Making the year ahead up as I go along
I don’t do reading resolutions. I probably should. I should specifically resolve to stop buying books until I cut my TBR pile down by half. But that’s, first, impossible, because the pile is large and I am weak, and second, improbable, because stress buying books is scientifically proven to be awesome.
Yes, I am the scientist. And test subject. No further questions.
I do have loose reading goals set on StoryGraph but I’ll freely change those numbers when they look wrong. As for what I plan to read, I have some things in mind, but I’m not making any commitments. There’s things I generally like to do every year. I’ll dip in and out of some short story collections. I’ve started consciously trying to work in more non-fiction when everything starts feeling unreal. Once upon a time I’d plan on doing at least one or two Ambitious Great Works every year. But last time I tried that, in January 2020, I'd decided that would be the year I’d finally read In Search of Lost Time all the way through. That was silly!
Every website in the world has their list of 5000 books coming out in 2022 that you must read or what are you even doing with your life. The list of stuff I feel like I'm going to need to read is short because I couldn’t keep up if I tried, and I do not try.
Jennifer Egan is the best. She’s doing a sequel to A Visit from the Goon Squad. That scares me. But, she’s the best. But, I’m a little scared. But…she is the best. But.
Marlon James’s next Dark Star book comes out soon. Weird book to be excited for because honestly I don’t know what happened in the first book. and the second book is a complete retelling of the story from a different character’s perspective, so I'm just going to wind up double confused.
James S. A. Corey and Megan E. O’Keefe both ended series last year, defying my direct orders while also fulfilling my deepest personal needs. (Water. Shelter. Riveting Space Opera.) They both have new stuff coming but for now they’ve left a specific void in my TBR pile. Luckily, Essa Hansen’s second Graven book is coming, which is going to be cool. (Note to self: start more new space opera series this year.)
Speaking of the pseudonymous James S. A. Corey: Daniel Abraham, half of that writing duo, is starting a new fantasy trilogy in February.
Two final Stephen Dixon books might be coming this year. That’s all I know. I’m not actually ready for them. I haven’t been able to read him since he died. I can’t handle the thought that there wil be no more.
And then there’s of course other stuff coming out that I’m semi-curious about. Maybe I should be more excited for new Hanya Yanagihara, for example, and there’s a new Elif Batuman novel on the way, but I’m full of conflicted feelings on both fronts. Other stuff. What else am I missing? What makes me a bad reader for not being adequately excited about it?
What I’ve Been Reading
Malice, by John Gwynne
For a sci-fi nerd who grew up thinking fantasy was for dorks, there’s a shocking number of books about swords and/or sorcery on my TBR pile. It’s no coincidence that I’ve been doing more purely escapist reading the last few years, and fantasy does scratch that itch, but I don’t remember consciously deciding fantasy was a whole thing for me, now. Suffice it to say I have a lot of introductory world-building reading ahead of me.
I started the year with John Gwynne’s Malice. It’s the first of a four-volume series and what you need to know about this book is there is a huge sword on the cover. Are your eyes already drifting ahead to see what the next book is? No problem. This book is not for you! See you at the section break.
For anyone else, the nutshell plot of Malice is that there’s a whole bunch of kingdoms, and in those kingdoms are a whole bunch of dudes, and outside those kingdoms are a whole bunch of giants. They don’t get along, haven’t gotten along since Elyon and Asroth—God and Lucifer, basically—brought their hot drama to the land of mortals. Now, there’s a new God-War coming, and the dudes and the giants are taking it as a sign that it’s time to chop each other up with swords.
It’s kind of awesome.
I was initially annoyed by the lack of a character list, but then most everyone got chopped in half, so that worked out. As for the characters who did make it…I’m not a “falls in love with the characters” kind of reader, but I did catch myself rooting for some of the survivors. Which is swell, because now I’m sure I get to see them get killed off on page three of the next book.
“Chosen one” stories low-key tire me out. (Are there a lot of those in fantasy, or...?) (Joke.) Gwynne does something mildly sly with how he plays with the trope, which kept me engaged. He made me actively feel bad for one character caught up in the related swirl of events, which is not nothing.
There’s a pleasant slow-burn feel at the start of the book that paired nicely with my post-holiday brain fog. But it does pick up, and from what I remember from a half-forgotten review, the whole series is a bit that way—slow, until it’s not. On to book two! Sometime!
Roseneath, by Dana McSwain
Through sheer coincidence, Malice lead nicely into Roseneath, by local writer Dana McSwain. Both books play with old-fashioned Old Testament mythology, Roseneath going more literal.
Roseneath is a haunted house novel; at its heart is a married couple struggling with grief following a miscarriage. (Content warning.) Looking for a fresh start, an opportunity to move forward again, they move into a run-down house in Cleveland, the kind meant to become an all-consuming project. Things go wrong. Secrets are kept. Nathan, an architect-slash-home-renovator, forbids his wife Georgia, a librarian, from entering Roseneath’s basement. He claims it’s because it’s a mess. But maybe it's because it’s a hell-mouth. Georgia, in turn, forbids Nathan from going up to the attic. She says she just wants a private space. But in reality she's spending her days becoming really good friends with a dead child’s ghost. There could be worse coping strategies.
I liked Roseneath, though I wish it had been shorter, which might be an unfair criticism, because Roseneath naturally has its feet in multiple worlds. There’s some outright horror but it’s also a bit more on the spooky gothic side; there’s some real exploration of trauma mixed into some angels-and-demons fantasy. For me, I think there was a tighter, more mysterious story snaking its way through the book, and I wanted that story moved forward into the spotlight. Breeze past some gratuitous early repetition and distracting late-game POV shifts, and there’s a story about two people tearing themselves apart, making problematic choices, and getting caught up in circumstances beyond their control.
Also, the backstory, about the miscarriage…McSwain goes there, and she goes there hard. She planted some truly gruesome imagery in my head that alone made the book worth the read.
Bonus fact: the story was inspired by a house McSwain lived in and renovated here in Lakewood. If I’ve Internet-sleuthed correctly, I used to live practically next to it. I don’t think I recall anything spooky happening over there, but…
The Ice Trilogy, by Vladimir Sorokin
After Malice and Roseneath I felt lost, like I hadn’t completely shaken off the holiday brain fog. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t start anything long or overly conceptual, and so instead I picked up the Ice trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin, a 700 page omnibus about ethereal space beings made of light.
I thought for sure I’d bug out after I finished the first book, Bro, but I’m hooked, and I’m already into the second book, Ice. It’s not breezy, but it is smooth. More when I finish.
Weekly issues: too much? It’s my optimistic goal, but I’m sure I’ll fall behind, soon. Just to be safe I’ve already pre-drafted an August “Sorry it’s been three months” issue.
Did I mention all those fantasy books on my shelf are book ones? As in, “this is book one of a nice, polite duology,” or, “this is book one of a series so long you could read it forever, also you’re a dork now.” Fantasy’s made my TBR pile go fractal.
Essa Hansen is awesome. She’s launching her writing career with her Graven series, which I’m enjoying. Her day job is as a sound designer. She’s one of the people responsible for the sounds of Doctor Strange’s cape. Coolest day job ever? She’s been on a bunch of podcasts and it’s fun to listen to her talk about this stuff.
I really do want to read In Search of Lost Time straight through. Some day. I’ve read the first book three times, but haven’t had the momentum past that. I read it out loud to my younger son when he was a baby. He shows no recognizable predilection for madelines, though he is a little wordy for a toddler. I’d have maybe read the whole series to him if he hadn’t learned how to roll away from me.
It’s been nine years since Thomas Pynchon published his most recent novel, and it was nine years between the releases of Mason & Dixon and Against the Day, and Against the Day is magical, and maybe if I just put these facts out into the universe, I’ll get the Against 2 Days sequel in 2022 that I deserve. Hey Tom: free title!
If you’re looking for horror, a lot of horror is coming out in 2022. Obviously, the list includes Stephen King. It’s called Fairy Tale. From the capsule description I thought it might be a follow-up to The Talisman, which I’d drop everything for. But I don’t think it’s that. I’m still intrigued and might give it a shot. King’s like an old friend I like to drop in on now and then, just to see how he’s doing.
I don’t need to own a second copy of Ulysses. What I need to do is re-read the copy of Ulysses I already own and maybe actually try to understand it. That said, if I did need to own a second copy of Ulysses, this would be the one I’d need to own.
Like I said last week, Richard Linklater. Over the last month or so, E. and I have been working through the Before trilogy and if you need my hot take about critically acclaimed, decades-old cinema: it’s exquisite and I’m entranced. For a movie with no spaceships or fight sequences, they’re pretty rad.
As for television, we’re slowly working through both Watchmen, on HBO, and Tales from the Loop, on Amazon. Watchmen is interesting, though all the mask talk from a doubly alternate 2019 is disorienting. Tales from the Loop might be a masterpiece but it’s come perilously close to making me feel feelings so I’ve been micro-dosing it.
The album Animal by Lump is stuck in my head. I already liked Laura Marling’s folksy solo work, so no surprise I like her husband-and-wife goof-off synth-poppy side-project. Helpful hint: it’s on the uncool streaming service we probably all still use, but the Bandcamp version sequences it better. The ups and downs are more well-paced.
Also, MØ has a new album! Surprise! That just came out Friday. She’s fun. Some of it just barely crosses the pop-cheese line for me, but I’m glad to know she’s out there, doing her thing.