Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chapter Update and 2010 in Books

I haven't fallen off the earth and I haven't failed. However, reporting on a chapter-a-day has been slightly complicated by the fact that I'm not writing completely from scratch but weaving a new storyline into an already solid two hundred pages.

As of today, I have completed chapters 6 and 7 to my temporary satisfaction (read as: they will do for a first draft) and I need to write one new scene before chapter 8 is completed. At that point, I will be halfway through this revision at about 170 pages. I'm aiming to finish by February 15th.

And I know it's very bad form to praise one's own work, but this has always been my favorite book. I remember writing it in 2004 and thinking, "This is going to be the book that sells." Here's hoping that stays true--although if anyone would like to buy SORROWS before this one is ready, I will not refuse.

(By the way, if I'm sounding awfully British at the moment, it's because I just came from seeing. THE KING'S SPEECH. Loved it, and not just because of Colin Firth.)

I know this is not a logical pairing of subjects, but I have got to write up my report on books read in 2010 before my conscience drives me mad. (Oh dear, I really am sounding a lot like Helena Bonham Carter--try not to hold it against me!)

Statistics for 2010 Books

Total books read: 98 (I've already discussed the shameful fact that this is well below 2009's number of 120. I have neither excuse nor explanation.)

Non-fiction: 22

Historical: 23

Young Adult: 17

Fantasy: 13

Mystery: 39

From this I conclude that some day very soon, I'm going to have to return to learning to write a mystery novel. Clearly it is my favorite genre year in and year out. I've been wondering why this is and think I might have an answer.

Mystery novels--at least the sort I love--allow me to understand the desires and motives and temptations and heartaches and pain of all kinds of people. My favorite authors--such as P.D. James, Louise Penny, Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, Elizabeth George, and Deborah Crombie--write from multiple points of view--murderer to detective and everyone in between--and they do so with skill and empathy. There is evil in their worlds, but it is not black and white and easily discerned. The good are never perfect and the truth is never simple. And in the end, I almost always can say of the killer: "I find it in my heart to be sorry for you, too."

I don't know what someone else would decide that says about me. My own opinion is that my everyday world is also not black and white, all good or all bad, happiness or pain, goodness or evil. My world is complicated--and acknowledging the humanity of the sinner and recognizing their pain does not diminish my appreciation for goodness and truth. It enhances it. No one is born solely to kill--and I like to read writers and stories that believe the same and wish to understand why.

Off my high horse, now--to give you my favorite books of 2010.

1. MISTBORN (Brandon Sanderson): I include all three books in the trilogy, but MISTBORN was my favorite. Meeting Vin and Kelsier and Elend and diving into the world of mistcloaks and tyrant overlords was like finding the Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager. And though not a mystery, Sanderson is a master of complicated worlds with no easy answers.

2. SHUTTER ISLAND (Dennis Lehane): This is a mystery and it is outstanding. The detective at the heart of this period-piece set on an island for the insane is one of the most amazing characters I've ever come across. I picked it up for the thriller aspects--but it stayed with me for its emotional depth.

3. WINTERGIRLS (Laurie Halse Anderson): I liked this even better than Anderson's famous SPEAK. The story of a teen girl caught in the mental and physical destruction of an eating disorder will tear at anyone's heart, but also offers hope.

4. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lionel Shriver): This single book could be the definition of what I wrote above about complicated worlds and sometimes unanswerable questions. It is perhaps the most wrenchingly difficult book I've ever read, but I needed it and it is on my list of books never-to-be-given-away. Written from the point of a view of a mother whose son murdered high school classmates, as she tries to unravel what went wrong and when.

5. AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE (Lucy Grealy): The memoir of a childhood cancer survivor who became a brilliant poet rang through me for obvious reasons.

6. BURY YOUR DEAD (Louise Penny): Penny has created one of my favorite detectives of all time, Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete. This book--#6 in the series--is all Gamache and Penny is a master at showing a damaged soul healing. Do yourself a favor--begin at the beginning, with STILL LIFE, and read them all.

Of course, now I'm a little worried that everyone's going to think I respond only to the dark and twisted. Don't get me wrong--I most certainly do--but I promise I'm not really a tortured soul. And there were other books I loved this year besides just the 'tragic and inevitable death' sort. How about my favorite in each category above (not repeating the six I've already listed):

Non-fiction: A WEEK AT THE AIRPORT (Alain de Boton) The writer was hired by Heathrow Airport to be a 'writer-in-residence' for one week in its new terminal. His stories are funny, philosophical, and recognizable. And I will never again go through security without wondering if I might have accidentally left any bomb-making material in my carry-on luggage.

Historical: CHILD 44 (Tom Rob Smith) Absolutely, terrifyingly good portrait of life in Soviet Russia at the end of Stalin's reign. Secret police, murdered children, and a man who wants to do what is right--without being killed for it.

Young Adult: CLOCKWORK ANGEL (Cassandra Clare) I'm cheating slightly here, because I would also list Clare's earlier books here as well (CITY OF BONES, CITY OF ASHES, CITY OF GLASS). But CLOCKWORK ANGEL was the one that introduced me to Clare and her world of Shadowhunters, demons, and adolescent love that rings right off the page. Between Jace and Will (if I were 17 again)? Don't make me choose :)

Fantasy: DOOMSDAY BOOK (Connie Willis) Reviewed last week in the post Three A+ Books.

Mystery: FAITHFUL PLACE (Tana French) French continues to deliver the most astounding and unexpected stories set in a common world (Dublin police) but taking a new, often secondary, character from one novel and building a compelling story for them. I start each new book thinking I won't like it as much because it doesn't have such-and-such character, but I finish a little stunned at what French has done to me.

And that is that--I will try to watch something very American before the next time I post.

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