2003 in review: Books

I’ve been doing my “Quick Reviews” for over a year now. This means that for the very first time, I can look back over the past year and see a complete record of all the books I’ve read and films I’ve seen. (Well, almost complete. I haven’t kept notes on reference books and textbooks, or on films I’ve watched but had seen previously.) This is great because I always get terribly anxious when I think about how few books one can actually read in a lifetime. With so much fabulous literature (I use the term loosely) out there, and more being published every week, how can I possibly get through all of the good stuff? At least now I can quantify my fears: I read 37 books in 2003.

37. Thirty-seven. Yikes. Maybe it would have been better not knowing, because in the grand scheme of things, 37 is virtually indistinguishable from zero. It also makes me even more pissed off with Neal Stephenson for hogging almost the whole of October with the concrete block that is Quicksilver. James Bamford’s Body Of Secrets took me almost a whole month to get through, too, but at least I finished it and had another notch on my reading list to show for it. If it hadn’t been for Quicksilver I would have broken 40. 40 would have been poor, but almost acceptable. But 37? Thirty-seven??

I don’t normally make New Year Resolutions, but I’m determined that 2004 is going to see me pass the 50 mark.

Looking back on those 37, though, what interesting stuff does my review list tell me? Well, breaking the books down by genre, we have:

  • Crime: 21.5
  • SF/Fantasy: 10.5
  • Non-fiction: 4
  • “Mainstream”: 1

I’m counting Eric Garcia’s Casual Rex as half crime, half SF, because it’s genuinely a mix of both, as opposed to David Brin’s Kil’n People, which has strong potential as a crime novel, but ends up with both feet squarely in the SF camp (to my disappointment). The only “mainstream” book was William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

Also, looking back on the whole list, I need to work on my rating of books in the 4-5 star range. I rated Robert Crais’s The Last Detective as only one of two 5 star books for the year. It was a very good book, but I’m not sure if it really was a top three pick. It made me cry, which is a good sign of the emotional impact a book has on me. On the other hand, it’s not as good as LA Requiem, which, if I had such a thing, would be on my list of all-time favourite books. Likewise, I don’t think it was as good as Harlan Coben’s Fade Away. So why didn’t I give that one five stars? I’m not sure. As I said, the ratings need work.

According to the ratings at the time, though, here are my top-rated books for the year:

I don’t think there can be much question that I’m in a heavily crime-oriented reading phase right now. When I was younger, I read almost exclusively science fiction. Nowadays I find that there are far fewer science fiction books on the shelves that really interest me. I’d much rather discover a crime writer with a solid series of private eye novels behind them than an SF writer with an interesting back catalogue. Hmm. What does that say about me?

The writer I most enjoyed reading in 2003 is Harlan Coben, no question. I just finished reading the last two hundred pages of Tell No One in a single sitting this evening, and Coben is da man as far as I’m concerned.

Worst books of 2003:

I came across fewer real turkeys than outstandingly good books, mainly because I tend not to dip into a novel unless I think I’ve got a good chance of liking it. I’m happy enough to take a chance on a film, because films only last a few hours. I have to live with a book for about a week, so I like to know that I’m going to get a good amount of enjoyment from it. That’s why I like Amazon’s recommendations.

What about that “average enjoyment”, then? Here are the average ratings over those categories:

  • Crime: 3.7
  • SF/Fantasy: 3.1
  • Non-fiction: 3.8
  • “Mainstream”: 4

According to these figures, I should probably be reading more mainstream and non-fiction, but the sample sizes are really too small to draw many conclusions from them. The gap between the crime and SF genres is very noticeable, though. We’ll see what 2004 brings, but so far there’s only one SF/fantasy book that’s firmly on my reading list, and that’s Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin Of Souls. Abi gave it the seal of approval, and Bujold is ever reliable, so I’m approaching that one without any apprehension. On the crime front, I’ve got the rest of Harlan Coben to get through (three more Myron Bolitar novels, which I’m going to have to get on import, or on Ebay, and another two stand-alones), and a bunch more Dennis Lehane. After being a bit disappointed by Faceless Killers I’ll probably give Henning Mankell another try. I also need to get back into Michael Connelly.

If there’s anyone else you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! I’ve got a quota to meet this year now, after all.