2009 wasn't my best reading year ever. While I didn't keep a tally, I think I finished fewer books than normal, quite possibly falling short of 100. Partly that's because I was busy with work and writing, but I also started more than my share of books that I couldn't bring myself to finish. I've become entirely too picky. If there's a historical error, a cliched plot device or character, or more than a handful of awkward phrases in the opening chapter, that's it.
So one of my resolutions for the new year is to try to offer other authors the same grace I hope to be granted once I'm finally published. I'm not going to read a book that bores or offends me, or one whose flaws outweigh its virtues. Life is too short to read bad books. But during that all-important opening chapter, I'm going to look for reasons to keep reading a book rather than reasons to cast it aside.
That said, here are my ten favorites of the books I finished last year, listed in reverse order of completion.
1. Carbonel: the King of the Cats (Barbara Sleigh, 1955). One of many children's books I never read as a child, since I skipped straight to the adult section of the library when I was 9 or 10. Set in post-WWII England and stylistically reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia.
2. Refuse to Choose (Barbara Sher, 2007). Self-help for people with too many interests to focus on just one.
3. An Echo in the Bone (Diana Gabaldon, 2009). Being the further adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser in the American Revolution. What's not to love?
4. The Unlikely Disciple (Kevin Roose, 2009). A Brown student spends a semester at Liberty University. My favorite of the half dozen or so outsider accounts of the evangelical subculture I've read over the past few years.
5. Naamah's Kiss (Jacqueline Carey, 2009). First book in a new sexy epic fantasy trilogy set in the same world as Carey's two Kushiel trilogies.
6. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman, 2008). Just a beautifully written and moving single-volume fantasy.
7. Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Kathryn Joyce, 2009). I write alternative history, and the quiverfull movement feels like MY alternative history, since 15 or 20 years ago some of the people I was around preached male headship in the church and marriage, eschewal of birth control, etc. I never liked the ideas, but some of them made a semi-convincing case it was what God wanted for us...so the part of me that believes in parallel universes wonders if somewhere out there there's a version of me in a patriarchal marriage raising a brood of 10 or 12 children. So I've developed a strange fascination with the life I might've lived if I'd made different choices. This book is a good intro to the movement.
8. Wellington: Pillar of State (Elizabeth Longford, 1972). Longford's is the best Wellington biography out there, IMO. This is the second volume, recounting the Great Duke's post-Waterloo life and work, and while Wellington the politician is much less appealing to me than Wellington the commander, this is still a lovely biography...and a useful reminder in an overly politicized world that those with whom I disagree can still be honorable, well-meaning, and decent individuals.
9. The Sharing Knife: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2009). Final volume in a thoroughly delightful romantic fantasy series. Maybe 2010 will be the year I finally try the Vorkosigan books.
10. Forever Princess (Meg Cabot, 2009). OK, I admit it. I love the Princess Diaries series. Pure well-executed fun.