At the beginning of this year I made myself a list of goals. I failed most of them. However, one of them was to take the Goodreads reading challenge, which is a feature on the aforementioned website where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books in a year. I wasn’t sure what number I should go with, as even though I own a great amount of books, I’m kind of a slow reader. My initial pick was 30 books, but at the last minute (being minutes ago) I changed it to 20, and realized I had actually already reached my goal! Is it an empty victory because I kind of rigged the system to fit my needs? No, because I still read 20 books, and just like on virtual pet sites, reading books increases your intelligence. Usually.
And here are the books I read in the year 2013.
Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
This was an easy read, and an absolutely ridiculous book. The author has kind of made it clear in interviews about the series that a large part of why she writes the books is money, and it really shows. A telepathic waitress falls in love with a Civil War veteran who also happens to be a vampire. She’s also being courted by a shapeshifter who stalks her as a dog. Good things about this book: it was cute, it was fantasy, and it was interesting. Bad things: the stereotypes were drawn with magic marker. There are two gay characters in the book: the first one we meet is a man infected with AIDS who is trying to infect a vampire with it and kill him. The second is a flamboyant drug dealer who sleeps with vampires and steals their blood. Both of these stereotypes (the AIDS-spreader and the drug-dealing slut) have been bad images that have been superimposed onto gay people for decades, and I find it extremely ironic that this woman has won some kind of award for gay rights because she includes gay characters in her books. Don’t get me wrong, there are gay villains in the world, but I don’t think you qualify as a gay rights activist if your gay characters are harmful stereotypes and your supposedly accepting protagonist basically says several times in the novel that she just overlooks the fact that the gay people she knows are gay, as opposed to actually being an accepting person.
In addition to this, the novel is a parody of everything southern, and unfortunately it seems to take itself totally seriously. The character development is lacking, as there are something like thirty characters in the book and apart from the main four or so, each gets about two lines of dialogue, and once Sookie and Bill sleep together, they never have another conversation for the rest of the novel, they just fuck on every other page. I find it very disturbing that Sookie reveals to Bill that she was molested by her uncle (oh look, more fun stereotypes), and Bill’s immediate reaction is to get all turned on and force himself on her, before leaving her asleep to go and murder her uncle. It’s just… really ridiculous. And I will finish my thoughts on the book thusly: Elvis Presley is a character in the book. The real, actual Elvis Presley. He is a vampire. I am not making this up. Moving on.
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
Ah, now onto something a lot more classy. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and I was surprised by how hilarious I found it and how extremely enjoyable it was to read. I was expecting the same experience from this book and I got it to a lesser degree. The story was basically structured the same way as Pride and Prejudice: a woman meets a man who seems perfect, he turns into a complete jerk and breaks her heart, and then comes back to redeem himself, all while a wise elder sister wags her finger from the corner, before she herself falls madly in love with some charming devil herself. Well, it’s mostly the same thing here, but my issue is that the story is not as witty, the characters are not as funny or interesting, and the jerk who comes back to redeem himself actually proves himself to be even more of an asshole that we thought. For some reason, only the reader understands this, as the characters all forgive him his terrible behavior for no real reason. In the end, some marriages are thrown together for the sake of getting everybody married off and they all live “as happily as can be managed.”
Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a fantastic novel, it’s just not as good as I was hoping after having read Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s writing style is engaging and fast-paced, she doesn’t bother with minute details and entire months can pass in a paragraph; she gets on to the action and the dialogue and in every chapter there is a clear event that changed the characters or progresses their story in some way. Sense and Sensibility is a great novel, just maybe not the greatest Jane Austen novel. Still, I recommend it for someone interested in getting started with classic literature, although I might think Pride and Prejudice would be a much better starting point.
City of Bones
by Cassandra Clare
And here we go. I was roped into reading The Mortal Instruments by people who worked with me at my old job. Let me simplify it: City of Bones is cute. It’s even interesting and entertaining. It is also completely unoriginal. Every single plot point is ripped from Final Fantasy and other video games, anime and manga, and other fantasy novels. It’s a hodge-podge of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and angels, thrown into a boiling pot. It made for an okay read, but I was very dissapointed by the lack of originality, and I saw every plot “twist” coming a mile away. It incorporates such overused favorites as: the best friend becomes a vampire, the brooding sexy guy is violent and abusive, the female protagonist is an idiot, and that old favorite, the villain is the protagonists father. Let’s also mention that there are cringe-worthy names like Lucian Greymark, the werewolf, Raphael the vampire (a direct rip in appearance and personality from Armand of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles), and of course the evil demon-hunter amassing an army of nasty creatures to wipe out humanity Nazi-style: Valentine. It’s just… yeah.
City of Ashes
by Cassandra Clare
And then I kept reading! Shame on me, I know, but by this point it has been revealed that the two main lovers are actually siblings, and now their passion has become the incestuous love that dare not speak it’s name. What bothers me isn’t that they’re siblings, it isn’t that they continue to make out after they learn that they’re siblings, it’s that the description of the back of the book describes Jace as Clary’s sexy newfound brother, and kind of says up front: “Oh yeah, you ready for some steamy sibling love?” It’s just… unusual. “Unforseen” plot “twists” in this edition: the bad guy is gathering not one, not two, but three instruments of great power to summon forth the armies of hell and take over Hyrule, I mean the world, the best friend vampire becomes a SPECIAL vampire that can go out in daylight, and yet oddly after months, his mother notices no change in him whatsoever, and the main character is a magical savant with like, seriously extreme UBER ANGEL POWERS you guys, and they come from her talent as an artist, because she’s like, really misunderstood and stuff, like for real. Oh, and did I mention there’s a gay warlock who literally shits glitter? Like, glitter actually flies off of him every time he blinks or gestures or walks across the room. It only gets more predictable from here, folks!
City of Glass
by Cassandra Clare
And here we go, the third installment! Will all of the loose ends be tied up? Will the girl finally fuck her brother/lover and get it over with? Will we hurry up and kill the Hitler/Voldemort-style fascist enslave-everyone-to-do-my-bidding bad guy and go whee whee whee all the way home? Well, yeah. Pretty much. We learn that the protagonist is in fact NOT related to the love interest, who was born into one family that was killed so adopted by another who was killed and raised by the villain and given the same name as his real son who he kept in a cave around the corner who actually DOES want to fuck his sister and who is supposedly “killed” but will CLEARLY be coming back. Confusing? It’s alright, don’t think about it too hard, no one else did. The bad guy summons the power of the
Triforce Mortal Instruments to get his one wish granted, and in a “surprising” twist the protagonist gets there FIRST! and she of course wishes for the bastard to die and for her loverboy who he just killed to come back to life. Both happen. There’s a party, we dance we kiss we shmooze we carry on we go home happy, whaddya say? As far as I’m concerned the series ends here. It ties up nearly every loose end, and any continuation of the series from here is clearly a marketing campaign. Though it was riddled with trite cliches, these three books were actually alright reads, just don’t go looking for any serious fantasy or deep, thought-provoking writing.
The Order of the Poison Oak
by Brent Hartinger
Here we go! The first winner of the bunch. Like it’s predecessor Geography Club, I read this book in one sitting, and it made me cry just like the first one did. The lovable gay protagonist of Geography Club goes to summer camp and of course meets a buncha hot boys he’s crazy for, but the first one turns out to be a total player and in the end he not only helps a group of kids who are burn survivors to regain their self-confidence but he actually falls in love with fellow camp counselor and they have nice happy fool-around time on the lake. It’s all very sweet, and I really, really enjoyed it.
Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
by Brent Hartinger
Unfortunately, though the second Russel Middlebrook installment was as great as the first, the third one totally nosedives into barely interesting. There are some standard gay teen lit moments: parents being cold, unfeeling homophobes, priests trying to turn gay kids straight, and a love triangle between the ex-boyfriend and the new boyfriend, but for the most part this book was just boring. I wasn’t moved, I was barely even interested. The romance between Russel and his new boyfriend just disappears, he has a dramatic moment with his ex that we don’t get an explanation for, and the book is divided into two stories: the filming of a low-budget zombie film and all the teen drama that entails from Russel’s point of view, and the same thing from his best friend Min’s point of view. After you read the climax of the story less than halfway through the book, you have to go right back through the exposition again from another character’s perspective and claw your way to the other side of the climax to see what really happened. I almost couldn’t get myself to finish it, it was that much of a let-down.
Pendragon: The Rivers of Zadaa
by D.J. MacHale
I have really loved the Pendragon series since I read the first five installments as a teenager, and I was very interested to know what happens next. It seems to be the consensus that this book is less intense and more formulaic than the ones before it: the main character, a dimension-traveling hero arrives in a strange new world, undergoes the trials therein, uncovers a plot that will lead to the worlds destruction, has a Rocky-like training montage, and goes to save the world, all while tiny bits of the overarching storyline are peppered in. At the end of this book though, I just didn’t feel like I could handle waiting four more books and going through countless, ultimately pointless sidequests, just to figure out what the hell the real story is, and what’s underneath everything, so I spent about another hour or so just flipping through the remaining books in the series to see what the hell is really going on and how things end. For the record, it was a little dissapointing, but I doubt I’ll ever return to this series to read the fully fleshed-out versions of the final four installments.
A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is one of my favorite books. It literally touches on every single aspect of what it is to be a living being: it covers sexuality, religion, politics, and the dirty underbelly of who people really are, all with a lot of really fun and witty wordplay. Well, after the success of the Wicked musical, Maguire returned to write a sequel called Son of a Witch, which, apart from having some legitimate gay romance, no matter how fleeting, was very lukewarm and felt like it was riding on the coattails of Wicked rather than continuing the story. I think the premise of writing sequels to Wicked almost ruins the point of the book itself, because it ends when the Witch dies. We know she’s going to die. We know the story of her life is a tragedy. There isn’t a happy ending tied up with a bow, there are huge existential questions and an ending that really makes you think. The sequels kind of ruin this atmosphere.
That being said, A Lion Among Men wasn’t bad. It’s centers around two characters: Brr, also known as the Cowardly Lion, and Yackle, an enigmatic figure from the original book who hovered around the edges of Elphaba’s life. I won’t give away the ending, but all of the parts about Yackle were very interesting and gave a broader view of the events in Wicked. As for Brr’s life, it was mostly his self-indulgent soul-searching travels across Oz (like Liir in Son of a Witch) and some kinky cat sex. It kind of sets up for a big finale in the final book, and yet it also kind of drops off right as soon as the action ends. An enigma of sorts, but interesting nontheless, and hopefully the final installment will make all this buildup worth it.
The Queen of the Damned
by Anne Rice
As with A Lion Among Men, this novel is a sequel to one of my favorite books ever: The Vampire Lestat. Anne Rice’s style is mostly unchanged: vivid, gorgeous descriptions of old castles and echoing cathedrals, intense, blood-soaked, heart-pounding passion, and the ocassional run-on chapter describing how frickin’ wonderful New Orleans is. We get it Anne, you really, REALLY like New Orleans. That being said, this book is actually the origin story for the rest of the Vampire Chronicles, it explains how the vampires came into existance and reunites a lot of lost loves with one another. Though there is a sense of danger in the terrifyingly powerful Queen Akasha, the most interesting parts of the story are the flashbacks to the origin story of the vampires, which takes place in ancient Egypt. Though I didn’t love this book as much as The Vampire Lestat, and I am STILL upset that there’s an entire character arc that takes place in one chapter, introducing a character, explaining her life, and then killing her at the end, it definitely feels like the missing chapter and the final piece of the puzzle laid out in Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.
by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
This is the sequel to The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a sadomasochistic erotic take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I feel compelled to mention, however, that the Sleeping Beauty tale is only used as a jumping off point for the story, because after the prince awakens the sleeping beauty with a kiss and a few impassioned thrusts into her virgin sex, the story has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy tale, that I can tell at least. In fact, there really is very little plot in the Beauty books, it’s mostly a series of intense erotic fantasies brought to life in an ornate sexual dreamworld, kind of like an endlessly pounding orgasm that goes on for page after page, with very little over-arching story. As such, it was a good read for those qualities, but not because of a strong narrative and a deep back story; like with the first Sleeping Beauty book, this is more of an exploration of the human psyche, emotions and sexuality. There are metaphors for the human experience aplenty, particularly that of losing one’s virginity and growing as a sexual and emotional and living being. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s also grade A masturbation material, and I think it’s meant to be such.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson
This is the hilarious life story of Jenny Lawson, who you may also know as the Bloggess. To put it simply, I frequently laughed so hard that I couldn’t hold the book still and had to stop reading just so I could laugh. The woman is hilarious, and she not only talks about her insane upbringing but also about the realities of dealing with severe, crippling anxiety, death, family, and growing up. Also there are some taxidermy animals and a proposal story that involves both suspicion of murder and kneeling in broken glass. Enough said.
by Tina Fey
Tina Fey’s autobiography was unfortunately not nearly as entertaining as Jenny Lawson’s. It describes Tina’s childhood and career as an actress and writer, the development process of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, with a few hilarious anecdotes here and there. Unfortunately the hilarious anecdotes get fewer and fewer, and though the tone remains light and funny throughout, I stopped laughing after the first half of the book and was just ready to be done. But it was still funny, and I’ll definitely give her that. Also, there’s an example of a “racy joke” somewhere in this book that is the most horrifyingly funny thing I’ve read in a while.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Parts 1 & 2)
by Arika Himekawa
Fullmetal Alchemist (Vol. 2 & Vol. 3)
by Hiromu Arakawa
by Ian Flynn
The Sandman: Vol. 1 – Preludes & Nocturnes
The Sandman: Vol. 2 – The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman
I’m not going to go into detail about all of the graphic novels I read, because frankly they are what they are. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time parts 1 & 2 were just slightly altered versions of the story of the original Nintendo 64 game, the second and third volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist were exactly the same story that you may have seen in either version of the anime, and Sonic the Hedgehog was, well, Sonic the Hedgehog. He got the Chaos Emeralds, transformed into Super Sonic, and beat Doctor Eggman, what else is there to talk about? I do want to mention Sandman by Neil Gaiman though, because this is a story I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and I finally got the chance to start. It is downright terrifying and extremely interesting, it builds a huge cosmology of gods and fantasy creatures that actually manages to be completely original while still borrowing heavily from various mythologies, and eventually I’m going to get to the character who shares a lot of personality traits with Tori Amos. I highly recommend Sandman, and I look forward to continuing the series, but as for the rest, I could take them or leave them, to be honest.
And there it is! The twenty books I read in 2013! Yeah, I know six of them were graphic novels but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m just proud of myself for having gotten so much reading done this year. However I really feel that I didn’t gain all too much from reading so many books, I was mostly just trying to rack up numbers for my year end score, and it felt more like a marathon or a competition than the actual experience of sitting down and reading and immersing myself in a story. As such, I think I will take the reading challenge again next year, but lower it to perhaps 12 books, one for each month, or even something lower, so that I can take my time and really absorb what I’m reading. I enjoy reading, but not enough to constitute reading 30 books in a year, at least not yet.