Even more so than in other years, this list is at least as much about what I'm feeling today as about how I liked the books when I read them - if I made this list tomorrow, it would be different... mostly because it was a great year for reading and there were many marvelous books which did not quite make the cut.
Joe the Barbarian, by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
Powerful, witty, gripping, and adventurous. Balances several levels of tension expertly, and is beautifully drawn to boot. I was all "how did I never hear of this brilliant graphic novel classic before??" and then found out it's relatively new... last two years. So, I guess you could add timeless to that list of adjectives as well.
Field Notes on Science and Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield
Collection of essays by a wide variety of field-note using scientists, talking about how they use their notes and how they feel about them and other stuff like that. Copiously illustrated, hurrah! Loved it.
Rotters, by Daniel Kraus
This was marvelously, unrelentingly creepy without ever being outright supernatural - plenty implausible, but in the good way. I *think* maybe when people like Faulkner, they like the sorts of things about him that I liked about this book: the language, the vision, the unrelenting grim absurdity that nevertheless both rings true and grants hope. Or I could be completely off in my comparison - I've never made it through a Faulkner novel. Anyway, this is wonderful, if you like horrific tinges to your coming-of-age tales.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
This was a lovely lovely book. Restorative and fresh and timeless, all at once.
Beasts of Burden, vol. 1: Animal Rites, by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
Oooh, this was great. Dogs and cats battling the forces of supernatural evil.
Overstory: Zero, by Robert Leo Heilman
The perfect antidote to the previous book [ed. note: the previous book was a class-related business book]. Thoughtful and heartfelt and sometimes outright angry essays, by someone who lives in the timber country of Oregon and has worked a lot of hard physical jobs.
Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan series, about which I said:
(1-3) I was exactly the right amount of offended by these, and they're brilliant. Glad there's a bunch more.
(4-10)I think it took me longer to dig up the links for these than it took me to read them :D. A blur of brilliance and viciousness, beautifully executed and aggressively obnoxious. Loved this series. Is there much better than going on a comics binge with comics worthy of it?
Burn, by James Patrick Kelly (nook, creative commons)
Every time I read James Patrick Kelly I think, "I should read more of his stuff!" This was no exception. The people are very very true, is the best part; the ideas are nifty, is the second-best.
Letters and Reminiscences, vol. 1, by Alfred Russel Wallace, edited (and reminisced) by James Marchant (nook, public domain)
This book made me develop a big swoony crush on Wallace. I mean, I always thought he was cool, but somehow the personal nature of these letters and excerpts from his books... eesh. I'm sure in real life he would drive me crazy. :D
And Thus Was Adonis Murdered, by Sarah Caudwell
A fairly typical British upper-crust mystery - lawyers and Venice tourism - but so incredibly well-written and witty that I finished it and started reading it again from the first page (granted I was on a plane without other books, but I *never* do that, even in those circumstances). Crisp.
The King's Peace, by Jo Walton
Arthurian alternate-world fantasy. Because it is Jo Walton, a) it KICKS ASS, b) Urdo (Arthur-archetype) is a secondary character and the main character is a brilliantly drawn woman warrior. Couldn't put it down.
Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, by Alison Bechdel
I was too affected by this book to talk directly about why it meant so much to me, but here's a thing I noticed: In Fun Home, the images are often very object-oriented (you frequently see what the character is looking at), while the words carry the lion's share of emotion and meaning. That still happens in this book, but more often the words are either distanced themselves, or so rawly honest that they create distance in the reader, while Bechdel's images of the characters' faces and bodies carry their feelings and even the story arc. (It's both/and in both cases, but the balance is different.) This approach dovetails with the ideas in some of the theoretical texts she chose to include, about people cutting themselves off from their bodies and living in an analytical mind, and about false selves, so I suspect it was a purposeful choice. Perhaps some of the negative reviewers relied too much on the text and didn't spend enough time with the pictures? In any case, I thought it was absolutely a brilliant book; I read it in 2 breath-holding hours, and I will be revisiting it later this summer, when I can spend more time scrutinizing each panel without being so swept up.
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (ARC)
Kim Stanley Robinson is part of my two-handed handful of favorite writers, and so it's unsurprising that I loved this. I was a bit surprised by the experimental nature of the text. The reader has to do a lot of work to keep all the threads together in his/her head, and there are poetic streams-of-consciousness and lists and chapters consisting solely of extracts from fictional textbooks, but it's satisfying work. The structure-building part of my brain was quite sated by the experience. I suspect I will be even more pleased with this book when I eventually reread it.
Pulphead: Essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Sullivan's easily one of my favorite living essayists. And a neat thing about this collection (only a couple of which I'd read before) was seeing the breadth of topics he chooses.
Dreamhunter and Dreamquake, by Elizabeth Knox
Beautiful Edwardian-in-an-imaginary-country (that still has access to the artifacts of Western culture) fantasy novels. The beginning is light and fun, and then things get darker and deeper in a most satisfying fashion. Tasty tasty tasty.
(119, O41; 120, O42)
Fangbone, vol. 1: Third-Grade Barbarian, vol. 2: The Egg of Misery, and vol. 3, The Birthday Party of Dread, by Michael Rex
Conan the Barbarian, as an eight-year-old, magically transported to a modern-day classroom. PERFECTLY executed. I loved these, my husband loved them, the 3rd-grade reluctant reader we know loved them.
(166, 167, 168)
Every Day, by David Levithan (ARC)
The narrator of this book, A, spends each day in a different body, visiting someone different's life. And then, A falls in love... OMG SO GOOD I read it in two sittings. And it would have been one sitting except I couldn't bear for it to be over so fast.
More Baths, Less Talking, by Nick Hornby
Fictionwise, I tend to trick myself out of remembering how much I like Nick Hornby's books. But when it comes to his book reviews, I am Quite Clear that I adore them. Love love love. This volume had a bit more talk, too, about why he didn't read certain things or how he struggled with a book for life or literary reasons, which was extra-nifty.
The Pirate King, by Laurie R. King
Russell! Gilbert and Sullivan! Silent movies! Fernando Pessoa! This was an utter romp. Still in love with this series, no matter what odd routes it trips along.
The Wall Around Eden, by Joan Slonczewski
This was great! I love Joan Slonczewski's characters, stories, world-building, and focus on biology so so much, and yet I still have not read more than 2 or 3 of her books. *makes a mental note to change that*
Mission Child, by Maureen McHugh
I've been *deliberately* stretching out my consumption of Maureen McHugh's books, because she is one of those rare writers I fear catching up to. Heaven forfend I ever run out of her books! Anyway, this one was marvelously good. It's a book about civilisation and acculturation and identity and a whole bunch of other things, all at once and all seamlessly fitting together into a compelling story.
Rough Hewn, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (nook, public domain)
This romantic novel from the 1920s was lovely - surprisingly nuanced and dark for an author I knew from children's books, full of thinky, full of quotes that I really needed to read right when I read them.