Best of 2001

Gross Family argross at
Mon Jan 14 05:28:33 EST 2002

Melissa wrote:

> 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,
> 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
> the year before that).  It was disturbing somehow to think that so much
> 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
> read in a year.  (I have a guess, but it's probably wrong.)

For years now, I've been recording every book I read in a journal; sometimes
I add a comment or two about the book, sometimes I just record the title and
author. I even write down the names of books I couldn't finish. Apart from
the year at the beginning of each section, I record them by month, which
seems to be the most practical unit to use.

> 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
> read in one year (not necessarily those *published* in a given year,
> 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
> 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
> 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
> Phil and Katja Foglio.  But it's true, I love comics.  And I'm a GIRRRRL.
> How embarrassing.  :)

OK, I need to ask something about this that makes me feel exceedingly dumb.
As a child and teenager, I used to passionately devour
Superman/Superboy/Supergirl comics (this probably gives away my age!). Is
this the kind of comic book you mean, or are there other kinds--and where on
earth do you buy them, let alone *see* them? For example, I've heard people
on the list talk about the Sandman comics, but I've never ever seen them,
and wouldn't even know where to begin looking.

> 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
> people after I'd finished it and c) left me feeling physically and
> emotionally wrung out.  This year it was _The Amazing Adventures of
> & 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
> gives me chills, as I flit from one scene to the next trying to decide
> about it made it so mind-blowingly good...the first escape? the creation
> the Escapist? the "Radioman" sequence?  There's just no good answer.

So, where would I find these? (I live in Australia, by the way...) I haven't
seen them in the main
SF/F shop I go to here.

> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> as I said, they're too fragile.  I never feel as though I can sit down and
> just read one.

I've just come back from holiday, and found all these references to Megan
Whalen Turner's books. Could you briefly give me an idea of what they're

I'm really jealous, Melissa--it's been a long time since a book has affected
me quite as deeply as you describe, though Connie Willis's _Passage_ came
pretty close for me, I'd say.

[rest snipped to save space!]

So, using my own categories, here's my (highly messy and illogical) list for

Book that affected me most in 2000: _Passage_ by Connie Willis. I loved the
way Willis refused to give easy answers in this book--not even the easy
scientific answer which I think may be closest to her heart--or am I wrong
here? I also found it incredibly moving--it has haunted me ever since I read
it. This was followed closely by:

Best Fantasies: _The Bone Doll's Twin_ by Lynn Flewelling (warning: this
volume ends on a cliffhanger, and volume 2 isn't out yet!); _Spindle's End_
by Robin McKinley; _The Amber Spyglass_ by Philip Pullman; and _Lord of
Emperors_ by Guy Gavriel Kay. If I absolutely had to choose, I'd say that
_The Bone Doll's Twin_ came closest to my favourite. I should also mention
_Prophecy_ by Elizabeth Haydon, sequel to _Rhapsody_ (I haven't read the
third and final one yet). This is surprisingly good generic fantasy, with a
large dollop of romance. Another fantasy I very much enjoyed is _Summers at
Castle Auburn_ by Sharon Shinn, a fantasy with a strong romance thread.

As you can see, I'm not good at picking "the" best. I keep thinking of
others I enjoyed just as much.

Best SF(apart from _Passage_) : _The Fresco_ by Sheri Tepper; and Most
Surprising SF: _The Merro Tree_ by Katie Waitman. I expected it to be SF and
it was brilliant SF.

Somewhat Disappointing Book: I'm going to have to disagree with what seems
like half the list here and say that I found _One for the Money_ by
Evanovich somewhat disappointing. I was told it was hysterically funny; it
made me smile but I didn't find it *that* funny. I enjoyed the romance
aspect of it--I often enjoy romances. But I have to say the police/detective
stuff doesn't do much for me. A detective-type book has to have some strong
quirky element if it's doesn't have SF/F elements, to really hold my
interest. For instance, last year I discovered Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity
books, which are "cosy" mysteries with fantasy elements thrown in; and also
Tamar Myer's books set in the Amish community. The detective aspects in the
latter wouldn't have been enough to grab me without the humour in the
writing and the interest surrounding the Amish community in which is was

Another Somewhat But Not Wholly Disappointing Book: _The Magician's Guild_
by Tracy Canavan. I found the first part bland but competently written
generic fantasy. But its second half picked up considerably: the characters
started to come alive and there were some ineresting ideas. Because it's the
first novel of an Australian writer, I will give the second volume a chance
when it comes out.

Book I Didn't Enjoy As Much as I Expected: _A Handful of Magic_ by Steven
Elboz. Has anyone else read this? It's quirky YA fantasy, set in an
alternative Victorian England where the traffic consists of witches and
wizards zooming about on magic carpets and broomsticks. It was good, but not
as good as I expected.

Most Disappointing Book: _Eccentric Circles_ by Rebecca Lickiss. It *looked*
like my kind of book, and the theme was interesting. But the characters
failed to come alive for me, and I think it didn't work well for me because,
basically, the writing was pretty pedestrian.

Funniest Books: _Bellwether_ by Connie Willis, and _The Dyke and the Dybbuk_
by Ellen Galford. The latter is a very clever and funny book about a Jewish
lesbian in London who (sort of) gets possessed by a dybbuk (a figure from
Jewish folklore, usually the spirit of a dead person).

Book I'm Most Ambivalent About: _Cat's Eye_ by Margaret Atwood. I thought it
was brilliantly written but something about it irritated me. Maybe the fact
that it's written in the present tense? I'm not entirely sure.

Other Books I Enjoyed: _The Windsinger_ by William Nicholson (even though it
technically belongs to 2000, as I read it in December of that year. :-)) I
recently bought _Slaves of the Mastery_ and am glad that you enjoyed it,
Melissa--can't wait to read it.

_The Thin Woman_ by Dorothy Cannell.
_Chocolat_ by Joanne Harris.
_Lirael_ by Garth Nix (another 'unfinished' one whose second volume hasn't
been published yet).
_The Changeover_ by Margaret Mahy.
_The Wooden Sea_ by Jonathan Carroll. I enjoyed this Carroll more than any
other by him for a long time.
_Aunt Dimity's Christmas_ and _Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil_ by Nancy
Various "cosies" by Tamar Myers, such as _Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth_ .
I found the later books in the series became very formulaic, but the first
ones are terrific.
_When the King Comes Home_ by Caroline Stevermer.
_A Red Heart of Memories_ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.
_Storm Front_ by Jim Butcher. Funny and smart gumshoe fantasy along the
lines of a *much* less gory, and *much* less sex-obsessed Laurell Hamilton.
_The Ruby in the Smoke_ by Philip Pullman.

I re-read most of my DWJs, and decided which ones were probably my
favourites...but that's a whole different story!

Book I'm Sure I Will Love When I Read It This Year: _The Tower at Stony
Wood_ by Patricia McKillip--which didn't get read during 2001 by sheer luck.
Next to be read, I think.

After all that, what was the best book I read in 2001? Close tie between
_Passage_ by Connie Willis and _The Bone Doll's Twin_ by Lynn Flewelling.
Most disappointing:  _Eccentric Circles_ by Rebecca Lickiss.


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