etc.  This year it was a tie:
Megan Whalen Turner's _The Queen of Attolia_ and Alan Moore's graphic
novel/collection _The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen_.  We've already
talked about _The Queen of Attolia_, and I would really like to see Turner
writing more about this world, but even more than that, I'd like to see her
develop something new.  Alan Moore is a genius; he's Neil Gaiman's mentor,
and you can kind of see it, but their works are very different at the core.
I went crazy trying to determine if he was actually planning to make
_League_ a regular series, because I would buy it, and I hate buying comics;
as I said, they're too fragile.  I never feel as though I can sit down and
just read one.

(The difference between these two categories is subtle.  I think, if
pressed, I would say it comes down to this:  Addictive books play off my
existing passions, while Best books show me things I never knew I loved.)

Most Unexpected Discovery:  _I Capture the Castle_ by Dodie Smith, and thank
you to whoever on this list mentioned it so long ago.  I was entirely
delighted by it and would likely never have found it on my own.

Biggest Disappointment:  I thought it was _The Sterkarm Handshake_ by Susan
Price, but on reflection I think this was last year's winner.  (See why I
need to keep a reading log?)  I will count myself fortunate if nothing else
has been as big a disappointment between then and now.  This book came
highly recommended, but didn't suit me at all.  For one thing, the male
protagonist is what in my family we call a "hoser"--the cheery, smiling
rogue who lies to your face and expects you to love him for it.  I detest
this kind of character.  For another thing, the female protagonist was a
wimp.  Third, I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that the
time-traveling company was making no secret of their presence in the past.
Because all of these things are mostly personal quirks, I call this a
Disappointment rather than the far more scathing Worst Book of the Year.

Book I Had the Most Fun Reading:  Terry Pratchett always carries this
category.  To think that he almost didn't make it this year because I wasn't
going to buy _The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents_.  Thank goodness
I'm married to a risk-taker.  This was marketed as a children's fable, but I
have no idea why.  Aside from the length and the actual chapter divisions,
this is a true Discworld novel, made better by the fact that I love cats,
fairy tales, and the Bone Rat.

Book I was Angriest about Not Liking:  Sean McMullen's _Souls in the Great
Machine_.  I was completely in love with the setting and the concept and
then he had to ruin it for me with inexplicable characterization.  (See
above description of "hoser.")

Best Sequel:  _Slaves of the Mastery_ by William Nicholson--a very late
entry indeed, since I only read it last week.  I got Jacob to read _The Wind
Singer_ as I was reading _Slaves_ and he was hooked as well, though when I
started describing how the sequel went, he said, "You mean it ignores what
happens in the first book?"  So now I have to read the first one again.
_Slaves_ was not "fun" reading, and I only really appreciated it after I was
done, but as an extension of a series I absolutely did not see as a trilogy,
it was incredible.  Definitely worth buying in hardcover as soon as I have
more money.

Favorite Guilty Pleasure: _The China Bride_ by Mary Jo Putney.  Yes, I'm a
sucker for historical romance novels.  Yes, I know it demonstrates a
profound lack of character.  Yes, I know it's embarrassing.  That's why it's
a *guilty* pleasure.  Sorry.

Worst Book of 2001:  _The Serpent's Shadow_ by Mercedes Lackey.  We went
through this already; I know there are people on this list who like her
books a lot, and I want you to remember that my personal feelings about
Lackey's books are not criticisms either of you or or of your reading
tastes.  But there's always a Worst Book, and this was it.  I hated reading
it, I stopped as soon as I could, and I will avoid having discussions about
it because such conversations can only end in bloodshed.

I like doing this, because I like thinking about books and talking about
books.  I like keeping track of the really good ones, because in the end, I
read most of the books I read because someone I know suggested them, and
most of those people are on this list.  It's all about word-of-mouth, even
if it's the unspoken email kind.  This is, in case you didn't already know,
one of the best online communities there is, and thank you for letting me be
a part of it.

Melissa Proffitt
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