The 2013 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
Last year’s advent calender included my all-time favourite books, but that year I’d hardly read any new books at all. An English Literature degree had effectively driven the joy of actually reading out of me, and it took a few years for the desire to voraciously devour books like I did when I was young to come back. In 2012 I’d started to get back into it, but in 2013 I’ve read more books in one year than I have since I was 16.
So given that it was a year of books, the first advent calender of the year is open to reveal my favourites of 2013. [Caveat: these are not in order, or should be interpreted as such]
A boy commits suicide in a wintry sea, and wakes up on the suburban pavement of his childhood home–alone, in an abandoned town.
It’s the kind of YA that shows exactly why YA might well be the wildwood from which the smartest, darkest stories are coming from these days. It’s an exercise in pitch-perfect balance between suspense, existentialism, multiple possible explanations for the situation and a compelling (gay, as it happens, though it’s not sledgehammered) past romance that propels the whole story along. All that, and a bitch of a hangover. Superb.
I’ve loved steampunk for years, and this great novel takes all the tropes, iconography and atmosphere of steampunk and fog-ensnared Victoriana, chewed it up in clockwork jaws and spat them out in a breakneck, happily ridiculous penny dreadful fantasy. There’s a hearty handful of turn-of-the-century figures, both fictional and historical, all cheerfully hobnobbing and it’s pretty much just a rip-roaring chunk of Stoker-meets-Indiana-Jones adventure.
Plus, it’s bloody great to get back to reading something that’s just plain *fun*.
I was going through my Amazon wishlist recently and discovered that I’d put One For Sorrow on it years ago, before I really knew anything about the writer. I’ve since come across him by way of Lethe Press’s various publications, and his short story collection Before and Afterlives.
One For Sorrow was something of a revelation because it was the book I really wanted to read when I read The Lovely Bones (although I still love that novel too.) It’s also something in the line of the book I wanted to write when I first began the first chapter in university.
The plot is relatively straightforward: our narrator starts to see the ghost of Jamie Marks, a murdered boy–who is also gay, although, like More This, it’s not sledgehammered. He becomes involved in a close friendship which draws him into Jamie’s insubstantial world of half-death and shadow. It succeeds on its atmosphere: in the end, this was what being a gay teenager felt like, as if you were on the edge of a beautiful wilderness of monsters made out of secrets that you were about to slip into. That’s One For Sorrow. Fantastic book.
Tom Cardamone may have just overtaken Glen Duncan’s position in my role-call of writer worship. There are similarities: savage, frank and sexually charged, and capable of crafting the sort of sentence that cuts straight through you to a private moment of recognition. Duncan focusses his style into the seedier edges of the real world, but Cardamone fuses it with queer, weird fantasy and–nearly a year on from reading it, with enough distance and time to say this pretty confidently–it’s probably the best short story collection I’ve ever read.
(Mind you, the other Duncan–Hal Duncan–has his Scruffians anthology soon. I’ve read some of it. The crown may shortly be taken.)
Yes, I know I said it wasn’t in any order. But, no two ways about it, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is by a country mile my favourite book of the year.
It’s helped by my reading experience: a trip to London to see Gaiman in conversation on stage, picking up a ragtag bunch of fans along the way to while away the evening, and reading my signed copy in a series of sunny parks across the city.
That aside, it’s a super book. The unnamed narrator, as a boy, lives at the next farm to a trio of mysterious women who may or may not be witches. Encountering a primal monster in the wild wood, shortly thereafter Ursula Monkton appears at their door to become his nanny. As a villainess she’s a black-hearted Mary Poppins that is implacably scary in the kind of uncomfortable way that threads all the way back to childhood. Which is what the novel does so well: it’s an elegant evocation of being a child, fired by imagination and finding fear in the kind of places we forget as adults. Which is the novel’s triumph, with one foot on either side of that narrow but deep abyss between being a ‘grown-up’ and being that child in a bedroom somewhere, devouring books.
I cannot recommend highly enough.
Also rans: Paperboy and Every Day were a pair of fantastic books I read this year, narrowly squeaked out by the slew of great novels I’ve read in the last few months. Queers Dig Time Lords and Wilde Stories 2013 are both only absent from this list because they will feature later in the advent calender.