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totally top five 2k12: books

Since 2009, I’ve set these loose, kind of dumb goals for myself at the beginning of the year because I keep track of all the things I watch and read on my listography. Watch 250 episodes of tv, watch 100 movies. I can’t remember what prompted me to start doing it, but it’s second nature now. Really anal, intense, annoying second nature. Watching and reading things makes me better at watching and reading and writing things, so I guess tracking it makes it feel more purposeful? Who knows. I’m kind of nutty in general, so.

Anyway, I’ve met my movie and tv goals the last three years (I have no idea about 2009 because Listography either didn’t have an archive function or I didn’t know about it and I deleted those lists. You cannot even begin to fathom how much this haunts me.) but I haven’t met my book goals. I never meet my book goals. There is no book goal I could meet because I can never, ever read enough. But, really, the amount of reading I did this year is paltry and embarrassing.

Despite that, I read one of my favorite books of all time this year! So even if this list isn’t as effusive as I’d like because I had little to choose from, I still have that to fall back on?

5. Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin [amazon]“I didn’t care about anything. And there’s a freedom in apathy, a wild, dizzying liberation on which you can almost get drunk. You can do anything. Ask Kevin.”

This book being on my list this year is a sign of just how little I read this year and how much I didn’t like what I read because I read this in August of 2011 and decided to use it to round out my top five for this year instead of choosing something I didn’t like enough to ramble about. (Sorrry, Jennifer Egan, I just didn’t like your book.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is literally only at number five because I didn’t read it this year. It’s better than every other book I read in 2011 and almost every other book I read in 2012. And I’d be hard pressed not to tie it at number one.

Shriver’s writing is really careful and pompous and delicate and, because it’s an epistolary novel, it serves to elegantly characterize and flesh out Eva’s character. It was so hard to read this book — emotionally, though my Kindle’s dictionary got a workout, which is seriously saying something — and when I finally finished it I felt like I hadn’t taken a deep breath in days. I read it over the course of a day or two and I could not put it down. I carried it with me everywhere and ignored my girlfriend, the internet, and my entire life for it. And I sobbed. I came out of this book a different person than I went in and it was exhausting. It took me days to recover from it, like it’d crawled under my skin and taken over, and not always in a good way.

I was trying to find a quote to share earlier and instead re-read fifteen pages. It’s that good.

4. Lois Lowry, The Giver [amazon]“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

Pretty much everyone I know read The Giver in eighth grade. I didn’t. Granted, I’ve never read much of what’s been assigned to me — I have a BA in English and an MFA in Fiction — and in eighth grade I read a largely modified curriculum because I had a wonderful, attentive teacher who helped expose me to new things. I don’t know if she assigned everyone else The Giver but, regardless, I didn’t read it until this year when it was — surprise, surprise — for sale on Amazon.

I like Lowry’s books a lot. Gossamer is one of the best books I got out of my undergrad program and I read The Willoughbys this year too and liked it a lot. She understands tone for children and young adults, but she never condescends. There’s magic in her books, sparkle that almost feels tangible. Everything feels possible and real.

I was really moved by The Giver and I didn’t expect to be. I thought it would lean too far toward parable or morality tale, but it teetered exquisitely between the obvious and the expected. It also dealt with pain, friendship, and family in ways that felt really refreshing. Growing up is agony, but The Giver turns that simple statement into an entirely new world with high stakes and great rewards. I’m glad I missed it in eighth grade because 27 year old me was much better suited for this story.

3. Lish McBride, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer [amazon]“Most people felt lost after high school. Sometimes I felt like I’d never really been found in the first place.”

I have had a really weird relationship with Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. I snagged it because it was on sale for the Kindle and I liked the title a lot and the blurb, so I bought it and let it chill until I was done with Back to School with Judy Blume. I started reading it and it was pretty passionate then I got distracted and forgot about it then I read it and thought it was sort of muddling and flat then I loved it again then I ignored it for a long while then I picked up my Kindle and I said, “Ugh, fine, I am going to finish this thing.” and I read it in bed, rolling around in a weird mix of elation and disappointment.

There’s a lot of good stuff in there — a good, solid concept, a nice cast of likable characters, solid female characters, some funny dialogue, a dash of random weirdness, and a lot of pretty exciting, but never overindulgent violence — but it also feels plodding at times, lobs clunky pop culture references like rocks at the reader’s head, and relies on the idiocy of its lead character to keep up the mystery for too long. I mean, it’s one thing to scream disbelief when something outrageous happens to and around you, it’s an entirely different thing to be a complete moron about it. Sam verges easily on the moron side of things and it’s kind of a bummer.

I wasn’t even going to include it on the list and definitely not at number three, but as time passed it lodged itself in my head and wormed its way into my list. It might not have been the best read, but it was, for the most part, a fun read. I’ll probably spend money on the sequel and there’s a free short story too. Who am I to argue?

2. Neal Shusterman, The Skinjacker TrilogyEverlost, Everwild, & Everfound [amazon]“Great tragedies have great consequences. They ripple through the fabric of this world and the next. When the loss is too great for either world to bear, Everlost absorbs the shock, like a cushion between the two.”

Neal Shusterman’s Unwind is one of my favorite books of all time. So when I saw that he had another kind of sci-fi, kind of fantasy thing and it was a trilogy, I obviously jumped all over it. I mean, who doesn’t love a young adult trilogy?

The Skinjacker books are weird and they’re not always perfect. They clash pretty deeply with my nihilistic atheism though there is no exact mention of God — or at least not one memorable enough for me to cling to — and there’s not exactly any indication that there’s an afterlife. Everlost as a concept relies solely on the idea that when you die you “get wherever you’re going” and, for the kids that populate the trilogy, that hasn’t happened yet and what happens before they can makes for two-and-half compelling books. It loses it’s steam in places, particularly in the third book (accounting for the missing half) but it was never enough to deter me from needing to see the end.

The thing that drives me to read young adult books is that, though the writing can often be beautiful and complicated and transcendent, the story always comes first. And I love stories. I live for stories. And the stories that take place in Everlost are stories that I really and truly loved.

1. Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles [amazon]“Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

The Song of Achilles got under my skin. I read it in six-ish straight hours and I rolled around in bed screaming and wailing and it didn’t let me go for three days afterward. I have told everyone I know to read it. I’ve twittered about it a million times. I posted a passage on Tumblr and have generally harassed everyone I know about it. Nobody’s really listened and my girlfriend refuses to read it because she saw how much I sobbed, but I still won’t shut up about it.

Miller’s writing is beautiful, the pacing is great — quick but lingering in the right places — and it manages to feel expansive and understated at the same time. There’s something incredibly effective in narrowing the Trojan War down to a single point with Patroclus’ voice driving it.

It is lovely and exciting and joyful and sexy and quick and devastating and awesome. It’s riddled with gorgeous details — there’s a scene of fig juggling that I think about on the daily — and these incredible moments of anticipation that are unbeatable. Desire, I find, is one of the hardest things to communicate in a story and this is just rife with it. It never feels forced or tawdry and it manages to be unbelievably hot without ever feeling excessive.

It’s erotic gay fan fiction of Homer’s Iliad and it’s $3.79 on Kindle right now. I’m not sure what else you need.