It's the first day of January, in an infant new year. I need to oil that precious baby rump with new words, so here they are.
Let's begin with books. I reached my goal of fifty this past year, which made me very happy. I credit Thorn for making it impossible for me to do anything other than read, and my husband, who shares my dislike of television, which sucks away reading time (not to mention IQ). With such bolstering influences, the books appeared, one after the other, on my list. I read history the most (12 books), followed by fantasy (10). Still, for all the fantasy I read, there are only two I'd heartily recommend from this year, on par with my two sci-fi suggestions. Here are my top eleven:
Sons, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Buck is the most widely translated American author. Her childhood was spent in China, and the authenticity of her experience, coupled with her keen awareness of the grayness of mankind, make her books wonderful reads. This is the sequel to her better-known novel, The Good Earth.
The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, by Madeline L'Engle
One of Madeline L'Engle's collections of diary entries, this one covering the year her mother sickened and died. It is a very honest account, describing what many of my peers may not be willing to look at: the progress of old age. For all that this book made me cry, L'Engle's faith blunts the edge of the suffering, and her recollection of memories helps the reader form a better idea of L'Engle as an author.
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Classic. I re-read it this year because I loved it so.
Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton
While some of the references in this work are outdated, Orthodoxy remains one of the best Christian apologetic works which simultaneously applauds reason and imagination. My favorite parts deal in faith of a sort long-term Christians in a logical world easily forget: the first love, the wonder of a child, and the joy behind creation. Just be aware that Chesterton grew up in an age of Ciceronian education, and he therefore uses invective more than would be comfortable to a 21st-century reader.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard
The title alone was so sexy I had to read it immediately, and then bought it for my father. This book regards Roosevelt's expedition down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon following his final election loss.
Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, by Judith Herrin
Everyone should learn more about Byzantium, as it has become virtually lost in the march of Western history. A popularly-accessible book written by a trusted scholar.
Powers, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Third in a series of young adult novels by the venerable queen of sci/fan. Her love and learning of ancient life couples with her unabashed social awareness to produce a very wise book. The first book in this series is Gifts.
Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb
The first of two books (Dragon Haven being the second) set in Hobb's Rain Wilds. While her first Ships books were better, she does not disappoint. I'd suggest that anyone interested in this world begin with Assassin's Apprentice, however.
Wireless, by Charles Stross
Get past the first few rather dry short stories, and Stross's writing and creative, broad worlds will entrance you. Several of the stories in this collection have won awards.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
This sci-fi set in Thailand, in a world of calorie kings, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year, and for good reason.
Northern Renaissance Art, by Susie Nash
Well-written in general, and dispels the notion that the Renaissance is all about Italy.
And just so I don't fail you by warning you away from the duds I read this year, here are the bottom five books:
Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica
Self-centered waiter tells you less about the restaurant business and more about his frustrated life ambitions.
How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove
Alternate history. Sexist. Vacantly verbose. Will make you want to shoot yourself in the head.
The Wood Wife, by Terri Windling
Wishful-thinking story about artists and writers finding muses.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
Well-written, postmodern drivel. All of its points were worn-out last decade, and the ending will made you want to die just so you can go to pseudo-heaven and shoot the protagonist for being a selfish idiot.
Muse of Fire, by Dan Simmons
Not sure what I can say about this one. Shakespeare allusions were cute, but didn't carry the story. It failed to stun on every level.
Here's a list of the other books I read this year. If you're interested, I'll review one, but otherwise, this is just for memories:
Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners, by Peter E. Dans
Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South, by Michelle Scott
Peony, by Pearl S. Buck
Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
Dr. Johnson's London, by Liza Picard
Except the Queen, by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus
Naval Wives and Mistresses, by Margarette Lincoln
Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850, by Diane Dugaw
The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, and Mary Anne Talbot
Taliesin, by Stephen R. Lawhead
Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Prachett
The Plain-Dealer, by William Wycherley
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb
Thinking in Pictures, by Temple Grandin
The Case for Mars, by Robert Zubrin
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Emmuska Orczy (re-read)
Toddler Owner's Manual, by Brett Kuhn & Joe Borgenicht
Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, by Ellen Galinsky
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner
Blood Colony, by Tananarive Due
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani & Eytan Kollin
Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
Tongues of Serpents, by Naomi Novik
Byzantine Art, by Jannic Durand
Byzantine Art, by Charles Bayet
In Search of My Homeland, by Er Tai Gao
Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, by Riki Wilchins
Renaissance Art: A Very Short Introduction, by Geraldine A. Johnson
European Art of the Fifteenth Century, by Stefano Zuffi
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross