It is not possible for any one person (or, I would posit, a whole group of people) to determine what is the best book. Even if the sample is trimmed down to books published in a given year etc. There are just too many opinions and too many books. No matter how many books I read I cannot read them all. Therefore I am incapable of determining what the best book is. I can, however, determine which books I read this year that I liked the most.
Mostly what I’m saying with this list is that these are the books that I still think about even though it has been months since I read them. They stick with me. I’m leaving The Hobbit out of this discussion as I don’t really know how to place it. I’ve read it so many times that I can quote large parts of it. I think about it on a daily basis, though not nearly as much nor as often as I do its sequel trilogy. Tolkien’s work just doesn’t fit into this kind of qualitative analysis for me. I do think that there are better books than The Hobbit but it’s impossible for me to look at it and admit that any book in particular is actually better. Tolkien’s writings of Middle Earth are so tied together in my mind that I can’t look at them objectively. I’m pretty sure that everybody has these same kinds of blind spots in their own tastes and opinions. There are some things that we just can’t step back from. It’s part of who we are.
That said the books that I liked the most this year – excluding The Hobbit – are:
1. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
2. An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
3. Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson
4. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
5. A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
6. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan
7. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
There was a great deal of books that I liked this year but I think I need to stop there. After that it becomes difficult to separate the books into rankings. There are simply the ones that I liked and the ones that I didn’t like and the ones that I felt completely dispassionate about (though that happens infrequently – I usually either like or dislike a book, sometimes I hate or love a book, I rarely feel lackadaisical about my reading).
Since I listed the books that I loved the most this year I figured I should list the books that I hated as well – thankfully a shorter list.
1. Last Letters from Hav by Jan Morris
2. Star Wars: Omen by Christie Golden
3. Star Wars: Outcast by Aaron Allston
4. 7th Son: Destruction by J. C. Hutchins
5. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
I thought it was strange that two of the books I hated this year were Star Wars books. The Star Wars book franchise has been a shaky source of good literature for a long time. For every Timothy Zahn, Karen Traviss or Matthew Stover there is a Barbary Hambly, Vonda N. McIntyre, Christie Golden and Elaine Cunningham (I just realized that all the bad ones are female writers. Interestingly every one of them writes very good science fiction but horrible Star Wars). Throw in the decidedly mediocre writers like Kevin J. Anderson and (recently) Aaron Allston and Troy Denning and it becomes a mixed lot. When you get one of the good ones they write some of the best fiction available. Those are sadly outnumbered by horrible hack-jobs, however. In the past, for some reason I overlooked this and didn’t really care, devouring every Star Wars book that came along. After reading Omen by Christie Golden I have not read another Star Wars book. I just can’t bring myself to waste my time on it anymore. I think I will probably read some more of them some day, I’m not completely giving up hope. I just feel like even the good ones have become diluted by corporate policy to the point that they just aren’t worth the effort of seeking out any more.
Last Letters from Hav was just simply the most pointless book I have ever encountered. It served no purpose and may have created the most torturous day of my life. Dan Brown is actually so bad that he’s amusing to read in a “Surf Ninjas” kind of way.
For 2011 I hope to read more books, take more pictures and write another book – hopefully better than the last one. (I also plan to, finally, graduate from college and start my graduate degree but that one’s likely to happen regardless).