And so, somewhat improbably, we come to the second annual retrospective of the This Is How She Fight Start Blog About Everything I Read Project, more casually referred to as the TIHSFSBAEIRP, which has a much nicer ring to it I feel. You may, if you wish, view this as nothing more than a contrarily early forerunner of the tide of annual roundup posts heading our way in a month or so.
For those of you still here, this year’s grand total stands at 82 books read (68 excluding comics), which were, excluding 5 books by multiple authors, written by 64 different people. Chris F.Holm, M. John Harrison, and Catheryne M. Valente were among those lucky few to get repeat visits, which suggests a previously unidentified random initial fetish on my part, and thinking about it I have always preferred Iain Banks’ SF stuff to his mainstream novels (of which more later).
16 non-fiction books, 25 you could broadly define as SF, and 20 books in translation. However, what we’re really concerned about here is that little aspiration I expressed last year to read more diversely. To that end, the figure that’s most important is the one that sorts white Anglophone men from everyone else, because that’s clearly a worldview with such encouraging historical precedents.
Books written by people who look and talk like me – 40
Books written by people who don’t – 39
So that’s not so far off 50/50 (anthologies and don’t knows would bring it up to 100%). My ongoing comic series throws those numbers out a little though, so if we count different authors instead of books (which means the Initial Brigade only register once each), then it looks like this.
English-speaking white guys – 28
Everyone else – 36
The aim is to read more diversely, remember? No point achieving perfect 50/50 parity if all of those books are written by the same two people. As such I also think the absolute numbers are more telling than the percentages because this isn’t a zero-sum game. I’ve certainly got limits on how much I read in terms of time and money, but it isn’t one-out-one-in quite yet and reading a couple of extra books by men doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be reading two fewer by women (say). We’ve not reached that ceiling just yet. Last year’s numbers were 32/20 so things appear to be moving in the right direction. And by ‘right’ direction I obviously mean ‘the one that I want’.
Now we’ve got that sorted, we can move on to the more interesting stuff (it’s all relative). Awards then, and with the customary lack of preamble my Book of the Year is –
Given that my initial reaction to Gold Boy, Emerald Girl was little more than stuttering and incoherent adulation, I should probably try to expand on it a little here. Li writes with such understated simplicity that even the word elegant feels unnecessarily showy, and yet this pared back language delivers such a powerful emotional charge. That the emotion in question is melancholy soaked in sadness makes it all the more noticeable. Anger, grief, joy; these are your powerful, crash bang wallop emotions. Melancholy is more reserved and so to feel it in such a visceral way is a very singular experience.
All of these stories in the collection were excellent, but even if they weren’t I’d have been tempted to go for this book on the strength of one story alone. ‘Prisoners’ is about a Chinese immigrant couple in America who, upon the accidental death of their teenage daughter, decide to illegally and expensively hire a surrogate mother back in China. It is staid and controlled and contained, and the most achingly sad thing I’ve read in years. I’ve read plenty of books that have made me happy or horrified or hopeful, but never anything that’s inspired quite this combination and depth of emotion. Outstanding.
So, as demonstrated above, it can sometimes be quite hard to write about stuff you rate highly. The trouble with being genuinely raised up by other people’s words is that your own often feel inadequate in comparison. I try to give it my best shot though, so here’s a brief sample of some of my favorite book posts of the year. The ones I had most fun writing; whether you have similar feeling about reading them is another matter.
(The one with the readalong)
(The one with the bukkake)
(The one with the unexpected allegory)
(The one with the evil, thieving vaginas)
(The one with the industry whoring)
(The one with the bad poetry)
(The one with the genre fatigue and fucking worldbuilding)
Where to go from here? I’m quite enjoying blogging about these books, so I reckon I’ll keep that up, and the diversity thing is going quite well too. I’ve probably read more disappointing or average books than when I ‘stuck to what I knew’, but I’ve read more excellent ones as well, and that’s a trade-off I’m more than happy with.
That said, my reading plans for next year very much include a degree of the familiar. I’ve finally got all my Iain M. Banks books together on the same continent, so starting from January I’ll be rereading the Culture books. One a month, I reckon, in order of publication starting with Consider Phlebas in January. I know other people have got there before me, and more intelligently too, but that’s not the point. Likewise, if anyone fancies joining me for the trip that’d be lovely, but I’ll be more than happy going on this ride all by myself. Plus ça change.