Time for me to figure out the best of the books I read in the past year. Goodreads tells me that I read just about 180 books this year (at least, it says 179, but I know I can finish one in the next couple of days!). I looked over my list, and I read a lot of good stuff this year, but not many things stand out to me as fabulous, memorable reads that I was really thrilled about -- just one or two, which you'll find at the end of the post. Still, there was plenty of good material, and here are my favorites:
Miss Mackenzie, by Anthony Trollope: Miss Mackenzie is not your average novelistic heroine. She is thirty-five, not particularly beautiful or educated... I love Trollope, and this novel did not disappoint.
Jim Henson, the Biography, by Brian Jay Jones: Henson did a lot of inventing all the time, right from the beginning, and developed lots of things that became television standards -- or stretched the boundaries so far that they didn't quite work yet. He was forever seeing possibilities that wouldn't really be feasible for years.... What a nice biography of a wonderful genius of a man.
Towers in the Mist, by Elizabeth Goudge: The house is almost as much a character as the rest of the family, and apparently it was Goudge's actual home while her father worked at Oxford. She seems to have populated her lonely house with plenty of company! ...I think this might be the story where Goudge allows herself to have the most fun in an adult novel. An enchanting historical novel.
The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy, by Daniel Kalder: a tour of the terrible, awful literary productions of 20th century dictators, from Lenin on down. The material is no fun, but he helps the reader survive with a large dose of wit... This one was pretty irresistible.
The Dawning, by Milka Bajic-Poderegin: ...Poderegin shows a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in which people mostly get along most of the time. There is some strife, especially when conditions are uncertain, and everybody has their flaws, but there is a quiet insistence that it's better to be courteous, friendly, and to live together under the conditions that nobody around here created anyway... I loved this captivating novel about a historical period that we Westerners don't usually know anything about.
Constellation Myths, by Eratosthanes and Hyginus, with Aratus' Phaenomena: For the most part it was all seen as a fun game of appealing stories, and not as proper religious history.....And the stories are so old that not everything is quite as we now know it yet... I was so grateful for the chance to learn more about the origin of stories I've known all my life, but only in children's versions.
Dragon Ascending, by Amy Beatty: His plan was to find his long-missing king and rescue him. Instead, he's broken and imprisoned, and so are his friends -- except the one lying dead on the table, being dissected... This was my best new fantasy author of the year, and she has another book out now, Dancing With the Viper, that I'm looking forward to reading.
My two favorite books of the year are both non-fiction:
Danubia, by Simon Winder: From an American perspective, it's interesting and fun to read dubious legends about Magyar descent from the Huns. All too easily, however, all this folklore and poetry and longing for the beautiful motherland tips into ethnic rivalry and calls for national autonomy (and of course, the obligatory anti-Semitism). And incredibly soon, that turns into war, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.... Entertaining travel book, and thoughtful commentary on the dangers of nationalism; how can you lose?
Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys Into the Medieval World, by Christopher de Hamel: He's really trying to give the reader some impression of what it's really like to sit and study the actual manuscript, and in fact he often exhorts us to go out, find whatever old books are locally available, and figure out some reason to request a real viewing....there are loads of fascinating manuscripts around and we don't need to read about the same 8 books all the time. I absolutely loved this wonderful book.
I think 2018 was a pretty good year, reading-wise, even if real life was often pretty rough. Here's hoping that 2019 will bring more good books and better times for all, too.