Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best of 2017

Is it too late to put together my 2017 In Books? Nah. It's never too late.

This year I once again failed to read as many books as I did last year - the final tally is 110, down from 114 last year and 119 the year before. I'm tempted to feel a little bit despondent about this, but on second thoughts, let's not. After all, I did both achieve and exceed my base goal of 104 books, or two books per week. Plus, the time I didn't spend reading was spent with friends and family, or just giving my brain some time to relax. I don't feel anywhere near as mentally tired as I did this time last year, I didn't drive myself as hard, and I'm feeling ever so much better.

Best Re-Reads of 2017

I only re-read 9 books this year, but I'll pick my top 5 as usual.

The Mating Season by PG Wodehouse - I read this aloud with my sisters (we have a once-a-week readaloud time) and we laughed until we cried. The scene with the village talent show/variety concert in particular will be deeply cathartic to anyone who has had to suffer through a similar event!

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare - I don't know why more people don't love this play. It's the original British screwball farce and I loved it even more as an adult than I did as a teen.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - In case you missed it, this book was directly responsible for kickstarting my first novel, Pendragon's Heir. It's a completely unique whodunit which I found similarly inspiring the second time around.

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson - This was my pick for 2016's Fiction of the Year and I loved it so much that I almost immediately started re-reading it, this time aloud with my sisters. In this zany space-opera/comedy, starfaring aliens invade medieval England and are somewhat surprised when the local knights fight back. This utterly joyous book combines some of my favourite things: medieval people, aliens, giant explosions, and unquenchable hope. Oh yes, and so far all my siblings love it as much as I do.

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow by Allen French - This is a rather obscure boy's adventure story written about 100 years ago, and it's jam-packed with feuds, ghosts, duels, shipwrecks, and an ending that will put a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye. Oh! And did I mention, it's written in the style of medieval Icelandic sagas? Why yes, this book is awesome.

Non-fiction of the Year

I read 22 non-fiction books this year, just one-fifth of my total intake, but each of the books I read was well worth it. I loved Tom Wolfe's hilarious and trenchant critique of modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, which explains a lot. In Crusader research, I took in several tomes including military history and primary source documents, but I want to single out two books which have put important puzzle pieces in place for me. Jonathan Riley-Smith's book The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading explains why the First Crusade elicited such an enthusiastic response - it wasn't a desire for land or wealth, and it couldn't possibly have been a ploy to get rid of surplus younger sons. Rather, it was the idea that ordinary people could serve and please God in their ordinary occupations - as knights, for instance - rather than having to become monks. Then, Christopher MacEvitt's book The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance filled in the all-important details about Crusader relations with indigenous Greek, Syriac, and Armenian Christians. Not to paint too rosy a picture, but this book blew apart claims I've heard that the local Christians reacted to the Frankish incursions with suspicion and hostility.

But my pick for Non-fiction of the Year is actually a writing manual.

I've been recommending John Truby's book The Anatomy of Story to everyone since I read it. First off, I should mention that I don't agree with Truby on everything, especially plotting, but everything he says about theme and characterisation is pure gold. This book is the heavy-hitter when it comes to creating thematic resonance and unity in your story. If you happen to be a writer, this is one of the must-have books. So many writing manuals will mess you around with scratch-the-surface techniques that don't actually help if you don't understand the core of what you're doing. This book explains techniques that you'll realise you've always seen everywhere. Definitely get this one.

Fiction of the Year

I feel a tiny bit disappointed about the fiction I read last year compared to the year before. Once you discount re-reads, there isn't a lot left that I absolutely loved. I enjoyed reading some classics by Sir Walter Scott and Anthony Trollope, but they weren't exactly epoch-making (although my current Trollope read is hilarious and delightful and I can't wait to share it with you when I finally finish it!). I read two highly well-regarded literary novels this year - Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Leif Enger's Peace Like a River - but they both ended with a resolution which I found unsatisfying. I was very happy to discover a new guilty-pleasure read in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, which has been wonderful light fun, however.

Oddly enough, the standouts for me have been mostly poetry. The Icelandic Elder Edda, GK Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse, the medieval chanson de geste The Song of the Cid, James McAuley's Captain Quiros, and (of course) Shakespeare's cycle of history plays are the things that got my creative wheels turning this year. 

I'm going to nominate Shakespeare's Richard III as my Fiction of the Year, but really, that honour should go to the entire cycle of plays from Richard II onward. Henry V is the one most people would probably pick from the history plays - definitely it's a more mature, subtle, and ambiguous work, with some unforgettable and hair-raising writing in it. But, I'm a Richard III girl. Not only does the play cap off a series full of juicy melodramatic backstabbery - but it does probably contain my very favourite ethical set-up found anywhere in fiction. I refer to the situation morally grey characters find themselves in when divine justice suddenly gets into gear and starts dispensing VENGEANCE. This play is Judgement Day for the Yorks and Lancasters, and it's delicious.

2017 in Writing

Last year was unusually full for me, and I didn't get as much writing done as I hoped. In the first half of the year I spent a lot of time planning the next stage for Outremer, and in the second half we had a lot of houseguests, and both these things took away from my writing time. However, I worked hard, released two novellas (Death Be Not Proud and Ten Thousand Thorns) and I definitely hope to release The City Beyond the Glass and Outremer: A Wind From the Wilderness in 2018, DV.

Two exciting writing-related things happened for me this year. First, I got published in Faith for All of Life magazine. This is a Big Deal for me because we subscribed to that magazine when I was growing up and I used to read every issue with avidity. My most recent article - and I'll probably wind up writing more for them - is about how writing Outremer caused me to do some deep soul-searching on my attitude toward Muslims. You can read it here.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, I got to meet the lovely and hilarious WR Gingell in Tasmania, and she very kindly gave me some coaching on how to market my books as a self-published author. Wendee has been a constant encouragement and inspiration to me...and her books have been a welcome source of laughter! Since meeting Wendee, my flatlining sales have revived, and I made more money in the last four months of 2017 than in the whole of 2016. That's good news because it means I can move on with Outremer and other projects in confidence that I'll be able to fund them and bring them to the readers who are going to love them best.

Which brings me to something important: thank you all. Thank you for reading my books or commenting on my blog or sending me emails or leaving reviews on Amazon or just being a friend. You're the reason why I'm here. I hope your 2018 is as good as I'm sure mine will be.


Hanna said...

I got Anatomy of Story for Christmas this year (I asked for it after hearing it mentioned so often in Lessons from the Screenplay videos). I haven't read much of it yet, but what I've read so far has given me an interesting way to look at the stories I watch and read.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I just checked my Goodreads shelves and it appears that I have not read The Mating Season! Now how did that happen?! (I always did have a vague feeling I was missing something in the Fink-Nottle chronology.)

I got The Anatomy of Story for Christmas this year too—I asked for it after your recommendation!

Suzannah said...

Hanna, I'm sure it will just get more interesting :). I also heard about it from Lessons from the Screenplay - one of my favourite YouTube channels!

Elisabeth - oh hooray you got John Truby too! Would love to hear your thoughts when you've read it! The revelation sequence stuff was particularly helpful to me in making plot structure decisions.

I also came to THE MATING SEASON a little late - I'm suspecting it's because it doesn't have a "Jeeves" title.

Joseph J said...

I enjoyed your article about changing your attitude towards Muslims. It reminded me of Leif Hetland, a Norwegian missionary to the Muslims who has helped convert over a million of them in just a few decades. One of his mottos is 'God only gives you authority over what you love.'

Here is a video where he talks about his experiences and the spiritual foundation of his approach: "Leif Hetland | a million Muslims accepting Jesus"

Suzannah said...

Joseph, thanks for the link! It doesn't seem to be working though?

Joseph J said...

I don't know why the link isn't working but if you search the title on youtube you can find it.

Anonymous said...

**pops head up, looks around suspiciously**

Someone mention my name? :D

Hmm, looks like I need to have a peek at that John Truby book as well...

(Also, it was equally lovely meeting you, and hopefully we'll get to catch up again face to face at some stage!)

Suzannah said...

Hello there Wendee! If you check out the Lessons From the Screenplay channel on YouTube it contains a fair bit of Truby wisdom which sold me on the book and may also sell you.

I confidently expect getting to see you again sometime in person! Your nook of Tasmania sees rather a lot of me 😉

Tarissa said...

What a lovely list of your 2017 favorites. I hope you know I'll now have to add most of these to my ever-growing Goodreads shelves to remember later. I'm especially interested in your re-reads -- since they were so good, apparently.

And... I've GOT to start reading Wodehouse. Maybe 2018 is the year!


Suzannah said...

Tarissa, I can't recommend Wodehouse highly enough! Start with LEAVE IT TO PSMITH or RIGHT HO, JEEVES - they're among his very best.

Jill Stengl said...

I look forward to hearing about this Trollope book! :-) I love your book recommendations. I've been reading mostly fluff lately for research purposes, but soon I will need more Trollope.

Huge Wodehouse fan here since high school, which is . . . a while ago now. ;-) My first favorite of his was Meet Mr. Mulliner. "Buck-U-Uppo" is a common term in our house. And The Truth About George always makes me laugh.

I'm a huge WR Gingell fan, so delighted (and jealous) you got to meet her!

I enjoy reading your in-depth book reviews! Each one is an education.

Suzannah said...

Jill, I'm so looking forward to reviewing this Trollope book - AYALA'S ANGEL. But, that might not happen for a little while as I'm reading it aloud, rather slowly, with my sisters!

Imagine that - "Buck-U-Uppo" is also a commonly-used phrase around here, often used to refer to our favourite sermons actually!

Thanks for the encouraging words :). I love the challenge of reading, thinking about, and writing about good classic literature! And I totally understand needing to research fluff. Dare one hope you have a new writing project in the offing?

Anonymous said...

I loved the Mr. Mulliner books, too, Jill :D He's just so loveable :D

(And if you're ever in Tas, we should definitely meet up, too :) )


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