The OF Blog: 2010 in Review: Introduction and General Commentary on the Passing Year

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 in Review: Introduction and General Commentary on the Passing Year

A few days ago, the earth was at its perihelion; winter began in the Northern Hemisphere.  The oak leaves have fallen and Anno Domini 2010 is drawing to a close with the end of the first day of Christmas for those who follow the Gregorian Calendar.  With the passing of these cycles comes another, somewhat newer and undoubtedly less important event, the posting of annual reviews and yearly superlatives.  Already several newspapers, online sites, and personal blogs have begun posting their 2010 in Review and Best of 2010 lists.  Some of them are worthy of consideration (I often find value in what the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Omnivoracious, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and other large sites, print and online alike, have to say, in large part because there are many books on their lists that capture my attention (especially when there are provided links to applicable reviews).

Of course, with the proliferation of review blogging comes the inevitable decline in quality control.  I have read several dozen year-end posts on dozens of blogs over the years whose lists were as helpful to me as a dog turd in my path.  Doubtless, some may have felt the same about some of my previous annual summaries, since tastes do vary wildly.  Nonetheless, I think some have missed the opportunity to create something that is simultaneously personal in approach and learned in breadth and depth.  While not everyone is going to have had the opportunity (or time) to read several dozen or hundreds of new releases, it might behoove those bloggers who have read a handful or two of 2010 releases to write just a little bit more on why books X, Y, and Z proved to be memorable enough that you chose it to be worthy of consideration by others.  After all, sometimes going the extra mile can make one's list stand out more in the crowd of bland, numbers 1-10 (or 20/25) lists.

Between now and December 31, I plan on writing a series of essays where I will discuss those new releases that have proven intriguing enough that I want to mention them at the end of the calendar year.  To date, I have read around 80 books that were released in 2010 (out of a current total of 419 completed books; several more shall be complete in the next six days).  I believe those 80 books (and the 340 or so pre-2010 releases) for the most part are worthy of more consideration than "Book A was #1 while Book B was #2 and..."  Sometimes, that pesky question of "why" ought to be addressed.

Before I set out to write these essays (varying in length between 750 and 2000 words, or so is the plan right now) on my experiences with graphic novels, Young Adult fiction, Debut Novels, Foreign Language Fictions, Translated Fictions, Speculative Fictions, Non-Fictions, Realist Fictions, Most Disappointing Reads and Favorite Reads, I just want to begin with a little general commentary on the passing year, as it has been a true annus mirabilis for me.  It was around this time last year that I received an inquiry as to whether or not I'd be interested in working on a particular project and from there, other projects opened while some closed.

For the first half of 2010, I spent a lot of time reading dozens of literary journals, genre publications, and various and sundry magazines as part of my duties as the new series editor for the Best American Fantasy series.  Although I didn't keep a strict count, I believe I must have read at least 500 short stories (as well as several dozen poems, just in case one was magical enough to justify consideration for this reprint annual anthology) between January and early July 2010.  Although BAF had to be discontinued, I am forever grateful for the opportunity that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, as well as Matthew Cheney, the founders and original editors of the BAF series, gave me to experience the reprint editing side of book publishing.  Not only was I exposed to a wealth of talent that is published in journals and magazines that rarely surpass a couple thousand subscribers, I also discovered some literary circles of which I was ignorant until this past year.  This has had a major impact on my reading preferences for the latter part of this year, a point I will discuss shortly.

2010 was also the year where I became a paid, freelance translator.  Back in May, Jeff VanderMeer, during the midst of working on the massive reprint anthology, The Weird, that he is co-editing with his wife Ann (publication has been pushed back into mid-to-late 2011), contacted me and asked if I would be willing to translate Augusto Monterroso's short story, "Mister Taylor," for publication.  I said yes and over the next couple of months I translated, revised, and then hashed out a final translation with Jeff that I believe is a stronger, truer translation than the previously-published translation (I'm still young and arrogant at heart, mind you).  That translation led recently to another opportunity, this time with a Brazilian author/translator friend of mine, Fábio Fernandes, to translate snippets of the recently-published Luso-Brazilian original anthology of steampunk fictions, Vaporpunk, which was published online at Beyond Victoriana.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the mostly-positive comments I've read (in both English and Portuguese) about the translations, since I am far more comfortable translating from Spanish to English than I am at the moment with translating from Portuguese to English.

This year has seen a continued proliferation of review blogs and social networks.  Although I began using Facebook for "networking" (OK, just chatting about weird squirrel and/or Scots-related items with writer/translator Gio Clairval, among others) back in 2008, I finally got sucked into trying out Twitter back in May.  While I was unemployed, I would use it quite a bit to pass the time between reading, working out, and translation/editing duties, but I have rarely used it since returning to teaching back in mid-September.  Although I had no true negative experiences with it, I did find it difficult to have a substantive conversation about anything.  In addition, I just found myself needing a bit of a breather so I could regain a "critical perspective" and "distance" that I find to be necessary when discussing a variety of topics, including reviewing and commentaries on certain reading-related topics.  It was also during this time that the short-lived SFF Masterworks project imploded; I still am not an ideal "team player" it seems.  Perhaps the others will renew it in the new year and fulfill its promise of providing a variety of perspectives on one publisher's list of SF/F "masterworks."

One continuing hot topic this year has been the distribution of Advance Review Copies, or ARCs, for review purposes.  I have received them since 2004 (when I received a few materials from Penguin Canada at the urging of Scott Bakker), but never put quite as much stock in them as apparently several other bloggers (and their and my readers) did.  I did have an annoying, somewhat embarrassing kerfluffe back in October over what was and what wasn't covered under this "review embargo" for the latest Wheel of Time book, which resulted in me becoming irritated enough with some of the more outrageous commentaries being said that I just flat-out stated that I would never ask for a review copy again nor agree to any more "embargoes" or anything else like that unless I had personal, prior dealings with certain people working in the industry.  Two months later and I'm happy with not receiving as many review copies as I previously had. 

What that experience crystallized for me, however, was that I wanted a change in my reading/reviewing for some time and that I was letting other factors influence my reading a bit too much.  To be honest, this past year was not a great year when it came to new genre-marketed releases.  I will discuss this in much more detail in upcoming essays, but I found myself being baffled at seeing the absolute dreck and subpar efforts being peddled around as being "best of year worthy" by certain parties that I began to wonder if they had become too involved with the publicity side of the reading/publishing field.  Perhaps this insidious thought is related to my own worries about losing my perspective "distance" due to my own paid entanglements (a concern which I have discussed with a few in recent months),  but nonetheless, it was a feeling that I had and toward which I reacted.  I stated above that my experiences being the BAF series editor had influenced my reading likes.  Well, lately, I have noticed that I would much rather read a so-called "literary fiction" or non-fiction piece than read another fantasy.  I suspect this will be a trend that continues into 2011, as the reading wheel seems to have revolved; I was a non-fiction/"literary fiction"/classics reader long before I began reading speculative fiction in my mid-to-late 20s.

2010 indeed has been an interesting and potentially transformational year for me, both as a reader and as a potential second career option.  I have learned a lot more about myself, even if the information learned might not have been exactly what I would consider to be "positive."  Now that this long-winded exploration of the person behind the list is out of the way, perhaps this lengthy introduction will shed some light on the thought process which underlies the essays I will compose in the coming days.

3 comments:

Amy said...

I'm looking forward to your longer posts about your reading over the year. This was a great introduction to those posts with a look at your year. Interesting to hear a bit more about what you do when not blogging. Really interesting things!

Larry said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes, I get the feeling reading others' blogs that their professional lives must not be all that interesting, based on asides every now and then. I have to keep a veil over much of it due to confidentiality agreements (I can't discuss specifics that would divulge any student's name, for example), otherwise there might be more interesting posts about work than there would be about the books I discuss here!

Amy said...

That makes sense Larry. I try not to mention my work too specifically either (including company name), though sometimes it is difficult. And my job has NOTHING to do with books or writing. I like hearing that others get to read with books, it's pretty neat.

 
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