Thursday, December 20, 2012

30 Reads: Ranking Every Book I Read This Year from Worst to Best

Last year, I struggled to name them all, but somehow came up with a ranked list of every movie I saw that was released in 2011.
This year, I decided to do that with every book I read (not including textbooks, obviously, though some novels I did read for English courses).

At the start of the year, I made a goal for myself to read 20 books this year. And somehow, some way, even with all the school work I had to do, I managed to read 30 in all! I know, I'm surprised too...

I definitely enjoyed certain books more than others, thus, my idea to rank all 30 from what I thought was the worst/least enjoyable, to the best/my favourite. Yes, this is definitely going to be quite subjective to my personal tastes, so feel free to disagree if you enjoyed something more or less than myself. If I have learnt anything from my pop-culture class this past semester, it's that sometimes people just can't find a connection to something in any way, and if you can't find that connecting point, you are not going to like something. Or you may find yourself enjoying something you never thought you would, because of some small resonance you find it in.

My list will also include an insanely brief synopsis of each book, as well as comments regarding what I liked or didn't like about them. How does that sound?
It sounds like a lot of writing to me, to be honest.
But without further ado, here are The 30 Books I Read This Year, Ranked From Worst to Best:

30. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – The last novel in the Hunger Games trilogy, dealing with the subsequent district rebellions after Katniss and Peeta’s second experience in the arena and by far the weakest of the series. When the strongest thing in your series is the strong female protagonist, it would be wise not to have her fall apart and be unconscious for 90% of the activity in the novel. I know the ending was supposed to be dramatic and heart wrenching, but it almost seemed overly theatrical, as well as a bit of a cop-out in terms of some of the decisions Katniss should have been forced to make (see above: action revolves around her but essentially without her involvement).

29. Straw House by Daniel Nayeri – A short novella focusing on a scarecrow who works on a family “toy farm,” which experiences an attack from outsiders. This just wasn’t really what I expected, and the whole toy farm idea struck me as a little juvenile for my sensibilities, though maybe I would have enjoyed it when I was younger.

28. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – About two different boys named Will Grayson who happen to meet by chance when dealing with different issues in their personal lives. The premise of this book really intrigued me, and both Will Graysons were very interesting characters that could have stories on their own, but once it all started to revolve around the character of Tiny, I wasn’t feeling it. The emotionality and long sprawling talks about relationships (especially in his autobiographical musical) came off as garish to me.

27. Mizora: A Prophecy by Mary E. Bradley Lane – An exiled Russian mother escapes to the Arctic where she eventually ends up in an all-female utopia in the centre of the earth. Compared to the other novels I read for school regarding another civilization in the centre of the earth, this one was the slowest and most unmoving for me. It’s hard for me to say why, I just felt like everything was too perfect, even if the protagonist missed the presence of man. This left everything feeling a bit anticlimactic and dull in the end.

26. Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbours by Hal Niedzviecki – An exploration into “peep culture” including reality television, online social networking, blogs, security, gossip, and all those other commonplace activities of contemporary society. It started out pretty strong but then just seemed to drag on and on, and the final sections lacked in feeling compared to the opening ones. He also seemed to want to grasp some overarching point or theory at the conclusion, but was unable to do so, leaving me feeling a bit unfilled after consuming the whole thing.

25. Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams – The third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, involving a plot to destroy the universe by a race called the Krikkit. I still enjoyed this book due to Adams’ hilarious writing style, but there was a lot of stuff in this one that didn’t seem to connect anywhere and it got a little jumbled compared to the other ones in the series (so far).

24. The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton – A man finds himself in the centre of the earth, only to discover an advanced race of beings, later fearing that this race will either come up and destroy his own, or it is what his will later become. While the different gender-constructions and societal structures were interesting, a lot of these hollow earth-theorizing tales don’t do much for me. Also the language was a bit garrulous for my tastes (which is saying something, considering my often wordy nature). I did, however, like the ambiguity of the end, theorizing that “the coming race” could either be an invading one, or an evolutionary one of humans, and the implications of both possibilities.

23. Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne – The classic tale of Phileas Fogg and his French assistant’s bet to complete a circuit around the world in 80 days. The characters were quite fun, as were the antics that led the troop to be held-up in various situations, however the long, tedious train and boat rides were a little tiresome after a while. Plus I already knew of what happened in the finale, so there was little suspense on my part.

22. On the Road by Jack Kerouac – What is told to be an iconic novel of the “beat” generation of the 1940s/1950s, and I just couldn’t make a connection with besides sadness at my lack of nostalgia for a time beyond my years that seemed so simple. The story is narrated by Sal Paradise during his journey’s back and forth across country, many of which involve his erratic friend Dean Moriarty. The whole “and then we drove here, and then we drove there, and then we stayed with these people, and then we went to visit these people” thing got tiring and dragged on for me way too much. Some points of the novel had insanely beautiful passages of language that I couldn’t help but swoon over, however it was still not enough to truly resonate with me. (I actually wrote another post on this when I first finished it, which can be found: Here!)

21. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – The second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, and overall, it’s quite good, once Katniss, Peeta, and other prior winners of the games are thrown back into the arena (or as I like to joke, “Hunger Games: All Stars!”). However compared to the first novel, it lacks a certain something. For instance, the whole idea of a “love triangle” with Katniss starts to remind you that she is still a teenager, which I sometimes forgot during the first novel due to her strong character. And when you are reminded of those teenage emotions, you are reminded of how annoying teenagers can be (I’m finding it harder and harder to relate, the older I get).

20. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams – The fourth novel of Douglas Adams’ series, which was quite enjoyable, but not as much as some of the others. This one featured a romance between Arthur Dent and a girl who could fly, who also remembers the earth being destroyed, even though nobody else seems to remember it. Their romance was very cute, and I was excited by the presence of the message left behind by the dolphins. Once it entered into a bit of a theological realm involving the trek to see God’s Final Message to His Creation, however, I started to wonder where the whole thing was going. Usually with these books I’d find myself just accepting whatever occurred, but this time there were a lot more perturbing questions and few answers, if any.

19. Paper Towns by John Green – After a night of debauchery, the girl-next-door goes missing and the protagonist who has fancied her all his life tries to search for her with the clues she left behind for him. I think I was expecting a little more from this after hearing so many positive reviews of it. While I adore John Green’s language and sprawling questions about life, especially with young people, I felt like the girl, Margot’s, erratic actions, decisions, and statements about the world her a bit tiring. Those crazy, whirlwind girls are starting to drain me. They are exhausting after a while and if not constructed right. Though John Green consistently does all of his characters justice, Margot fell a little bit short compared to many of his others.

18. Half World by Hiromi Goto – An adventure quest about a young girl, caught between the world of the living and the spirit world, known as “Half World,” in order to rescue her lost mother. The idea of the in-between world of reliving your biggest trauma before making it to the realm of the spirits was very interesting, as was some of the grotesque imagery used throughout the novel. The antagonist had an intriguing back-story, and the protagonist, Melanie, really held her own, but the whole thing felt a bit preachy at parts, which muddied the overlying interest. It was still quite a different, enjoyable read nonetheless.

17. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – A story of a child-genius, recently dumped by the nineteenth girl he has dated in the past named Katherine, struggling to understand the complexities of relationships in terms of mathematical algorithms, and coming to terms with the feeling that his intelligence peaked in childhood. While the overall story was simple and predictable, the relationship between the protagonist and his best friend feels very candid and real, and I adore the language John Green uses with all of his young characters. It’s energetic and refreshing, and really resonates with me as being more honest than that which is found in a lot of young-adult fiction these days.

16. Divergent by Veronica Roth – In it’s simplest sense, this novel is about a girl living in a futuristic city that is divided into five factions, each providing a different service to the city and founded on a different set of values. At sixteen, children are given a test to determine which faction they most belong in, and then given the choice as to which they want to join. This story follows a young girl, Tris, who learns that she is not strictly meant for one faction over the other, and leaves her family’s selfless faction for a faction of fighting and the brave. Of course, being for young adults there is a romance involved, and it is a bit predictable and generic when it comes to the whole “underdog, simple girl learning that she is stronger than she realizes and incredibly special” idea propagated by a lot of stories for teens these days. However, at the end of the whole thing, the story became a lot more complicated and interesting, and that intrigued me as to where it’s going to go with the next novel in the series.

15. The Hollow Earth by Rudy Rucker – Yet another Hollow Earth tale, this time revolving around a young, small town boy who gets himself into trouble, and escapes to the center of the earth with the erratic writer, Edgar Allan Poe (yes, that Edgar Allan Poe). The depiction of the famous author was very different and amusing, and the whole idea of a reverse-earth acting as a parallel universe to our earth was a neat idea. Plus, the psychedelic nature of the inside worlds was incredibly inventive, which was quite enjoyable. However, the tale did seem to drag on a bit in parts, and I occasionally found myself cringing with some of the vivid, often grotesque imagery used.

14. Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman – Being a fan of these graphic novels already, I’m predisposed to enjoy them, with the rich drawings, whimsical storylines, and Neil Gaiman’s insane creativity. This third volume of the series featured a number of short stories involving Morpheus across time. It felt a little disjointed at times because of the separate tales, and I didn’t know what was really going on at some points. These novels have a lot of strange things that occur in them, and taking the time to flesh things out and create a good understanding of the supernatural realms is always an advantage. I did, however, still enjoy it, as I have a thing for these mystical stories about Morpheus. I particularly liked the segment with William Shakespeare’s acting troop performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for creatures of the spirit world.

13. Blankets by Craig Thompson – A somewhat autobiographical, literary graphic novel about a young man, reflecting on his life, strict Christian upbringing, and first love. It felt to me like a bit of a dark, (500) Days of Summer-type thing, as the protagonist learned that he and his first love were just fleeting images of one another, and that they didn’t know the true people inside all along: they saw and felt what they wanted to feel at the time. The Christian theology that got involved was very interesting and added to the novel, but the resolution of it seemed to cut short and not be fully developed. Overall, I enjoyed the book, however, with its richly detailed and stunning drawings, despite the somewhat sad feeling that resonated throughout the entire tale.

12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – A coming-of-age story about a young boy, Charlie, in the 90s who just wants to find friends, fit in, and feel love. I actually read this novel right when I finished high school and being so close to the age of the characters and feeling some of the outsider, teenage emotions, the novel really struck me. Upon rereading it, I understood some of the implications a lot more. I didn’t feel as strongly towards some of the characters like I once did, however, and I found some of Charlie’s interactions with others were making me a bit uncomfortable. The overall novel, however, is very strong with all it’s complications, striking on some serious issues in comparison with a lot of other young-adult fiction.

11. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I read the first page of this novel and didn’t know if I wanted to walk head-on into a tale that could only lead to tears and heartache. What do I mean? I mean that it’s about a young girl with lung-cancer, falling hard for an adorable boy who has overcome cancer himself. Cancer kids: this is a subject that many might write about for the purpose of creating a tearjerker, and I wasn’t sure I could handle that. I stuck with it because of my affinity for John Green’s writing, however, and he handled the subject delicately and sweetly. Yes, it broke my heart just as I suspected it would, but it was surprisingly beautiful.

10. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – I know a lot of people are confused in regards to what this novel is really about, and in its simplest form, it’s nothing more than six stories, spanning across six different time-periods, wherein the main characters are either linked in some way, or supposed reincarnations of one another. It seems a little pretentious, and some of the language really gets garrulous at times, but in other moments it is nothing more than beautiful. Some storylines are better than others (my particular favorites are “An Orison of Sonmi 451” and “Letters from Zedelghem”). Although some may find the overall scope of the novel and all the rich ideas put into it to be a little over-reaching, if you take it at its most basic level, and don’t over think it too much, the simplicity of the “everyone is connected in the circle of life” idea is clean and has so many possibilities.

9. Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – The second novel of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and almost as enjoyable as the first, just a lot less straightforward, with multiple story-lines overlapping. In this installment  Arthur is learning more and more about the universe through his adventures with his friends, featuring the strange, true ruler of the universe, some “end of the world” time paradoxes (which are always fun, but confusing), and a populace of idiots on prehistoric earth.

8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – This novel reminded me of the (criminally underrated) film The Prestige, as it focused on a rivalry between two magicians. The difference, however, is that in this story, the rivals are competing through two young protégés. While some of the action, and budding romance between the two young magicians is predictable and sappy, there are still a lot of exciting, imaginative loops that take place throughout the tale. While the ending was definitely supposed to be dramatic and emotional, I found it to be a bit of a cheesy cop-out. Other than that, however, it was a quick and easy read, but entertaining the whole way through.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The first novel of the series, and by far the strongest. Set in a future, post-apocalyptic America, the authoritarian, wealthy capitol forces each of the twelve districts of the nation to send one young girl and one young boy to compete in the “Hunger Games” every year: a fight-to-the-death battle, televised for everyone to see. When Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen for the games, she takes her place. The strength of this novel comes from the strength of the main character, Katniss, and her resourceful, decisive actions both before and during the games, and it doesn’t get bogged down by notions of young love like many young adult fictions do.

6. Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman – The fourth in this graphic novel series, this time involving a lot of old Norse mythology, as well as the reappearance of the Endless family. Compared with some of the others in the series, this installment had some real structure and overarching thematic elements to it, which I’m assuming will come up again in later volumes. As always, the art is striking and imaginative, and it just solidifies my love of Neil Gaiman’s work even more.

5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Yes yes, another work by Neil Gaiman. Based on an old BBC miniseries by the same name, this novel takes place in a magical world known as “London Below” (literally, another world underneath London). Because of its vivid imagery, creative settings, and enjoyable characters, I just fell in love with this book. The plot may plod along in a seemingly straightforward manner, but when you are in a topsy-turvy kind of world, sometimes that is not such a bad thing. Plus I always like it when sassy angels get involved in stories in one way or another.

4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – I read this novel back in junior high and absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve tried multiple times to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and have never managed to get more than half way through the first book. Yet The Hobbit still remains as one of my favorite novels. Following the adventures of grumpy little Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves, the pace of the novel is crisp and quick, and generally light-hearted. The detail put into this world by Tolkien is unparalleled, and so much thought is put into the back -tories of every character, and even though we don’t always explicitly see that, not one character falls flat, and you can tell there is more to their story than initially shown. Plus, I resonate with Bilbo a lot; he is sassy and quite unnecessarily downtrodden a lot of the time, but when push comes to shove, he really shows what he is worth and finds his strength.

3. Looking For Alaska by John Green – This was the first novel by John Green I read this year (and I believe one of the first that he ever had published?), and none of his works that I read following Looking for Alaska were nearly as good. It starts off with the typical, “boy at a new school, learning the ropes and falling for the unattainable girl” trope, but it is so much more than that. Every character is rich and realistic, and while I sometimes get annoyed by the “crazy” and chaotic girls that are often the object of “nerd” affections, I found myself caring for Alaska Young a lot more than I thought I would. Furthermore, the friendship between Miles and Chip feels insanely honest, as does the intensity with which the protagonist, Miles, questions the world, the nature of relationships, and the meaning of life and all its consequences.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – The first novel of the series, and by far the strongest. It starts off with cozy Arthur Dent being picked up by his friend (who turns out to be an alien), and escaping the earth, mid-destruction, to go hitchhiking across the galaxy. You can definitely tell that this series was written by an Englishman, as the humor is insanely British and enjoyable. One of my favorite things about this novel is Douglas Adams’ insanely straightforward voice and manner, despite the fact that what he is saying is often completely nonsensical. It’s as though he is saying, “I know it seems strange, but just take it as it is.”

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – The general course of this novel follows a young boy (Ender), as he trains in battle school, in order to learn how to command a fleet to defeat the alien race known as the “buggers,” should they try to attack earth once again. Ender’s Game was another novel that I reread this year, after first experiencing it in junior high. At that time, I didn’t understand a lot of the political and psychological implications of the novel, and it was hard for me to picture children as being so adult and violent. It still is, but now I appreciate the ins and outs of it a lot more than I used to. There is an insane dichotomy that is particularly striking between the ages of the characters and their actions, and a lot of my love for this novel stems from my love of science fiction in general.

And there you have it! I'm sure some of those weren't really surprises (particularly those books which I had already read and enjoyed in the past), but you never know.
But now I ask, did anyone else read anything particularly enjoyable this year that maybe I should check out in the weeks/months to come?