My Favorite Novels of 2013
The only book in order is my top choice for the year and one of my favorite of all time (I know its only been out a few months but I read it over two years ago and it rocked my world then and continues to so do or do so or doe-si-doe). The rest are arranged in the order that I thought of them.
Winger, by Andrew Smith. This is a great book that perfectly captures the voice of adolescence. Ryan Dean’s voice is wonderful and authentic and did I mention there’s rugby in the book? Everyone should read this book. It is poetic and brutally powerful.
The Chaos Walking Trilogy, by Patrick Ness (including The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men). I’m cheating. This is three books but they really are one epic science fiction story that will make you cry and break your heart and keep you turning the pages right up until the end. This is how great sociological science fiction is written. And it happens to be a YA book. The gender politics (everyone can hear what men think but nobody can hear what women think) and the commentary on the nature of being human cuts through you right from the beginning. Then there’s the alien race and consciousness. Wow.
Railsea, by China Miéville. I have to say right from the start that this author is not everyone’s cup of tea and… I read another book by him that I liked and another that I couldn’t finish (rare for me). What does this mean? The language is difficult to get the hang of but once I did I really found this story of White Whale hunting and metaphor mapping to be a wonder. But the language… stay with it. I found it an original work of really great and unique science fiction.
11/22/63, by Stephen King. Two friends recommended this to me. I held off until I was ready to travel to Seattle and had 5 hours on a plane facing me there and 5 hours back. So… I have to say this is vintage King writing historical fiction with a vengeance. I loved the main character and would have followed him anywhere after the first couple of pages. Early hook, King never let me go. Time travel, butterfly effect, the 1960s (I was born in 61) all used to good effect. I was sad to see this one end and I’ve recommended to everyone I know since. It’s a long novel and that is a very good thing.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King. First know that I love a good western and I love the Dark Tower Series. Given that then you can understand why I loved this King coming of age again story. It is chilling and beautifully written.
Out of my Mind, by Sharon Draper. The story of a disabled child stuck in a wheel chair, unable to speak or communicate yet incredibly smart and aware of what’s going on around her and nobody knows it. This story is so powerful. It’s told from inside the young girl’s head, how she sees and knows the world rather than from the outside in and this makes the experience raw and challenging. I especially liked the ending and its realistic, no Disney fireworks conclusion.
The Dust of a Hundred Dogs, by A.S. King. Reality Boy was terrific too (so I’ll sneak in a quick recommendation as A.S. King rocks with all her books) but I have to tell you Dust of 100 dogs just rocked my boat. I’m a sucker for a western but I’m also a bigger sucker for a pirate story. And this is a love story also! This is told from the protagonist’s point of view from three unique angles (many dogs perspectives, a modern-day teenager, and a pirate from the days of swashbuckling). This is not a story for the squeamish (rape and pillaging abound) but man did it grab me. I saw the ending coming but felt so satisfied when it arrived that I didn’t care.
Calico Joe, by John Grisham. I know I know. John Grisham? Hey, what can I say. I really enjoyed this baseball book about father-son relationships. I can’t believe how fascinating this story was. My father-in-law hated this and I loved it. The insight into why players do what they do was terrific.
Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka (including Volumes 1-8, yes, you read that right, 1-8). I’m cheating but I’m not really cheating. It’s one long epic graphic novel in 8 volumes. And it’s the story of Buddha. And the covers were all designed by Chip Kidd. How can you go wrong? This is the Buddha story with a vengeance. It’s all manga from the grandfather of manga, filled with inside jokes about school in Japan, and part Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. It’s also a deep book about religion, it’s uses and misuses and yes, about why we fear death and how we as human beings can come to terms with it. My son and I read these together. Take your time reading the story and enjoy the pen and ink on the full-page panels. The detail is incredible. This is an amazing lifetime achievement.
The Drowned Cities, by Paulo Bacigalupi. Even more brutal and disturbing than Ship Breaker – more violent if you can believe it. And so disturbing reading about children making war on children. This is total heart of darkness time. Keep one eye half closed as you read, but do read it and hope that Bacigalupi writes another story that takes us back to this world. Just… no more chopping off of fingers, please! Ouch.
Well, that it for 2013.
I’m looking forward to the reading list for 2014.
And my own work moves forward, slowly, but surely. If I can just keep at it I should have two books in to my agent this year. Fingers crossed. Nose to the grindstone.
The Pink Door and Deli-No-More
I was in Seattle two weeks ago for the third time in a year. It’s for my day job but I had the chance to do some book business. I love going to Seattle. It’s a beautiful city that smells of the ocean and clean air. I don’t know if it has clean air or not I just know it smells nicer than NYC which generally smells, well … ripe.
I did my workshop with the courts and my contractor promoting a federally funded blended (face-to-face and online) learning system, then had an afternoon to myself so … I wandered across the street to the Seattle public library with a copy of my book to see if I could donate a copy.
If you’ve never seen Seattle’s library it’s an awesome structure. I asked for the YA section. It covers most of a whole floor. I asked to speak to a YA librarian (not knowing the technical lingo for such – though librarian is a cool enough job title in my book, er, you know what I mean). Specialist Carol Lo came and saw me and after nicely hearing my pitch and my idea (I’d like to donate a copy of my book) said there was a whole process in bringing in copies of a new book into the library, but would be glad to take the single book I’d brought and make sure it got into the hands of some young people to read. Then she checked to see if they carried it (why did I assume they didn’t?) and indeed they had a copy.
This made my day. Thank you for being so helpful, Carol Lo. And thank you Seattle Public Library for carrying my book.
I ran up and down the hills by the waterfront and Pike’s Market early in the morning while the fog was still covering the water and a good part of the city. Im not a big runner (I enjoy having run but not running unless I have a rugby ball in my hands and others are chasing me with the intent to tackle) but I find it’s a great way to check interesting parts of a city out. The waterfront is beautiful.
Dinner at The Pink Door with my colleagues and interesting side trip to a male burlesque show (don’t ask, don’t ask) capped the trip and sent me on my return trip home.
I love the 5-6 hour plane ride with nothing to do but read and write and stare out at the clouds.
And I love Deli No More (look at the graffiti all over the walls and ceiling) inside the YWCA. Bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches rock.
Fish Bones and So Long Suckers
I lost 90 pages of my WIP late in the summer – don’t ask how. Okay I’ll tell you. I can’t help myself.
Once, when my son was small, about four years old we had a small fish tank with a few fish in it. One fish disappeared one night. I mean … it disappeared. There had been casualties before (many, many, many casualties) but they always showed up on the surface, belly up. So one little guy, like a master illusionist, one night disappeared. I searched the whole tank, top to bottom, filter to gravel graveyard. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.
I called fish experts.
They scratched their heads.
He was too big to be eaten by the two other fish inside the tank with him. So what happened to him? I don’t know. But sometimes, late at night when I’m just about asleep I swear I can hear him laughing and calling out to me, “So long sucker.”
One night in August I was working on my WIP. I left the document open on the screen, got caught up in watching The Big Bang Theory with my son and wife. I went to bed. In the morning…
So long suckers.
The document was there but 90 pages were gone. I looked everywhere. I looked on my screen, in my dropbox, in my WIP folder, in my other computer, in all my back-up files. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.
Fortunately I had a hard copy. I just had to type it all in again…
I wish I was a faster typist. Mavis Beacon, here I come.
So long suckers.
Sweat and Tiffany’s – Goodbye Seattle
Okay. Okay. The downhill was worse than the uphill. The walk to Salle Auriol on Harrison was long with stretches of darkness, empty parking lots and offices. At one point I saw a guy on a bike going up a hill I was coming down. We were on a small level space between two monsters. He rested a few moments then put his bike into gear and started pedaling. I really felt for him and hoped he had at least 21 speeds to choose from.
I love fencing salles.
I really do.
The clashing of swords, the sounds of coaches speaking with heavy Polish, Russian, or Hungarian accents, and the energy of fencers competing and honing their craft. Sometimes there’s laughing and smiling, even though they’ve been stuck hard in the chest. Everybody learns from everybody. And as new meat, people swarm to fence against me because I bring new techniques to learn about and figure out how to defeat. It’s a great place. Did I mention the smell of wet and dry sweat?
Salle Auriol is just such a wonderful place. The business manager,Catherine, met me and gave me a tour of the salle, hooked me up with the three épée fencers in that night, talked to me about my book (she’s a budding novelist herself) and recommended a good place to get food and drink. I fenced against three opponents (I’m probably getting their names wrong so I hope they forgive me) Carmella, Marla, and Greg. Carmella took me apart quickly in my first series of bouts, though I was glad to get a few runs of touches in to remind myself of the skill I can call upon with a little bit of focus. Basically Carmella was good and she gave me a lesson that I only had to pay for in sweat.
Greg was next and he’s only been fencing five months. I focused my work on point control, trying for stop thrusts and thrusts to his wrist. He’s a researcher, doing work on cancer and the immune system. He face lights up when he talks about his work and about this sport he’s found called fencing.
Marla works at Tiffany’s and loves it. She’s also a good épéeist. We were well matched and traded the first two bouts, both close. Her coach was watching from a seat at the end of the strip and gave advice like, “You have to get out of the way of his blade,” and “Don’t let him hit your wrist,” after I scored three touches in a row in just that spot. It made us both laugh. Nothing like a coach with a good sense of humor. Marla won the final bout 5-4 on a series of infighting attacks and ripostes that ended with her final downward thrust hitting me in the ankle. Touché, Marla, you earned it.
After a late dinner at Serious Pie (that’s it’s name, really) I walked another half hour to the light-rail station (flat with no hills) and just about midnight, walked back in the hotel front door.
I’m ready to be home. I know my wife is ready for me to be home. Too much traveling this week and too much double duty on her part keeping the family moving and attending to her consulting work. She’s definitely had the harder work of the two of us.
Oh yeah. And there’s the world cup of rugby final to see.
Hill of Humongosity – Seattle Day 2
Usually a little walking does not daunt me. I walk at least an hour every day just to the subway and back and taking out the dogs. But the hill you climb from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill and the Elliot Bay Bookstore is brutal. I got a ride downtown this time and skipped the light-rail then figured I’d just walk the thirty minutes to the bookstore.
How tough could it be? I walk fast. I figured I’d make it in 15 or 20 minutes max.
It was cool and misty but I was sweating heavily by the time I got to the top of Capital Hill and over onto 10th Avenue. Capital Hill shouldn’t be called a hill. The word just doesn’t suit it. Hill of death. Hill of humongosity. Ankle-break hill. Mountain called hill. Really.
Elliot Bay Bookstore is a big indi and I wanted to make an impression. I’m sure my disheveled look and the beads of perspiration rolling down my forehead did the trick. Bookseller Mathew was kind enough to take my book.
“Can I give you my pitch?” I asked.
“Not necessary,” he said.
He checked to make sure he could get it from Ingrams and to make sure it was not self-published (yes, these things do, in my experience over the last six months marketing my book, matter). Satisfied with both, he assured me he’d get it into the hands of their YA specialist. Then he kindly got me directions to the Club Auriol, Fencing Salle – just 30 minutes … down hill … north of where I started.
“Downhill?” I asked.
He nodded sagely.
“Well,” I said, “it’s better than up hill.” And off I went. Back to sweating.
I had planned to go to two fencing salles in two different parts of town but at 7:15pm I knew I would never make it to both. So I went for the closer of the two – Salle Auriol. And I figured I’d work the opposing muscles in my legs on the downward haul – always searching for balance.