Time is precious and life is short.
As a kid, I never believed that. When I was younger, life stretched out before me and it looked like I would have all the time in the world to do all of the things I would want to do. I would be an astronaut and an archaeologist and a writer and any other thing that came to mind.
That changes pretty quick, doesn’t it? Age sneaks up on you while you’re not watching and next thing you know, you’re sitting on your bed with your laptop. The dog is sleeping by your knees. It’s the eve of your twenty-ninth birthday and all you can do is think about the immutable fact that life is short and time is precious.
With the acknowledgement that this is true for everyone and not just me (any immortal readers out there?), I’ve put together a short list of some of the best stories I’ve experienced this past year. These stories may not have been fantastic, triple A, #1 slot on the New York Times bestseller list…but they moved me in a way that fills me with the desire to share them.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a very strange, semi-autobiographical story by Jenny Lawson. It was recommended to me by Tami and reads like a rambling string of anecdotes from the mind of someone that’s…if not crazy, at least unhinged. I don’t recommend reading it while eating, or in public, or while doing a lot of things, I think. It’s a funny and strange kind of book and I think many people would benefit from taking a look at just how off-kilter their lives aren’t.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a great piece of urban fantasy for anyone that’s wanted to believe there’s a world hidden around the corners of our own (think Neverwhere or Dresden files). The big standout for me in this story was the use of amnesia in the story that didn’t make me immediately cringe and hold up a cross. A woman wakes up in a park in the rain, surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves and no memory. In her pocket is a letter addressed to her from herself telling her not to panic and that everything will be okay. The soft relationship that O’Malley develops between the old Myfanwy (read like ‘Tiffany) and the new was handled in a very clever manner and was definitely worth experiencing.
Speaking of which, Cold Days, the latest Dresden files novel was also a great read. I know that by now, the people who want to read about Harry Dresden are probably already doing so. To anyone still on the fence, though, I just have to say that in both the Dresden novels as well as his Codex Alera series, Jim Butcher can do escalation better than anyone else I’ve read to date. No matter how crazy the climax of the previous book was, you can be sure that the finale of the next novel will top it and Cold Days is definitely no exception.
If these feel like a bit too much fantasy for you, there’s also The Expanse trilogy starting with Leviathan Wakes by James S. A Corey. This was a nice and hard piece of science fiction, eschewing the more esoteric light speed and warp drives for ships that are propelled by the principles of physics that we understand today. Where crew members deal with a lot of thrust related increased gravity during fights and deal with hibernating on long voyages between sections of our solar system. There’s a parasite of unknown origin that poses a threat for mystery, a lot of tension between the residents of the Belt (asteroid belt) and Earth for politicking, and an intriguing relationship between the open and honest Jim Holden and the cynical honesty of detective Miller which was delicately handled.
For sci-fi with a bit less of a heavy bent is John Scalzi’s wonderful Red Shirts. A tongue in cheek piece of metafiction, the proud crew of the flagship of the United Union of Planets discover something very odd about the ship they’re serving on. Little problems like how every away mission involving the senior members of the crew tend to result in the horrific death of one of the red-shirt wearing ensigns that tag along for the ride. Soon it becomes a mad struggle to escape certain death at the hands of the mysterious Narrator as they struggle to understand what’s going on and what they really are. The description probably makes this sound a LOT more hokey than it is but it’s clear that Scalzi had a lot of fun writing this and his deft handling of the story is something that has to be read to be believed.
Maybe you want something a little darker though, a fitting read for a cold and windy winter night? Look no further than Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. It was released back in 2010 but I only read it this past year after taking a pretty significant break from the works of Mr. King and I have to say that it was like going back to the very first time I picked up The Shining. It’s a short story collection comprised of four tightly paced stories with barely a breath of the supernatural about them that center around the idea that horror can live right next door to you. A stand out for me though was the story Big Driver which featured one of the most…visceral, punch to the gut rape stories I’ve ever experienced. Even more impressive is that it was done with little to no graphic language as it had almost as much to do with the emotional aftermath of such an act as the act itself.
Maybe you want something short and sweet to cleanse the palate? Legion by Brandon Sanderson fits the bill. A short novella about a man with useful hallucinations teaches me that you don’t need something novel length to touch your reader as long as you have a shining gem of an idea. The Emperor’s Soul by Sanderson as well is another one of his short novellas, this one featuring one of the most…inspired magic systems I’ve ever read. It’s akin to the idea behind alchemy in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist but implemented in a way that makes it something new and wonderful to witness.
I know that I started reading it almost three years ago now but Choose! The last little snippet that Tami left us with was regarding the mysterious origins of one of the central characters, a ticker by the name of Bones. Complicated, powerful, and utterly heart-wrenching. Stuff like this is the reason why I even started writing in the first place. I wanted to see if it was possible for me to make other people feel the way Choose made me feel.
Finally, in pride of place, we have my last entry to this list as the story that cut right down to the bone. The Orphan’s Tale by Catherynne M. Valente is something that I can barely describe. It’s about a boy, a prince of sorts who runs into an orphan girl in the palace gardens, a girl that everyone shuns due to the ink-like markings over her eyes. But as the boy soon discovers, the markings are dense letterings, stories written over her eyes, placed there to mark her for a purpose. The novel utilizes the tales within tales format found in the Arabian Nights but pulls them down into a wonderfully wrought spiral of complexity that I could barely encompass just reading, let alone to even think about pulling off. At times, light and cheerful. At times, soul-crushingly dark and depressing. And always, always, always chiming at just the right pitch to ring my heart like a bell.
Reading the final ending to that story has left its mark upon me as one of the most complicated feelings I’ve experienced in 2012 and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
That’s enough from me, though. What I want is to hear from you guys, telling me of some of the most memorable things you’ve read this past year. There has to be something you’ve read that you were just bursting to share with someone and it’s those experiences that I want to hear about.
Time is precious and fleeting.
Let’s make the most of it.