As you can probably tell from my photo of neatly piled books, I’ve finally managed to work out the ones that I read over the previous year. I didn’t keep a list tracking my progress, so I was surprised to discover that some of the books I thought I’d read were actually from two years ago—how time really does fly. Fortunately, aiding my hazy memory was my Amazon order history. (Yup, I’m one of those bad book-buying people.) Here they are, without any sense of order:
- Magician by Raymond E. Feist
- The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
- The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
- Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (re-read)
- Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
- Make Me by Lee Child
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
- The Dead Zone by Stephen King
- Misery by Stephen King
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
- The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
- The Fireman by Joe Hill
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- The Firm by John Grisham
- Blackwing by Ed McDonald
- Godblind by Anna Stephens
- The Shadow of What was Lost by James Islington
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
- Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
- The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik
- The North Water by Ian McGuire
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
- The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (re-read)
- On Writing by Stephen King (re-read)
- Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas (re-read)
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- Poetics by Aristotle (re-read)
- How To Write by Harry Bingham
- Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate by Brian McDonald
- Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
- Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress
- Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
of the above books, which is almost half of my fiction list, were fantasy novels; I made a conscious effort to read a lot of prominent and new fantasy titles, since it is the genre I wish to write and get published in. It’s simply a conversation I can’t afford to miss out on. However, it’s still important to remain a part of other conversations as well. The other genres were:
Non-Fiction, bar the excellent Tuesdays with Morrie and The Penguin Lessons, all were on the craft of writing.
Science Fiction, a long-standing favourite genre of mine.
Thrillers, who doesn’t like to be thrilled?
Historical Fiction, and two of the most beautifully written.
Many books break into sub-genres or crossover into others (for example, Misery is also horror, while Wool and Oryx and Crake are both dystopian) and I’m not too surprised by the numbers, though I wish they were a little more diverse. Saying that, 28 of the 31 fiction books were written by different authors, 21 of who I’d not previously read before, and I can say I learnt something from every one.
My biggest surprise is that I only read Stephen King three times. (Four, if you included his Non-Fiction.)
It’s impossible to say which was my favourite book, as there were several strong contenders for very different reasons, so here is my top five in no particular order. (Unsurprisingly, four of them are fantasy.)
1. The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
One of the most notable writers I discovered last year, thanks to a birthday present and strong recommendation from my friend Chris, was Brandon Sanderson. The Final Empire, which I briefly raved about last March as truly inspirational, is the first book (of many, no doubt) of Sanderson’s that I’ve read. Familiar yet new (the first of several oxymorons within this post), The Final Empire is one of those rare books that invites you in early and keeps you up late; I spent nearly every weeknight racing towards the last page. I enjoy reading a lot—42-books-a-year-a-lot—but it’s rare for a book to have me do that. (I like to do other things in my spare time too!) This book really did fill me with an inspiration unlike any other. Thanks to his excellent online lectures on writing fantasy, Sanderson has quickly become one of my favourite authors.
2. Misery by Stephen King
The favourite author of mine, however, is Stephen King. He’s been in pole position now for four years and eighteen books; not one of his stories has ever failed to entertain me. The more King worlds I visit, the more I expect to discover a lesser work. I’m still to discover one. He’s that good.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Dreamcatcher at the start of the year—only King could split a chase scene over multiple perspectives and 200 odd pages without losing an ounce of adrenaline-fuelled entertainment—I read Misery towards the end of the year and enjoyed it even more. The plot is simple—a bestselling author is rescued from a car accident by his number one fan, who becomes his nurse and captor in her isolated house—yet masterfully told. The story is slippery-fast, taut, unexpected, character-driven and, despite the suggestions of the title, beautifully written. I’ve never rooted for a character so desperately before.
3. The Fireman by Joe Hill
A completely new author to me was Joe Hill. His opening line of The Fireman is one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a while, hooking me before I’d even bought the book:
Harper Grayson had seen lots of people burn on TV, everyone had, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground by the school.
It’s just fantastic. Every time I read it I respect it more. I would say it was the best opening line I read all year, except I was similarly hooked by Hugh Howey’s first words in Wool:
The children were playing while Holden climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.
It’s funny how they should both include children, death, a sense of lost innocence, a casual voice… as if that was the recipe for my guaranteed attention! The Fireman also had me hooked before I discovered Joe Hill was Stephen King’s son. Not that this should matter, but obviously comparisons were going to be made between the two. In short, Joe Hill holds his own. While the story seemed as if it could have been written by his father (and certainly pays homage to many of his works), it didn’t come across as a cheap imitation, but as something unique and his own. I know I’ll be reading another Joe Hill book later this year. I should also reiterate that his advice from last November’s Gollancz Festival was particularly motivational and insightful.
4. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Another completely new author to me last year was Scott Lynch. A debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora was so inspiring it literally kept me up at night. I couldn’t stop admiring how well written the story was—stunning prose combined with clever humour—how well structured it was, and how well imagined the world and the characters who inhabited it were. All this from a young debut novelist! Aside from thoroughly enjoying the book, it’s definitely one to learn from, and not just for aspiring fantasy writers.
Having said that, The Lies of Locke Lamora taught me to respect my own voice; that while I can learn from Lynch, I don’t want to imitate him. It’s a hard lesson to learn when only one of you is published, but it’s a valuable lesson for the one of you that isn’t.
I’m currently re-reading this as an audio-book, a new experience for me made all the more wonderful by the narrator Michael Page. You can spot Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second book in The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, near the top of this year’s pile (below).
5. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
I felt pretty smug to be able to say I read this book within a week, considering it’s almost as long as the entire trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. As the story is told over the length of a day, it’s almost fitting.
Having discovered Patrick Rothfuss in summer 2016 in the Old Town of Dubrovnik, one of my favourite places in the world, his writing already held a special place in my heart. However, the second book in his planned trilogy was extraordinary, probably even better than the first—which I find rare for trilogies. Despite it’s stupendous size, The Wise Man’s Fear was for the most part a fast-paced read, beautifully told. As oxymoronic as it is, the story is epic without being overly epic. It’s a book I know I’ll re-read throughout my life.
I sympathise with Rothfuss a lot. He receives a lot of fan-hate (another oxymoron, but it exists, unfortunately) for the George R.R. Martin-esque speed in which he produces his novels.* If writing was as constant and predictable as robotic, conveyor belt manufacturing then, sure, I’d understand the complaints. But writing isn’t like that. Particularly not good writing. It goes double for great writing. There’s a reason why Rothfuss’ books are so popular and why so few (if any) are like them.
*(I feel myself going off on a tangent, but this is a topic I’m quite passionate about, especially after my own writing experience. There was one thick-as-mud comment that blasted the publisher’s lack of foresight for not releasing the books once the whole trilogy was written, without considering the fact that it took Rothfuss fifteen years to write the first book, The Name of the Wind; that Rothfuss wouldn’t have been able to have written the second (let alone a third) without the critical and commercial success of the first (how else could he afford to write full-time?); that without the release of the first book there wouldn’t even be a fanbase wanting any future books, especially ones of such stupendous size—for publishers, large books by debut authors are often seen as a financial risk as they cost much more to produce and they don’t come with the guarantee of an existing audience. Thus endeth the rant.)
My target for 2018 is to read 36 fiction books. That’s five more than last year, which works out to about three a month. This is how my 2018 looks so far, and boy does it look good:
[2018 is looking like a very good year indeed.]