Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 book awards

I read more books this year than I've read in any one year of my life (if you don't count picture books). It was exhilarating in a way, but I kind of never want to do it again.

I'm grateful for the experience, though. I've grown a lot as a writer this year, and my intense reading load had a lot to do with that.

And, if possible, books mean more to me now than they ever have. Just like friends in human form, books affect you no matter where you're at in life. They change as you change. It was eye-opening to re-read series like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Mistborn and experience them in a whole new way. I also have more patience for books that in a former life I wouldn't have even considered, which has introduced me to some delightful new treasures.

Goal: 75 books

Books read: 81

First reads: 54

Re-reads: 27

Longest book: A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. 969 pages.

Shortest book: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander. 42 pages.

Total # of pages read: 29,007

Average # of pages per book: 358

  • 5 stars: 24
  • 4 stars: 21
  • 3 stars: 24
  • 2 stars: 10
  • 1 star: 2
*I've eliminated the Harry Potter series from the following awards. I wanted to give the other books a chance.*

Favorite book: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. I know, I know—it's cliché to pick such a popular book as my favorite book of the year. But I'm sticking to it. This book is intense, exciting, thought provoking, and emotion-inducing—all the things today's audience wants—but it also has things like characterization and character growth. That is extremely rare in a world that is happy enough with fast-paced action and predictable endings.

Least favorite book: Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann. This book is stuffed with classical references and is supposed to be an inspiring contemplation on finding lost art. In other words, it's incomprehensible the first time you read it. And it's about a man who stalks this "beautiful boy" until he (the stalker) dies. Creepy.

Best escape novel: Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson. This is the first time in a few years that I've read a Sanderson novel that wasn't Wheel of Time related. I've been a Sanderson fan for a while, but it was still a surprisingly enjoyable experience re-reading this series (partly because I must have been half-dead the first time I read the trilogy and failed to retain most of the details, so it was like reading it for the first time). Even when my eyes hurt from reading endless pages for my American Realism/Naturalism class, I couldn't go to sleep without escaping into this world for at least a half hour. With the amount of worldbuilding Sanderson does, it's really easy to escape into this unique world. 

Best nonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Throughout my life, I've been asked a variation of the question, "Why don't you ever talk?" more times than I care to remember. I used to be quite sensitive about it because it made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Quiet was such a refreshing read because for once, it defends the traits of introverts rather than praises the traits of extroverts. It helped me embrace the person I am rather than try to become someone else.

Yawn award: How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob A. Riis. Think photojournalism meets Charles Dickens. This is actually an important book and it made me really grateful that I have a life that involves more than working myself to death for hard bread and crappy shelter, but man. Just thinking about the book makes me yawn. I wish I could have absorbed this book in small pieces, but I didn't really have a choice on that matter. Stupid school.

Chick award: Austenland, by Shannon Hale. This is quite possibly the girliest book I have ever read. If you're in the right mood for it, it's clever, fun, and hilarious. I listened to the audio version of this book several years ago when I was working in the bindery and I couldn't stop smiling. That was definitely the best shift I ever had.

Funniest book: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh. This book is based on one of those blogs that you read when you're supposed to be working and everyone knows you're not working because you keep snorting because your laughter has to escape somehow. If you don't mind a little (and sometimes, a lot) of profanity, definitely give this book/blog a read some time.

Saddest book: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. This book is about teenagers dying of cancer. Of course it wins the Saddest Book award.

Weirdest book: Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. Once I realized that this book is an allegory of India gaining its independence, it made a lot more sense. But without that knowledge it's just plain weird. Basically, it's about a guy who has a super power nose that allows him to speak to the children born during the midnight hour of the day India became independent. And he can smell people's thoughts and emotions. And sometimes the narrator forgets who he is. It was so weird that the book's complete disregard for punctuation didn't bug me as much as it should have. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to edit this book.

Most thought provoking: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. More than anything, this book made me really glad that I'm not a teenager anymore. It also strengthened my resolve to teach my future children right from wrong so that they will have a reason to say no when I'm not there to coax them.

Book I was most pleasantly surprised by: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. The first time I read this book I was livid for two days. If it wasn't part of a trilogy that I really liked, and if I had had a fireplace at the time, I would have burned it like I did The Casual Vacancy. I never intended to read it again, but after seeing Catching Fire in theaters I had Hunger Games stuck on my brain (I even braided my hair like Katniss's for a few days), so I reluctantly decided to give the books another chance. And I'm so glad I did, because my opinion of this book is pretty much the opposite from my first impression of it. It's still a difficult and heart-wrenching book to read, but when I finished it at 2:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving I was immensely satisfied and at peace. I wasn't so blinded by my own expectations and anger to completely miss the point of the whole book this time.

I didn't enjoy the withdrawals afterward though. I think it might have been worse than Harry Potter Withdrawals.

Book I was most disappointed in: Crossed, by Ally Condie. I waited a long time to read the Matched trilogy. I had heard from a lot of trusted sources that it was really good, so I was looking forward to reading it. I finally got my hands on Matched—and finished the book feeling underwhelmed. I hoped that book 2, Crossed, would give me something that I hadn't already seen in The Giver, Hunger Games, or Twilight, but, again, I was disappointed. Not to mention it suffered severely from dull middle-of-the-series syndrome.

Book I am most glad I abandoned: The Octopus, by Frank Norris. I was assigned to read this book the week I had to turn in 55 pages of writing for school. The discussion board thread was optional, but I gave the book a shot anyway. It didn't take me long to conclude that this is the most boring book ever written, so I felt absolutely no guilt in abandoning it. Don't ask me what it is about, because my brain discards dull writing almost instantaneously for my own protection.

Book that fueled my hope for humanity: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. This is a story about a boy with severe facial deformities who goes from being made fun of and even feared, to being the cool kid everyone wants to be friends with. It was endearing and inspiring without being over the top, and I think everyone will relate to at least one of the characters.

Book I would like to see as a movie: The Rebels of Cordovia, by Linda Weaver Clarke. Sometimes, I get irrationally angry when I read books that are poorly written. Especially when the books have pretty covers and intriguing storylines. I feel betrayed when the writing robs me of what I thought was going to be a delightful reading experience. That's why I want to see this book as a movie. There's a good story buried deep down, but it would be so much more enjoyable to watch on screen, without the distraction of bad writing.  

Book I wouldn't mind living in: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. No other setting can compare to Green Gables, not even Hogwarts (though I feel like a heretic for saying that). It has everything I want: beautiful scenery, adequate distance from civilization, wonderful people, and lots of romantic spots that feed the imagination and soothe the soul. I think my heart will always long for a place like Green Gables.  

Book I would not want to live in: Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. Women in this world basically exist to be raped and told what to do, not to mention it's against the laws of nature to be happy regardless of your gender or social status, so—no thank you. 

Favorite character: Peeta Mellark, from Catching Fire. One of the best things about the Hunger Games trilogy is all the fabulous characters. Collins is so good at creating flawed but lovable characters. So I'm kind of surprised that I'm giving Peeta this award, the least flawed character in the trilogy—some would say he is too perfect. Plus, I've always had a weakness for the tall, manly, handsome, jock-type guys like Gale. Of all the characters, Gale should be my favorite, right?

Nope. Not this time. I think Peeta may have charmed me over to his team. He has people skills that I only wish I had, he always knows what to say, he's strong, and he's artistic. Attractiveness aside, he's just a genuinely good person, and he loves Katniss unconditionally (yeah, I'm a little bit jealous). This is one reason why Mockingjay is so hard to read—I miss the old Peeta so much that the spot in my heart reserved for him breaks into 47 sad pieces. Even now, I just want to give him a hug. And I'm not a hugging person.

Least favorite character: Mary from The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. I've read about murderers, rapists, sociopaths, and child abandoners this year. But Mary wins the Least Favorite Character of the Year Award because she is lazy and does nothing but whine. She gets married because that's what girls do, and then does absolutely nothing after that. Just sits there in the dark, refusing to use her skills to fight off poverty and hunger. And then she has the gall to complain about her wretched life. No, I have absolutely no sympathy for Mary.

Most relatable character: Miri, from Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale. One reason Shannon Hale's book speak to me so much is that I can connect with many of her characters on a deeply personal level. Miri is smart, independent, and eventually finds a balance between her love of home and the mountains and her thirst for ambition.

Crush: Gilbert, from Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. This should surprise no one. He's handsome, charming, smart, mischievous, not intimidated by strong women, and fits this description: "I wouldn't marry a truly wicked man, but I think I'd like it if he could be wicked, but wouldn't." That's my perfect man, right there.

And, because all good book awards have a Top # List of some sort, here are my Top 10 Books Read During 2013. I spent a ridiculously long time thinking about this list, and each title comes with my highest recommendation.

      10. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
       9. Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
       8. Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale
       7. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
       6. The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani
       5. A Memory of Light, by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
       4. Son, by Lois Lowry
       3. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
       2. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
       1. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

And then there are all the other books I read, which may not have been distinctive enough to be awarded in one of my special categories but are still worth mentioning. If you're interested, here is the complete list of books I read during 2013 (click here to read my reviews), in chronological order:

1. No Unhallowed Hand (W&G #7), by Gerald N. Lund
2. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
3. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
4. A Memory of Light (WoT #14), by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
5. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
6. Son, by Lois Lowry
7. The Grass Is Singing, by Doris Lessing
8. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
9. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
10. So Great a Cause (W&G #8), by Gerald N. Lund
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
12. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
13. The Fairest Beauty, by Melanie Dickerson
14. Austenland, by Shannon Hale
15. Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale
16. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
17. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
18. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer, by Sandra Scofield
19. All Is Well (W&G #9), by Gerald N. Lund
20. Matched, by Ally Condie
21. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie
22. Crossed, by Ally Condie
23. Reached, by Ally Condie
24. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
25. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
26. Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery
27. Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing, by David Farland
28. Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale
29. Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
30. Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
31. Game of Thrones (ASoIaF #1), by George R.R. Martin
32. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
33. Harry Potter's Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures, by John Granger
34. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
35. The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, by Dinty W. Moore
36. A Way Back to You, Emily Gray Clawson
37. Equal Rites (Discworld #3), by Terry Pratchett
38. The Rover, by Aphra Behn
39. The Beggar's Opera, by John Gay
40. The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
41. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
42. The Book of Psychological Truths: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Really Good Thinking for Really Great Living, by R. Duncan Wallace
43. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
44. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
45. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
46. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
47. Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell
48. Description and Setting, by Ron Rozelle
49. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
50. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
51. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
52. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, translated by Hermione Granger-Weasley
53. The Rebels of Cordovia, by Linda Weaver Clarke
54. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander
55. A Clash of Kings (ASoIaF #2), by George R.R. Martin
56. A Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James
57. Anne of Windy Poplars, by L.M. Montgomery
58. Mistborn (Mistborn #1), by Brandon Sanderson
59. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
60. How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, by Jacob Riis
61. Quotidiana, by Patrick Madden
62. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane
63. The One-Eyed Man, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
64. The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2), by Brandon Sanderson
65. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
66. The Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard
67. The Game, by Jack London
68. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
69. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh
70. Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
71. The Hero of Ages (Mistborn #3), by Brandon Sanderson
72. Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
73. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
74. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
75. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
76. The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson
77. The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans
78. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, by Dinty W. Moore
79. The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani
80. Nightingale, by David Farland
81. Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelley

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