Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Best of 2016

2016 was a crap year in many respects, but I did read a hell of a lot of good books. Here’re my top picks in the order I read them, with some stats and commentary tacked onto the end for good measure.

2016 Top 16

Sixteen, people! That’s the most ever! I tried and tried and tried to narrow it down, but the books refused to let me ignore them.

Thanks, books.

A large-headed Funko Pop of Poe Dameron sits beside a Funko Pop of B B 8. A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, looms out of focus behind them.
to the sky without wings by leupagus

Never in my life did I imagine I’d read a novel-length piece of fanfic, and never ever ever did I think said fanfic would end up on my yearly Top 10 list (or Top 16 list, as the case may be). But here we are.

This Star Wars fic (which you can read in its entirely here) gripped me so hard that I dropped everything whenever another chapter came out. It convinced me fic can have a place in my life, and that sometimes my least favourite tropes can win me over.

A pale hand holds a white Kobo near an airplane window through which mountains are visible. The Kobo has the cover of Carry On on it, featuring the yellow and blue silhouettes of two boys poised to kiss above a large, visibly ancient estate.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - review

CARRY ON is an awesome story and a commentary on the YA fantasy landscape. I geek the hell out whenever I think of it, especially when I remember how the magic is powered by cliche. Rainbow Rowell went there, y'all, and I love her for it.

Plus Baz is mine, and always will be.

Fuzzy Murchie lies behind a white Kobo with the white cover of A Gathering Shadows on it. A figure in a long black and red coat hovers above a sea of grasping red hands with maps imprinted on them. The figure clutches a long dagger in each hand.
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

This one hit me so hard I didn’t even want to talk about it at first. It’s got sailing and queer folks and siblings and magical sports and a character who’ll do anything; ie, it’s kinda my ideal book. I'm beyond excited for the finale, A CONJURING OF LIGHT.

A very angry, large-headed Funko Pop of Marvel's Thor stands beside a white iPod with the cover of The Raven King on it. The cover features the silhouette of an enormous elk with swirling blue light in it.
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater - review

A comprehensive list of things THE RAVEN KING meant to me:

  • everything

It also helped me find my uber-specific subgenre of choice, which is queer assholes doing dream magic while ghosts lurk around.

I'd like to welcome Blue Sargent to my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite Literary Characters, too. She has the distinction of being one of only two list members I've never wanted to punch. Ronan Lynch, a list member of longer standing, does not belong to this tiny subset.

Fuzzy Murchie lies in an outdoor dog bed, a trade paperback copy of The Kingdom of Gods beside him. The book's cover features a towering palace hovering above a dark, swirling sea. A flash of brilliant red seems to keep it afloat.
The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

I waffled over whether I wanted to talk about this one, too, and ultimately ended up writing a thing about how I didn’t want to review it. I couldn't tear myself away from it until I'd finished, and I bought my own copy right away; something I almost never do.

I love how this final volume of the Inheritance Trilogy makes it absolutely impossible for anyone to ignore the series' queer backbone, too. You can maybe do it with the first two if you want to be ghastly and deny peoples' genders and sexualities, but there's no out here.

Fuzzy Murchie lies beside a white iPod with Echo's deep blue cover on its screen. The cover features three children seated by a fire between the silhouettes of two bare trees.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan - review

ECHO is and shall remain my number one pick for the modern era. It’s anti-Nazi, anti-racist, and pro-understanding. And it’s the best children’s novel I’ve read in years.

Get the audio if you possibly can. The musical component is phenomenal.

Fuzzy Murchie stands next to a recycle bin, staring upwards. A pale hand holds a white Kobo with the cover of Children of Earth and Sky so it peeks into the shot. The book's cover features a wrought iron sun that's golden near the top and fades to deep blue near the bottom.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay - review

Every year, there’s one book I cannot imagine leaving off the list, no matter how hard I try to wrap my mind around it. This year, it's CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY, which is also one of those books that sneaks up on you. One moment, you think you’re regular-strength invested in it; the next, you’re sobbing your heart out because you’re so overcome on the characters’ behalf.

It also works beautifully in conversation with the two-volume Sarantine Mosaic, which is my favourite of Kay’s offerings.

Short-haired Murchie stands in the middle of seven paperback volumes of Yotsuba arranged like a clock and photographed from above. Each of the books features a green-haired girl having the time of her life at a variety of activities, like camping, bike riding, and meeting sheep.
Yotsuba&! Vols 1-13 by Kiyohiko Azuma - review

ZOMG NEW FAVOURITE COMIC. It’s about sweet, supportive people who genuinely like one another, and my face hurt after every single volume because I’d spent the whole time grinning my arse off at the lot of them.

Volume 9 is my favourite, but the whole series to date is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Murchie stands some distance behind an upright trade paperback copy of Half-Blood Blues. Its cover is styled like a vinyl record, with the title and author on a burgundy disc in the centre.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

HALF-BLOOD BLUES is great right from the get-go, but there’s this moment a short ways in that transforms it from really good to OMG WHAT IS THIS BRILLIANCE AND WHERE WILL IT TAKE ME. I’m grateful to my bookish bingo card for giving me the push I needed to finally read it.

Edugyan is the Canadian author I most look forward to reading more from in 2017.

Fuzzy-cheeked Murchie lies beside a white Kobo with the cover of Winter Oranges on its screen. The cover features a dark-haired white man in vaguely historical dress. He's encased in a glass globe held by a pale hand.
Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton - review

Hello, new favourite romance! This one sounds sooooooo out there, given how one of the heroes is trapped in a snow globe, but it works so fucking well. I’ve been reccing it to everyone since the moment I finished it.

Short-haired Murchie stares away from the camera. In front of him, taking up most of the shot, is a white Kobo with the cover of Tell You What Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016 on it. The title appears in large yellow letters against a photograph of a river shot from above.
Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016, ed. by Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood

Here’s another huge surprise: an essay collection! I stumbled across the 2016 edition of TELL YOU WHAT while I was checking Scribd for Tina Makareti’s WHERE THE RĒKOHU BONE SINGS. The novel was a no-go, but I discovered she’d contributed to this, sampled it on a whim, and discovered the editors’ tastes are an exact match for my own. The writing’s fabulous, the contributors are diverse, and I welcomed the chance to revisit my beloved country through a literary lens.

Short-haired Murchie lies beside a white Kobo with the cover of Mrs Vargas and the Dead Naturalist on it. The cover has a turquoise border and features a painting of a Mexican woman wearing a dress with a blue bodice and a patterned white skirt. She stands in a jungle, monkeys behind her and a small wildcat in front of her.
Mrs Vargas and the Dead Naturalist by Kathleen Alcalá

Sometimes there’s one book I can’t possibly leave off the list. Sometimes there’s two. Alcalá’s short fiction is fucking transcendent and I wish I had access to more of her work.

Short-haired Murchie lies beside a hardcover copy of Nevernight. Its white cover features a pale-skinned girl wearing a domino mask and clutching a knife in front of her. Wing-like shadows rise from her shoulders.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff - review

I hesitated over whether to include this one, because as much as I loved it I’m ashamed to say I missed many problematic things about it. (You can read about these issues in greater detail on Anjulie Te Pohe’s post about NEVERNIGHT, racism, and author accountability. I’ve also edited my review to include a link to the post.) I did adore it as a love letter to modern fantasy, though, so I’m putting it on my Top 16 with the caveat that I won’t be reccing it as unreservedly as I’d intended to right after I finished it and I'll be thinking about it more critically when I reread it.

Short-haired Murchie lies beside a white Kobo that takes up most of the shot. It has the cover of Coin Tricks on its screen, featuring a dark-haired Maori man and a red-haired white man hugging each other and grinning.
Coin Tricks by Willow Scarlett

More Kiwi lit, and another amazing romance! I want to give it to Alana from SAGA1 because it’s about these two people who connect in all these gloriously everyday ways and I think she'd be totally into that. Like, they talk about books, and make friendship bracelets, and have family suppers, and it’s really normal but never boring. It’s super-duper awesome and I want more people to have it in their life.

Murchie gazes upwards, a white iPod with the cover of Bloodline on it beside him. The cover features Leia Organa with her arms crossed while five fighter jets soar in formation behind her.
Bloodline by Claudia Gray

I hadn’t read a Star Wars book since I was fifteen or so and my dear friend was obsessed with the Han Solo Trilogy, but someone (I want to say it was Anton?) told me BLOODLINE was the best Star Wars novel they’d ever read, and I needed to spend a Scribd audio credit, and the next thing I knew I was enthralled. The book gave me a chance to reconnect with beloved characters, meet some amazing new ones, and meditate on the role of government.

I strongly encourage you to get the audiobook, if you possibly can. The recent Star Wars audios are like radio plays with sound effects, scores, and narrators who perform every character with such verve you’ll believe they’re a full cast rather than one super-talented person.

Murchie curls up tight beside a white Kobo with the cover of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda on it. The red cover features a black-clad boy with his hands in his pockets. A speech bubble with the title on it appears in the place of his head.
Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli - review

My reading style is “really fucking picky and also deeply suspicious,” so I almost never love books straight from the first line. And yet it took me only twelve words to fall in love with SIMON, which was everything my nineteen-year-old self wanted THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER to be.

Honourable Mention

The complete works of Annabeth Albert, who became my favourite romance writer this year with her #gaymers, Portland Heat, and Perfect Harmony series. I can't wait to read what she puts out in 2017!

And Now, Stats

Y’all may recall I got grumpy about stats near the end of 2015. After minimal debate, I decided to track nothing beyond my spreadsheet’s built-in variables (modified slightly for my personal biases) in 2016.

So:

I read 385 books and 100,189 pages in 2016.

Sort of. Y’see, I also read somewhere between 600 and 700 individual X-Men issues, and I got all *shrug* about counting them since so many of the early issues and story arcs aren’t readily available as trade collections. After an early attempt to count every twenty-five issues as one book2, I decided not to bother tabulating the 452 issues of UNCANNY X-MEN and 150+ issues of X-MEN, NEW X-MEN, X-TREME X-MEN, and various miniseries and short-lived series I got through last year.

It ain’t like my reading list needs any padding, y’know?

That 385-book total does include lots of non-mutant trade collections, of course. I don’t count individual issues as books because that’d be cheating. Likewise, I counted my serials by season, not by episode.

267 of those books were by people of marginalized genders. That’s 69% books by women and genderqueer or genderfluid folks.

222 were by POC for a total of 58% non-white writers and artists.

181 were comics for a total of 47%. A bit of a dip from last year, when I read 263 comics. We can probably tie that to my X-Men focus and my decision not to count those books.

210 books were by non-Americans for a total of 55%.

124 books were fantasy.

98 were general fiction.

89 were science fiction.

34 were romance.

24 were nonfiction (a small jump! I’m terrible at reading nonfiction).

11 were pure historical fiction (ie, not historical fantasy).

5 were crime fiction.

I didn’t track any other genres and marketing categories because spreadsheet.

I got 204 books from the library, 77 from Scribd, 33 from new bookstores (including digital venues), 28 from Marvel Unlimited (not including X-titles), 26 from NetGalley, and 17 from used bookstores and charity book sales.

And that’s everything I tracked.

Commentary and Goals and Stuff

My big reading goal for 2016 was to read whatever the fuck I wanted (profanity 100% necessary). I occasionally strayed from this goal as I felt pressured to get to review copies and spend Scribd credits before they expired, but for the most part I read everything I could within the limits of my reading speed.

I also wanted to read more prose fiction by POC as comics accounted for a huge percentage of my 2015 reading list’s diverse content. I did that, and discovered some amazing new authors in the process. As previously stated, I’m excited to read the rest of Esi Edugyan’s books in 2017, and I look forward to new stuff from Rebekah Weatherspoon, N.K. Jemisin, Sonali Dev, and many others.

I want to keep reading whatever the fuck I want to in 2017, with an especial emphasis on queer stuff and Canadian authors. (I even sacrificed the Comics column of my spreadsheet to make space for a Queer tracking option.) And I want to read all the X-Men comics without worrying about tallying them up.

Because it actually feels pretty good to have one area of my reading life I don’t quantify.

How did your reading go in 2016?


  1. I know those of y’all who’ve known me for a while are wondering where the hell SAGA is this year. It’s my favourite, so I get totally anxious about catching up on it and I didn’t manage to read Volume 6 in 2016. Stay tuned to learn whether it’s one of my top picks for 2017.
  2. When a comic hasn’t been officially collected, I usually count every six issues as one book. I initially thought I’d up that to 25 with the X-Men comics because I was writing my commentary posts every twenty-five issues, but I kept forgetting to count page numbers and make note of creators and I almost died of boredom at the very thought of figuring all that out after the fact. So I shrugged and decided to let the stats fly free in the wind.

10 comments:

  1. Well, thanks to friendship and actually reading your blog, nothing on here really surprises me. lol We have books in common as favourites, should I ever actually write up my favourites post, and a bunch of these I have waiting in the wings for me. So, I guess I have some good reading ahead of me. Also, you read so much more than I can ever find time for. (I actually counted each episode of the one Serial I read individually. I cheated. lol)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tell you about all the awesome books as soon as I've read them!

      Delete
  2. You keep track of so many stats! It's super interesting. :D

    I still need to read Carry On--I loved Fangirl so much.

    And I agree with Echo. So so so good, and extra relevant now. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're gonna love CARRY ON! It's a wonderful supplement and a strong story in its own right.

      Delete
  3. I have read GGK a lot in the past, but kind of moved away from him with Ysabel and the book set in Ancient China. I like a lot of what he does, but I also dislike some of the ways he writes, particularly his penchant for pairing up random characters at the end of his books.

    But I shall look into Children of Earth & Sky as you revered it so deeply! And will be sure to get the Schawb book read before book 3 comes out :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You neeeeeeeeeeed more Schwab in your life.

      Delete
  4. It sounds like I REALLY should pull that copy of A Darker Shade of Magic off the shelf...

    Glad to hear you loved Children of Earth and Sky too! It's one of those books I started to read a couple of times this year and thought I'd probably enjoy but just wasn't in the mood to read at the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually took a ten-day break partway through CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY, and I loved it all the more when I came back to it.

      Delete
  5. My 2016 reading was reasonably fineish, with kind of a shortage of books that really blew my skirt up. Or maybe I have become an untenably picky reader? I AM HAVING A READING IDENTITY CRISIS.

    Also, I still haven't read that fic and I am having a hard time convincing myself to. That is suchhhhhh a weird pairing to me, and I kind of can't get past the age difference? I dunnooooooooooooooo Memory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think what happened is, I sucked up all the good reading mojo. I'm sorry! I'll try to leave some for you this year!

      The thing with the fic is, I've never much liked Luke Skywalker and stories where a person gets together with someone they knew when that person was a kid generally squick me out, and yet I loved this story so muuuuuuuuuuuch. It blasted through all my reservations.

      Delete