End of Year Lists

From Molly Templeton at tor.com: Rethinking the End of Year Book List

Templeton says: Not everything I read is on one of these lists, but every book I read this year, regardless of publication date, could be included. Each book can appear only once. Each list can have a maximum of five books on it. And sometimes, a list is just one thing.

Then she offers the following categories:

Three excellent series books.

Five books I should have read a long time ago.

Let’s all read more books about art.

One book from which I learned something I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Two books from one criminally underread author.

Some of the most excellent books I read this year that came out last year.

One absolute WTF? book.

Two beloved poetry collections

Five brilliant debut novels.

This is a great job creating quirky, fun categories! I’m impressed! I haven’t done a best-of list for 2023, or any kind of list for 2023, but maybe I should, taking this kind of list as a model — any categories I happen to think of, no need to take anything too seriously. Maybe I’ll take a stab at that tonight.

Meanwhile, what looks especially interesting in Molly Templeton’s list? To me, this one:

Glass Hotel is the “one book where I learned something I didn’t know I didn’t know,” and the thing in question is what a Ponzi scheme really is and how it really works:

I did not fully understand the term “Ponzi scheme,” despite reading it in the news approximately seven thousand times, until I read this book. It is a very, very, very good book, but for some reason I wanted to note this thing that I did not expect to learn from it. You just never know what you’ll take away from a great book, is all.

I remember struggling with the idea quite a long time ago, when I was a kid. I think I had a teacher (or friend? or brother?) show with a diagram scheme how a Ponzi scheme works until suddenly it crashes down. Oh, you know what, I remember this coming up in the context of chain letters. That’s the context. I don’t know if chain letters are still a thing.

Anyway, here’s the description:

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis’s billion-dollar business is really nothing more than a game of smoke and mirrors. When his scheme collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.
In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

This sounds evocative, if not exactly inviting. I wouldn’t be interested except that I liked and admired Station Eleven. Well, plus if Molly Templeton says it’s a “very, very, very good book,” then it’s probably great in at least some ways.

Who is the criminally underread author? Not me, alas! It’s Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has been somewhat on my radar since she wrote Summer Prince.

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

It’s a YA dystopia, but for me, it stood out from the vast horde of YA dystopias that we saw after The Hunger Games. I’m a fan of setting, which is probably why I noticed it. It looks pretty grim, which is probably why I didn’t read it.

Have any of you read anything by this author? What did you think?

Templeton also says this book:

The Spear Cuts Through Water is the great overlooked book of 2022. That’s quite a statement. What’s this book about?

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this epic fantasy

Hmm. Tell me more.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Hmm. Let’s look at the top review:

I’m having a hard time describing this incredibly layered, ambitious, and unconventional book. It is familiar in its epic fantasy/folk tale story beats, but it’s told in such a unique, experimental, metaphysical style. It’s woven deeply into the novel and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. A little preview: there’s the story of the reader, who is then invited to a play in the spirit realm, and that stage play is the main heart of the book.

The author adds little asides told directly to the reader as if the characters are there watching with you, their commentary adding spice and giving a sense of the wide scope of a fully lived-in world. And still, the writing feels intimate, giving voice to side characters that could have been so easily discarded. Reading this book feels like you’re really in the audience of a theater with actors breaking the 4th wall (and maybe the person next to you keeps adding little quips since it’s actually based on their life…)

Well, it definitely sounds interesting. It sounds like the kind of thing where I will keep putting off looking at it. However, sure, let me drop a sample onto my kindle so I don’t completely forget about it. I should do a top ten list of “books I would most like to read someday, but they look too demanding and I don’t feel like I can spare the attention.”

More realistically, I ought to do another set of Ten Novel’s Opening Paragraphs. That, I can manage for sure.

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4 thoughts on “End of Year Lists”

  1. I loved The Summer Prince, but I read it when I had a lot more capacity for conflict in my books. That being said, I don’t remember it being grim. I really liked the protagonist’s journey as a character, and liked the mix of cyberpunk and mythological influences (although I don’t know a ton about the epic of gilgamesh). It also had a line from a secondary character that really stuck with me.

  2. I remember The Summer King as gorgeously written, unique, with wonderful world-building and characters I didn’t quite connect with. Worth reading for the twists on mythology and the very Brazilian feel of the futuristic world.

    I, too, keep looking at The Spear Cuts Through Water and thinking, “one of these days when I feel like concentrating on something.” But it’s possible for an experimental novel to also be captivating. Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower comes to mind.

    I finally read Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series, so that counts as three excellent series books and three books I should have read a long time ago! (Well, as long ago as they were published!)(I avoided them because they sounded too grim, but they’re not. I mean, yes, there’s a lot of grimness, but the point is that something can be done about it.)

  3. Oh, yes, an experimental or weird book can still be captivating! Pirenasi springs to mind. ButbIbread the first page of The Raven Tower and just could not cope.

    YAY that you read the Scholomamce trilogy! I bet you’re glad they were all out. Imagine having to wait for the third book!

    Setting matters to me, so I could read The Summer Prince just for that. We’ll see!

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