In 2016, I turned the big 3-0. Milestone birthdays don’t usually have much of an impact on me, but 30 felt different. How weird it felt to be able to say “I’m in my thirties”! Big birthdays tend to be a time for reflecting on what you’ve accomplished so far and since this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic is a Throwback Freebie, I’ve chosen to list a favourite Book For Each Year Of My Twenties.
Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.
2006 (Age 20): Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
One of my favourite undergrad classes was Science Fiction & Fantasy. A chance to read sci-fi and fantasy lit and write about it for credit? Sign me up! The class had a fabulous professor (who did the gollum voice when he read aloud from Lord of the Rings!) and there were some great books on the reading list, including my introduction to Neil Gaiman’s works, Neverwhere. Even before I visited the city of London, I was charmed by Neverwhere. I love the idea of a London beneath that involves the subway system and found the story imaginative and whimsical. I loved every word of Neverwhere.
2007 (Age 21): Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan (Marvel)
In 2007, I walked into the local comic book store with one purpose: to purchase the first issue of the Buffy season eight, a canonical continuation of my favourite television show in comic book form. Joss Whedon had also just taken over writing for a book called Runaways, so I picked up his first issue as well as a digest version of the first several issues of the series. I continued to read the Buffy comics for awhile, but it was Runaways that had captured my heart. I devoured the rest of the series and impatiently awaited new issues. I fell in love with the diverse cast of characters that includes an African-American genius, a Japanese-American witch, a mutant pre-teen, a gay alien, a mutant, and an overweight sarcastic teenager telepathically linked to a genetically engineered dinosaur. The dialogue is snappy and filled with pop culture references, and I loved the concept – that a group of teenagers finds out their parents are actually evil supervillains and teams up to stop them. When the series was indefinitely placed on hiatus I was devastated. This fall Rainbow Rowell is writing a new set of stories about the characters I so love and a Runaways TV series is debuting on Hulu in November, so I can’t wait for more people to discover this series I love so much!
2008 (Age 22): Watchmen by Alan Moore (DC)
Confession time: I could not for the life of me figure out what I read in 2008! My goodreads account only dates to 2009, as does my current e-mail address, and I don’t keep a diary or any kind of hard copy record of what I’ve read. 2008 marked my last year of university, so I wasn’t reading much for pleasure and no course books jumped out at me. In desperation I ended up sifting through my (dozens of) Facebook statuses and posts from 2008 for clues! Despite the various cringeworthy statuses (“likes danishes” really ca. 2008 me?!) in the end I found what I was looking for, 2008 was the year I read Watchmen. Published by DC, the graphic novel is set an an alternate 1980s where the presence of superheroes has dramatically affected and altered the outcome of real world events, including the Vietnam War. Watchmen is a masterpiece of the comic medium. Grim and realistic, it features characters from the relatable Dan Dreiberg to the superhuman tall and blue Doctor Manhattan, and the end packs a punch I never saw coming.
2009 (Age 23): The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
One of the great things about working at Chapters, the major chain of Canadian bookstores, was meeting people who felt the same way as I did about books. Two of my fellow employees were also fans of fantasy fiction, and when the store wasn’t too busy and we were working at the same time, we held an impromptu fantasy book club, discussing which novels we had recently finished and loved. The Name of the Wind was one such book, read and loved by one of my co-workers and enthusiastically recommended to the rest of us. Sure enough, I fell in love with this book. I’m not sure what 31-year-old me would think of The Name of the Wind. I’ve read more widely now than I had at age 23, and even at the time I recognized some issues with the way female characters were written. But either way the prose is gorgeous and lyrical, the dialogue at times witty, there’s a clear love of literature and libraries here, and I love the description of the magic system. Despite its faults, this is a book worth reading.
2010 (Age 24): 1916 by Morgan Llewelyn
During university, one of my favourite courses was Irish History. I loved learning about the tumultuous and fascinating events that shaped the country, and eagerly sought out more. In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit Ireland, and spent about five weeks traveling around the country, so it’s only natural that I found Morgan Llewelyn’s Irish Century series of historical fiction novels. 1916, the first novel in the set, starts shortly after the sinking of the Titanic and covers the events of the Easter Rising, an armed rebellion in Dublin aimed at ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an independent Irish Republic. What I love so much about the novels is that although they are fictionalized accounts, told from the perspective of a fictional main character, the books are incredibly well-researched and include historical figures who actually existed. If you’re looking to learn more about Irish history and enjoy historical fiction that gets the details right, this series is for you! By nature I’m more interested in the Easter Rising, the Civil War, and earlier Irish history so I found the first two books in the series held more interest for me than the later volumes (1949, 1972, 1999) but they’re all worth reading.
2011 (Age 25): Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
I’ve talked a lot about Les Miserables on this blog, including in last week’s Top Ten Tuesday, where I named it one of my Top Ten Books That Are Worth The Work, and here’s where it began. I’ve been a fan of the musical adaptation of Les Miserables since I was a little girl, but it wasn’t until age 25 where I read the unabridged novel (I had read a heavily abridged edition in high school). It was definitely a “project book” where I set a number of pages I would read a day and worked through it, but I also loved reading this book. Sure Hugo could have used an editor, but much of the prose is beautiful, the characters are sympathetic and engaging, and the events of the novel interesting enough to keep the plot moving. I conveniently timed this read so I finished Les Miserables in the Spring. That summer I went to see the musical in London and had my copy of the Brick signed by the actor playing the role of Valjean, who is still my favourite performer that I’ve seen in the role. My signed book remains a treasure on my shelf, and I’ve now also had it signed by many members of the Canadian cast of the musical.
2012 (Age 26): The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
Probably the only book I’ve talked about as much as, or more than, Les Miserables is The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. The first in her six-book historical fiction epic The Lymond Chronicles sees Francis Crawford of Lymond returning (illegally) to his native Scotland. Upon his return, Lymond promptly flirts with his new sister-in-law, steals his mother’s jewels, gets a pig drunk, and sets his brother’s castle on fire… all in the first chapter! The series is dense, but the pay off is huge. Few things that come close to having the impact that Lymond has had on me. When I finished reading the series for the first time (in May or June 2013), the only way I could get rid of the book hangover was to re-read the entire series! I’ve managed to stay away for awhile now (this series is so addictive!!) but I’m planning on doing a re-read next year, so look forward to my nearly incoherent thoughts on that early next year!
2013 (Age 27): The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
As a former “Horse Girl” it was preordained that I would fall for Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I love everything about this series, from the atmospheric writing and the fictional rural British Isles-inspired setting, to the characters and the details of life on the island. I especially love that the horses themselves have personality and are as much characters in the book as the human figures. The idea of the dangerous but beautiful water horses and a high-stakes race immediately grabbed me, and I thought the stakes were raised enough for both of the main characters that I was tense and worried throughout about the outcome. This is one book that I will be re-reading for the rest of my life and I encourage any other horse girls, present or former, to do the same.
2014 (Age 28): Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
I have a strong suspicion that I picked this up because the author, Ellen Kushner, is an open admirer of Dorothy Dunnett’s work. I’m glad I did though, because Swordspoint is a wonderful novel. While it’s a sad commentary on the state of the SFF genre a few years ago, I remember reading about the student, Alec, and the swordsman Richard, and thinking through the first several pages that although it was not explicitly stated, it felt like there was a romantic relationship between these men. I was so conditioned by how rarely this occurs in mainstream literature that even though the dialogue and their interactions made me think the men were together, I didn’t fully believe it until the connection was more explicitly demonstrated. Fortunately even in the last few years I think the genre has made progress towards diversity, but Swordspoint, with its two male bisexual protagonists, is still a wonderful example in the genre. I ADORE Richard and Alec, they are an otp of mine for the ages, and Kushner creates an interesting world of manners and politics for them to inhabit.
2014 was a fabulous year of reading for me, and there were a few choices I considered for my book of the year. Ultimately I went with Swordspoint not because I liked it more, but because I wanted some variety for my list and didn’t want to put the same author for two years in a row. I loved Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series (which I read in 2014 for the first time), but I was also taken with The Goblin Emperor, a novel published under the pen name of Katherine Addison. The Goblin Emperor is unlike anything I have ever read before. A suspicious accident leaves Maia, the half-goblin youngest son who has been exiled from the court for most of his life, the rightful heir to the throne. Isolated and abused for most of his life, it would be so easy for this to be a story about getting revenge for those years. It would be easy to make Maia an anti-hero or an hier who instinctively knows what to do. Instead The Goblin Emperor is about a young man who is just trying to do the right thing. Lonely Maia tries to make friends with his staff, he listens to the desires of his subjects, he tries to understand the baffling political machinations of the court. Faced with an opportunity to take revenge, he forgives. I love an anti-hero as much as the next person, but it was so refreshing to read about someone who is just nice. The world building is also excellent and the book wholly unlike anything I have ever read, but it’s the characters and the kindness that make this a book I will thrust into just about anyone’s hands.
Have you read any of these? Let me know what you think of my choices in the comments!