Books I finished reading this* year (Part 2)

I had a mad scramble at the end of December to reach my goal of 12 books for the year (a small goal, I know, but here is why), and I made it! Plus one extra!

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon – Grady Tripp is an aging man-child who chain smokes pot and can’t seem to ever reach the end of his ever-expanding novel. His life is a mess – he’s been sleeping with his boss’s wife, who is now pregnant, his own wife just left him, and his editor is visiting and asking to read the unfinished novel. And he is one of the most delightful narrators I have ever read. Grady makes bad decision after pot-addled bad decision but he would be great to have a beer with.

Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman – I wish I had read Gaiman’s notes at the end before deciding to read this volume because he acknowledges that it wasn’t until the very last tale in the collection that he finally found his footing with The Sandman. And indeed, the last one was the best one. The layouts were often confusing and unintuitive so that I frequently realized I had read the panels in the wrong order, stories were told in a disjointed way so that I forgot who characters where when they appeared again, the multi-arc villain was dull, the side characters were trying to be intriguing but fell short. Usually when I read a Gaiman story at the end I find myself wishing I could write like him, but that was not the case with these stories. The one time I found myself going “wow, that’s a really interesting idea” was the horror story of Dr Destiny trapping a random group of people in a diner and playing with them to restore himself to full power. The idea of a supervillain engaging with everyday life was intriguing but the story ultimately didn’t work, and of course because this is my aggravating year of reading things with gratuitous sexual violence in them, there was a rape scene. I may try another volume of The Sandman at some point, but first I need to forget I ever read this one.

Remalna’s Children by Sherwood Smith – Each of the novellas in this collection felt like a prequel to a novel. I hope Smith gets around to writing those novels some day, as I would very much like to read them.

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie – As with any collection of short stories, some of these were delightful and some were less successful. Alexie’s style is simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking. Many of the stories were about grief, many were about love and family, all of them had rich, complex characters. The collection ranged from traditional narratives to rambling free-writes of anecdotes and biographical details of a character. In trying to think of my favorite story from the collection, three different ones come to mind, each for different reasons. There is the couple coping with a sick baby by filling his hospital room with drumming and singing and a laugh out loud prop I won’t spoil, the homeless man who found his grandmother’s ceremonial clothes at a pawn shop and needs to raise money to buy it but also needs to eat, and the businessman who bonds with his taxi driver over the driver’s unlikely life story. A very enjoyable read.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies; Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists; and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (Pottermore Presents #1-3) by J.K. Rowling – I was delighted by these three collections of short articles and essays. While the first volume felt two short, the latter two had wonderful complements of in-depth information about important characters and subjects paired with shorter pieces on relevant topics. The essays by Rowling (“J.K. Rowling’s Thoughts”) following many of the articles meant these read less like an encyclopedia of the wizarding world and more like the author saying to readers, “Here. I think you will find this interesting.”  Overall very enjoyable, and I hope Pottermore produces more of these!

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty – I was hoping for a general writing guide on finding structure as you write and writing as a pantser without the frequent interruptions of having to figure things out when you don’t know what happens next, you didn’t think through that bit of world building or character development, etc, but instead this is a guide on how to win NaNoWriMo. Keyword win. This isn’t a guide to getting a solid 50k start on a novel, and there is a lot of junk advice if you are hoping to ever publish. But there are also some useful nuggets and a good emphasis on letting go of your inner editor.

This wraps up the list of books I finished in 2016. My goal for 2017: 24 books! Fingers crossed.