Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best of 2015

I'm back! I meant to put this post up about a week ago, of course; but our Internet was suspended (long story short: some of rural Australia has terrible internet services) and only got turned back on this morning. That suited me fine: I don't plan to blog much in January, since I am taking a month off--from blogging, from OUTREMER, even (partly) from reading.

Except for The Song of Roland, of course. Hey, you know we're having a read-along, right? Click here to find out more!

In 2015, I set a Goodreads reading challenge of 90 books to match my previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record, set in 2012. Since then, I'd read 73 books in 2013, and 80 in 2014. Needless to say, I was astonished to blow my record out of the water: 2015 closed with a grand total of 119 books read, which you can see on Goodreads here!

How did I do it? Well, partly it was because this year I logged a number of novellas and shorter books. Partly it was because I got a lot more serious about my reading this year--and was stricter about setting myself page quotas, and using every spare moment to read, and having more books on the go at once. I also had a number of categories of books I wanted to read: for example, throughout the year, I was almost always reading a non-fiction book for research on OUTREMER. I worked through some biographies of notable Christian women. I kept up a steady stream of vintage/classic reads to review for Vintage Novels. I explored some more indie authors. I explored some contemporary YA and historical fantasy. I added some regular devotional reading. I started a weekly read-aloud time with my sisters. And I got halfway through the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Sometimes I'd be reading six or seven books at once.

The upside to this was that I got through a really good amount of reading, including some tomes. The downside was that I was racing every spare moment to read as much as I could, which made what's normally a relaxing pastime somewhat more stressful.

Favourite Re-Reads

You can't really get the most out of a book until you've read it multiple times. I re-read 20 books this year, of which I've selected 5 highlights:

Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

I'll be honest with you: I usually don't re-read anything within twelve months. But after last year's love affair with this gorgeously-written drama, I wanted to give it the second, more leisurely read it deserved.

Multiple people have commented that my writing has improved since I read Plenilune, and I think they are quite right. I've learned a lot from Jennifer Freitag, and I'm agog to see what she comes up with next.

Sick Heart River by John Buchan

Revisiting John Buchan books that I devoured with little appreciation in younger years is one of the delights of my life. Sick Heart River, his last novel, filled me with a new appreciation of his wonderful writing style. And its meditation upon sickness, age, and death--from one of the healthiest and most masculine authors I've ever read--is uniquely courageous and moving.


Beowulf in Four Translations

This year I finally got the chance to do something I've dreamed of for ages: re-read Beowulf not just in the Heaney I grew up on, but also in translations by other people, including some favourite authors. I got through four translations in five days, came to understand the poem in all sorts of new and fascinating ways, and had epic fun.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A McKillip

This classic fantasy novel was my first introduction to McKillip. I finally re-read it on a whim, and it was even better than I remembered.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Revisiting Austen is another chief delight of my life. Persuasion, again, was even better than I remember.


Favourite New Reads

My New Reads were a bit patchy this year, since I tried to branch out into some genres and styles of book that I don't normally touch. Here are some of the standouts:




Non-Fiction of the Year

I read a lot of good non-fiction this year, much of it as research for OUTREMER and The Prince of Fishes. I also read a lot of intimidating and chewy non-fiction as well. But I'm going to go easy on you and nominate a Non-Fiction of the Year that you're going to enjoy reading.

William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain was funny, vivid, scholarly, and spectacular. I can't afford to travel through the Levant myself yet, but this book, as well as being a pleasure to read, was full of fascinating information. I grew up believing the Middle East to be the boring site of boring Bible stories populated by dull and holy prophets and kings, for which I blame my exceedingly dull Bible knowledge textbooks, but books like this give you an amazing sense of the weight of history, culture, and romance in this part of the world. Do read it!

Fiction of the Year

Sorely tempted as I am to nominate Beowulf or Persuasion for this slot, I usually try to name something I've read for the first time this year. That determined, 2015's Fiction of the Year may come as a surprise.

I never thought I'd find myself naming a Tim Powers book Fiction of the Year, but I really enjoyed Hide Me Among the Graves. The reason? It focuses on the life of a favourite poetess and heroine of mine, Christina Rossetti. Christina Rossetti has gone woefully underappreciated over the years, with many feminist scholars turning up their noses at her devout Christian faith and many devotional poems. I'm not sure Powers appreciates Rossetti in the same way I do, and as with all Powers's books, the dark horror aspects of the novel (it's Christina Rossetti BATTLING VAMPIRES!) makes me reluctant to recommend it without significant content and thematic warnings, but for me it was worth it just to see Christina Rossetti getting some of the love and respect she deserves.

2015 in Writing

I can't close this partial postmortem on the year without saying something about my writing. The year was incredibly productive as far as word output goes: I wrote from scratch three novellas, which together totalled about 74,000 words, and then finished the writing year just shy of 158,000 words on OUTREMER. Which means a total output of 232,000 words in varying stages of polish. No wonder I need a holiday!
The highlight of the year, of course, was publishing Pendragon's Heir, my debut novel, in March. I'm so grateful for how that project came together, and for everyone who helped on it, and for everyone who's reviewed it or spread the word about it. And I'm so thrilled that everyone has enjoyed it so much. 

In August, I went on to publish my second fairytale novella, The Prince of Fishes, set in a clockpunk version of 700s Byzantium! I haven't been so diligent with marketing this one, but it was good fun to research and write, and stretched me as a writer in a number of different ways. It was written at least partly to help me begin researching and worldbuilding for OUTREMER, in fact, and at this stage I'm envisioning setting them in the same "universe"--so although the stories aren't otherwise linked, might I suggest that if you're champing at the bit for OUTREMER, you might enjoy getting a taste upfront with The Prince of Fishes!

I originally intended to publish my third fairytale novella, The Bells of Paradise, in November. But last-minute plot tweaks ate up my time, and then I decided to put it off till the new year. So: look out for a release date announcement later this month! Bells might just be the best thing I've done yet.
In October, I officially announced my next big project, OUTREMER. I'd been researching it all year, and spent several months wrestling with the plot outline, before starting work on the first draft at the end of September. My aim was to write 50,000 words per month--which I managed to accomplish, picking up another NaNoWriMo win on the way. I'm still less than halfway through the thing, but still couldn't be more excited about it. By mid-2016, DV, I'll complete the first draft.

In December, we had the 2015 Blogger Awards! I was nominated in most categories, I think, made finalist for Best Character, Best Book, and Best Author, and actually garnered two wins. One of those was Best Character for Perceval from Pendragon's Heir (which, perhaps I'm biased, but I thought he deserved that one! I don't know if I'll ever again write a character as much fun as Perceval!). The other, which was a complete shock, was Best Author for The Prince of Fishes. That was an incredible thing to wake up to on Christmas morning, and a very encouraging way to round out the year!

Finally, a request. This is partly on behalf of myself...but also partly on behalf of any author whose work you may have recently enjoyed. If you've enjoyed reading any of my published works this year--or if you have anyone's books on your year-end Best-of list--can I suggest taking a moment to go to Amazon and leave a star rating and even the teensiest of reviews? All authors need word-of-mouth and good review stats on Amazon in order to sell more books, or to gain the traction necessary to advertise their books more widely. So please, if you've enjoyed reading one of my books this year--or if you've enjoyed reading any books at all--do take a moment to visit Amazon and leave an honest review.

So that was 2015! This year is already shaping up to be a busy one, but I have books to read, books to write, books to publish, and life is good. See you in a couple of weeks with the Bells of Paradise release announcement!


Hanna said...

119! I can hardly even imagine doing that. O.O

I was sort of on the fence about Plenilune, but I think you talked me into it. Anything that's worth rereading so soon must be a pretty terrific book. :)

I do need to read Beowulf. Originally, I was going to read the Heaney translation and probably leave it at that, but your “Battle of the Beowulfs” post made me curious to see what the others have to offer as well.

Speaking of Heaney, have you read any of his original poetry? I've been slowly working my way through his Selected Poems: 1966-1987 and I would love to know what you think of his work.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of From the Holy Mountain before long (I really enjoyed your review of it, by the way), and even though vampires usually aren't my thing, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is, so I think I might give Hide Me Among the Graves a try too.

Happy New Year! :)

Suzannah said...

Happy New Year, Hanna! I honestly never expected to read 119 books, myself.

PLENILUNE isn't something that everyone loves, honestly (as you can see from the Goodreads reviews). But, everyone agrees that it has gorgeous, gorgeous writing.

BEOWULF is magnificent! Read Heaney first and follow it up with Tolkien, for preference.

I've never read any of Heaney's original stuff, but your happiness over his work has whetted my interest. Maybe after I've chewed through some of my other poetry collections, I'll have the chance to dip in.

I'm so glad you enjoyed my review of FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN--it's a special book! And HIDE ME AMONG THE GRAVES should please a PRB fan. The only two things I will mention is that it's a loosely affiliated sequel to THE STRESS OF HER REGARD (Romantic poets battling vampires!), which might make it easier to grasp the mythology--and that you need to take content warnings seriously. While I deeply appreciate the fact that his vampires are not at all nice, Powers is about as icky as I can stand.

D. Loon said...

Your Beowulf post inspired me to read the Heaney to my seven-year-old. She has now heard Chickering, Tolkien and Heaney and loves the story.

I'll have to check out _From the Holy Mountain_: Middle-Eastern Christianity fascinates me.

It's always inspiring to see other authors finish and publish their first works. I'm still poking along with mine and your experience gives me hope.

Anonymous said...

Reading 119 books and writing 232,000 words?!? Whoa! You've made so much progress this year and I'm sure it must feel awesome.

I have been a little bit hesitant about reading Plenilune mostly because I was reading reviews on Goodreads and a lot of them questioned some of the more uncomfortable content in the book. That said, I know Jenny's writing is gorgeous, and there is so much to be learned from it. I have read her blog for quite some time now and I think it's evident that all of the high quality literature she reads really feeds into her writing. That said, you saying that this book helped improve your writing really convinced me and I just requested it from the library.

Beowulf! I read the Heaney version and it was awesome. I kind of want to read the Tolkien version next. And yay for Jane Austen. I have never read Persuasion, but I have read Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility. I saw the Keira Knightley version of P&P with my family during the Christmas break and even though a lot of hardcore period drama fans don't like this movie, I loved it! It made me appreciate P&P all the more.

Suzannah said...

D, I'm so glad I inspired you to read BEOWULF to your daughter! We all need dads to read that aloud to us. What a fantastic start in life. :)

I actually self-published my own book, which anyone can do. What anyone can't do is self-publish a good book. I don't mean to claim to have done this (though I think most of my readers would say so); but that, that is just as hard as trad-pubbing a good book!

Ana, I have to admit that productivity is like greed. How much is enough? Always, "just a little more". Ideally my books would spring, like Athena, fully-formed from my head at the moment of conception. They don't. Woe.

I would take the GR reviews of PLENILUNE seriously. They're right; and I read the same book everyone else did, just came away more enthusiastic. While the content of PLENILUNE didn't disturb me as it does others (after years of Paul Johnson, Otto Scott, Spenser and Suetonius, I am pretty hard to shock), I would hate to think I'd caused anyone to read it who felt they'd received much too much information. I'd encourage you to get a parent to read PLENILUNE first if you're still hesitant :).

The Tolkien BEOWULF is brilliant! So is PERSUASION. You're going to love them.

Anonymous said...

Yup, I'll definitely take those reviews seriously. Luckily, Schulyer's review tells me exactly where I'll need to do some skimming. :)

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I re-read Plenilune this year too. There's just so much of it I felt I needed a re-read to take it all in again! Some elements of the story didn't strike me as well the second time around, but as a whole it's still quite a book. Curiously, I've noticed an influence on my writing since I first read it, too—I recognize that Jenny's style and my style are different and don't try to imitate, but I think Plenilune gave me a greater awareness of using things like color and texture and bolder similes in description, and I think my writing has benefited from that.

Suzannah said...

Elisabeth--so agreed. You can be influenced by someone without for a moment attempting (or succeeding!) in imitating them; just get a shot in the arm of something you'd like to see in your own writing. PLENILUNE is great for that :).

Annita Wheeler Parmelee said...

I also reread "Plenilune" and "Persuasion."

Olivia said...

Congratulations! At the beginning of 2015, I decided to try to read 70 books, after seeing you put your list up, but I actually read 104! I can't see how you have time to blog, write books, and read that many books in one year!

Suzannah said...

Thanks Olivia :). Well done on the 104 books; two per week is a big achievement!

I'm not 100% sure how I do it, myself. I have to admit I felt I'd been driving myself a bit hard. We'll see how 2016 works out :).


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