Friday, February 1, 2019

Novels read in 2018 (better later than never)


As stated in the prologue, I've been working to "read harder."  This translated into fewer novels read by me than probably any time since I turned five and is definitely the fewest novels I've read in the handful of years I've been keeping track.  8 novels, only two of which you might easily categorize as science fiction or fantasy, my go-to genre for so long.  (I've already read "God Emperor of Dune" in 2019, so the sci-fi could be rising in this new[ish] year)  Holding with my credo of branching out, I managed to split it right down the middle as far as male to female authors:


                                                     Male Authors     Female Authors
                                                    Harlan Ellison     Sayaka Murata
                                                     Stephen King     Charlotte Bronte
                                                      Neil Gaiman     Banana Yoshimoto
                                             Colson Whitehead     Margaret Atwood

Being a Maine resident (tried and true, from birth to now), it's an unofficial law that we must read and regale our favored son, Mr. Stephen King, so having him on the list is unsurprising.  Too bad I didn't enjoy this year's offering, "Elevation," as much as many of his other works, but, hey, they can't all be grand slams.  

Neil Gaiman has been a favorite author of mine ever since I discovered his comic series, "The Sandman," one of the all-time best long-form series in the medium, in my opinion.  This year, I finally pulled down his "Norse Mythology," after my 11-year-old son read it for a second time.  Certainly, one could argue it's not a novel, but each short story builds toward the climax of the book with Ragnarok, so I include it here.  It was pretty great, by the way.

Harlan Ellison is, perhaps, my favorite author, ever...full stop.  He passed away last year, after suffering a stroke a few years prior, but one of his long-delayed books was finally published, shortly after his death:  "Blood's A Rover."  A hybrid-novel, consisting of previously published (and newly polished) short stories and a novella that comprised the story of Vic & Blood, to that point, woven with revised and retrofitted bits from a teleplay Ellison wrote in the eighties for an aborted TV-movie of the adventures of Vic & Blood, and Spike.  It was a tour-de-force that only solidified Ellison as an all-time great writer, and it was a wonderful exclamation point to a storied career.  [note: Ellison will show up later, with four or five more entries in other categories]

Colson Whitehead . . . damn.  "The Underground Railroad" was a tour-de-force book.  Amazing.  It felt so real, was so full of emotion, and just hit you in the gut.  I am so happy I read this book.  Now I need to hunt down more of his work.  Just effing brilliant!


Sayaka Murata & Banana Yoshimoto are Japanese authors whose work I found in the main reading room of Fogler Library at the University of Maine, where I work (library work has its privileges, like walking around on break and discovering new books to read).  Both of the books I read of theirs, "Convenience Store Woman" and "Moshi Moshi," respectively, were engaging, layered stories that offered me a chance to walk in another's shoes.  Murata's novel was breezy, but not shallow, following the life of a woman who found it difficult to interact socially, leading to her becoming a long-time convenience store worker, while the other followed a protagonist coming to grips with her father's death, a suicide pact with another woman, while trying to comfort her mother as she searches for her own identity.  Both of these novels were touching and heartfelt, beautifully written with distinct premises that kept me wanting to turn the page.  Highly recommended.

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.  Damn . . .
I have an aversion to Victorian literature, a direct result of High-School-Literaryitis, an affliction caused by your high school reading (or literature) teacher overwhelming you with minutiae and insignificant assignments meant to illuminate the work of Dickens, which, in the end, only makes his long, ponderous prose even more lugubrious.  For thirty years, I've steered clear of most novels from this era (surprisingly, the one exception that comes to mind is Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," which is a wonderfully amazing story), but after hearing an episode of the BBC Radio's In Our Time examining the novel, I was compelled to read it.  And it was a great experience.  I will definitely be seeking out more of Bronte's work.  Hopefully, it will treat me better than Dickens (apologies to my youngest sister).

With all the praise heaped upon the above novels, I have to say the best novel I read this year was Margaret Atwood's "Blind Assassin."  This was an amazing bit of writing wizardry, with an elderly woman in the present, the late 1990s, relating the story of her family throughout the late 19th century up through the end of the 20th, with particular attention paid to her scandalous sister, who died at a young age, an apparent suicide, after publishing a shocking roman a clef, that left all of those in their hometown, where their father was once a wealthy manufacturer of buttons, wagging their tongues.  And, as an added bonus, Atwood includes chapters of the fictional novel in questions, interweaving the various narrative threads with an ease and agility that was wonderful to experience.  Not unlike the works of Toni Morrison, Atwood's command of her story, with "The Blind Assassin," was laudable and impressive.  She never worried about whether her readers understood what was happening or how it all connected, because she was steering the boat and knew exactly where she was heading.  This is a novel you have to read!  Check it out.


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