Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 in books

I had an unstated goal this year: to read 120 books. That might seem like a lot, but I managed to read 115 books in 2012, so I figured I could beat that, right?

Well, I did beat the 115 but I didn't quite make it to 120. According to my tally on Goodreads, I read a grand total of 119 books in 2013, and that's still a number I can live with. It's a lot more than I have read in many years past and more than most people get to in a single year.

How the hell did I manage to consume so many books? Well for one thing, I read a lot of fairly short books. A good number of the titles on my list were novellas and graphic novels -- they don't take a heck of a long time to read. For another, I tend to read a lot of fast-paced crime novels -- they're often impossible to put down. For a third, we live in the middle of nowhere and my partner Colleen has spent the past dealing with some particularly troubling health issues (I won't go into details), so we don't go out very often. That leaves a lot of time for reading.

Now the reading, as much as I completed, didn't go entirely as planned. I originally set out to make this the year that I made my way through the novels of Joe R. Lansdale, who has long been one of my favorite writers. I read several of his books this year, but at some point I transitioned to reading more novels by Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block, two of my other favorites. I don't expect I'll ever be able to get my way through all of Block's backlist (he's written a heck of a lot of novels, and I've barely made a dent in his bibliography), but I think I could get most of the way through the Lansdale and Collins lists in 2014 if I really push it. We'll see -- they both keep putting out a lot of new novels, and there are so many other authors also worth reading.

So what were the best books that I read in 2013? Well, I'll start with Block. I read most of his series about Keller, the stamp-collecting hit man, this year. The first one, "Hit Man," is especially good, but the next three are also excellent. Another Block work that simply stunned me was the novella "A Candle for the Bag Lady."

I read two Ray Bradbury collections this year: "A Medicine for Melancholy" (short stories) and "Bradbury Speaks" (essays). Both filled me with magic and joy. My Bradbury reading in the past was more the occasional short story than complete books; I'll remedy that error in the future.

Terry Moore's series "Rachel Rising" continues his trend of putting out the best comic books on the market. The first three graphic novel collections of this series were stunning.

Lansdale's "Lost Echoes," "The Boar" and "A Fine, Dark Line" did not disappoint. "The Boar," especially, impressed and stuck with me.

Almost every Collins book I read was excellent. I love his series about Nathan Heller, the fictional PI who "solves" real-world historical cases. "Blood and Thunder" and "Damned in Paradise" stand out in my mind.

Also notable: "March: Book One," the graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis and his collaborators. I can't wait for book two.

The worst book I read this year? The graphic novel "The Milkman Murders." I normally like the creators, but this one fell completely flat for me.

The most disappointing book? Well, I read several novellas in the "Dead Man" series created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin -- they're normally fun, pulpy, horror-tinged stories, and a few of them were truly excellent (Harry Shannon's "Kill Them All" and Aric Davis's "The Black Death" come to mind), but book 15, "The Killing Floor" by David Tully, contained such a badly stereotyped Native American character that it was borderline racist. It soured me on the whole series.

Anyway, that's the scoop on my 119 books for 2013. What will 2014 hold? Who knows -- but I'm already halfway through the first book of the year (which would have been #120 for 2013 if I had finished it), so I'd say I'm off to a good start.

Here's to good books in your future, as well.