1. The Annotated Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman & Leslie Klinger
If you have never read this series, go read it now.If you have read it and did not like it, get off my blog. If you have read it and liked/loved it with various levels of passion, let’s get married and make a career out of stalking Neil Gaiman.
2. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Loki is a fox (literally). Need I say more? Go read it.
3. A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipul
A sprawling story of one man’s struggle to achieve some sort of identity he be can proud of. Mr Biswas is constantly fighting an inherent alienation which keeps him from ever really finding a ‘self’ he can truly feel at home in. A social/cultural commentary that succeeds marvelously without ever sounding preachy. I have a weak spot for post-colonial world literature, and this is just a great example of the genre.
4. Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
A fragmented look at one person’s life through the perspective of the various individuals that cross paths with him over the years. Jacob’s own thoughts serve as an isolated, subjective centerpiece to the novel, which is then dissected and analyzed using the varied perspectives of the people in his life. This is established through the use of brief, momentary insights interspersed among drawn-out internal soliloquies. A very interesting early novel.
5. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This was heartbreaking and beautiful. One of the most touching books I have ever read, but interestingly enough, it didn’t reveal its impact on my mind until I had finished it. Its symbolism is straightforward yet enigmatic, and the way it tries to explain death and loss existing alongside life, is just incredibly well done. I see Naoko as the bird, a metaphor for the transient soul, the unknown, the unknowable, associated with the realm of death; and Midori as the tree, the greenness of the forest offering stability, support, growth, and life. And walking the borderland between the two, unable to decide which one to choose is Toru, symbolic of the human condition for me at least, trying to understand the co-existence of life and death following his best friend’s unexplained suicide. One of the best novels I have read in recent years.
6. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
I found parts of it to be beautiful and heartbreaking. There was unexpected humor here as well. This is a disjointed story, wandering through unknown places, impossible places, and cursed places. Do not be misled by the name, because this is definitely not a children’s book.
7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s first novel (I might be mistaken, but I think this was his first proper novel) is also his most captivating. It does not wholly embrace the fantasy world of London Below as an unquestionable part of a fantastical reality, and there is always a question of how real it is in objective terms. Instead it asks us to choose, like its protagonist Richard Mayhew, between the mundane safety of an average life, or the world below us, always waiting, full of everything that is extraordinary.
8. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
I love trickster gods from every folklore that has one (and that I know of, which isn’t as much as I’d ideally like to), and Anansi has the best stories. Gaiman weaves a wonderfully humorous and touching tale about magic, love, family, and the way stories intersect with life. The passages dealing directly with myths are especially breathtakingly beautiful.
9. The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin
The location and time of this very small, yet very rich, story are both indeterminate, but it is set in the Ice and Fire universe of Martin’s proclaimed fantasy series. It centers on Adara, a winter child, who befriends an ice dragon, has an adventure, and learns to warm her heart to love through great sacrifice and tragedy. At around 100 illustrated pages, it’s a very quick read, and absolutely recommended to all fans of Martin’s work.
10-13. A Song of Ice and Fire (books 1-4 re-read project) by George R.R. Martin
So I stopped after AFfC because ADwD is still fresh in my mind, and I will save it for a rainy day. And I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but AFfc is definitely my favorite book, as a whole, because even though a lot of my favorite POV’s are missing from it, the way it examines how Westeros has been ravaged by the war for the Iron Throne is just beautifully done. Also, re-reading the Red Wedding was not as bad as Tyrion’s trial which always gets to me in a way that no episode of externalized violence in this series is capable of.
14. The Berlin Novels(Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Goodbye to Berlin) by Christopher Isherwood
Isherwood’s style is starkly magnificent, blending dark humor with the deepest human tragedies. His view of Berlin and its people just before the rise of the Nazis is merciless in its realism, but at the same time, it is colored with an unconditional love for the various people he meets, belonging to all sorts of different social cliques in Berlin. Though his sympathies lie distinctly with the marginalized classes, Isherwood does not shirk from portraying his characters with an objective accuracy. And yet, his love for them is infectious, and they stay with one long after the last page has been read, and the book re-shelved.
15. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I seem to be reading a lot of Gaiman novels this year. The reason is obvious though, isn’t it? They’re all brilliant and he’s a one-of-a-kind fantasy novelist, and an incredible storyteller. Coraline and I have crossed paths several times over the last 5 or so years, but I had never been able to read it fully until now. And now that I have, it will always be there with me, lurking in the shadows, following me up darkened flights of creaking stairs, behind the dull surfaces of old mirrors, in dark basements, and in the rustle of tree branches on windy full moon nights.
16. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
I am undecided as to whether I like this one or not. While I was drawn into the story, and finished it rather quickly (and it’s a big book. at 800 or so pages), I didn’t feel moved or attached to it. It weaves an intricate web, and addresses many ‘important issues about women’, but its symbols/metaphors have all the subtlety of a blunt axe shoved up your butt, and so much of it ends up feeling like an after-school special that I couldn’t take it seriously. For all that, it’s still fairly well-written for a casual read, and an interesting piece of pseudo-historical fiction, though not something I would re-read.
17. V. by Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon’s first novel is completely beyond any tangible deconstruction as far as I’m concerned. It is basically a postmodern epic, sprawling and splendid. There is a strange continuity running between its lines, but it is very hard to put a finger on it. There are parts of it that I can (and have) read over and over again, cry over the sheer beauty of the way Pynchon puts words together, but still not be able to say precisely what he means. It has as many interpretations as the people who read it, and therein lies its beauty.
18. Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund
An interesting look at the personal life of Marie Antoinette from her marriage to the Dauphin of France until her beheading during the French Revolution. It combines a first-person unreliable narrator with epistolary fragments from history, creating an account of her which is sympathetic and somewhat touching. However, the first person narration is a bit too restrained, more like a formal journal than the inner monologue of one of the most intriguing figures from history. A good read nonetheless.
19. The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
I am absolutely in love with Ondaatje’s prose style. Hell, I even picked to attend University College at U of T because he had graduated from the same, and I was an aspiring novelist at the time. This new novel is not of the same caliber as his earlier work, but was still an excellent read. A sort of bildungsroman and a travelogue rolled up into a delicious whole, it deals with marginalized communities and people in such a subtle and lyrical manner that by the time it reaches the end, you don’t even realize how it has managed to rip your heart to pieces along the way.
20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
I think this novel establishes without a doubt that Woolf is my favorite writer of all time. The way this tongue-in-cheek, pseudo-biographical, bitingly feminist tribute to Vita Sackville-West (with whom Woolf had a brief and very intellectually productive affair) unfolds had me mesmerized and awestruck. No words from me could do it justice. So go find yourself a copy and read it.
21. The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo
I bought this for a fashionista friend’s birthday, and thanks to Amazon’s timely delivery, had time to read it before I wrapped it up in some pretty paper and handed it over. Shameless of me, yes I know. I have to say I did not expect this to be something I would find even remotely interesting, but it turned out to be a fun and quick study. It is not the best biography, but as the title suggests it is not aiming to be such anyway, which makes its foibles easy to forgive. I found its charming little factoids about the people in Chanel’s life intriguing and learned about some very interesting people, such as Misia Sert and that Elsa Schiaparelli was definitely the original hipster (with a little help from Dali, of course). As far as being an adequate summation of Chanel’s life, it falls very much short, but like I said before, it’s not trying to be anything but a charming little book, which is neither time-consuming, nor does it spoil its naive superficiality by trying to take itself too seriously.
22. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
This book is as sharp, bold, and enjoyable as its devious little heroine’s favorite breakfast: coffee and oranges. It does not make excuses for its amoral protagonist, and paints an insightful and precise picture of the libertine life. The language is straightforward and the sense of ennui permeating its pages is catching. I found myself longing for a timeless summer by the sea with nothing to do or think about.
23. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
This is a perfect book. Valente’s narrative style runs parallel to Gaiman’s in many ways, and if I were to swear by another name than his in modern fantasy literature, it would be Valente. This book is what was lingering in the back of my head while I raced through Greek myths and the Narnia stories during my childhood without fully understanding them. This story is the parallel universe my soul inhabits while I drudge about my mundane workaday life. This tells of the adventures Lucy Pevensie would have had, had she gone to Narnia without any siblings in tow, or an overbearing religious metaphor disguised thinly as a dull old lion for a mentor. & at the same time, somehow, this is also the story of the White Witch. Find it, read it, dream it, cherish it.
24. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland & Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
A worthy sequel to a brilliantly original take on little girls lost in fantasy worlds. The second narrative plays with the myth of Persephone and the duality of light and dark quite successfully. It is sadder, darker, and the story a fumbles a little trying to find its way in Fairyland Below. But a must-read nonetheless.