The OF Blog: 2011 in Review: Overlooked Books and Genres

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in Review: Overlooked Books and Genres

I'm a little bit later than usual in starting the main year-end review posts, so this will be shorter than usual for me.  In 2011, I set out to read a wider variety of literature than in previous years, at least for the year's releases.  You may have noticed that when I posted the longlist over the overall year's best, there were not many works published/marketed as fantasies or science fiction.  This reflects my changing attitudes toward those two related literary genres; not as much interested me this year that came from there.  This is not to say that there aren't several fictions that utilize some of the tropes associated with those two particular genres, as there are several enjoyable titles that did touch upon it, but for myself, the more enjoyable fictions tended to come from authors that could blend several literary influences into something that felt fresher and more inventive.

Yet try as I may, there were going to be some areas that were not covered much (or at all) in my reading or in my posts on this blog.  I have no inclination toward reading romance novels, whether they be of the Harlequin mode or the paranormal romances so often associated these days with "urban fantasy."  This is not to attack these popular brands (even if I have found the few times that I've glanced at them the sort of writing and characterizations that make them so unappealing to me), but a brief comment explaining why such are not covered here (and likely will never be as long as I am blogging here).

But there are other genres and modes of narration that I do enjoy that I just feel I could not claim with justice to have covered adequately.  The first is Young Adult fiction.  Those who are familiar with me know that I do read and enjoy YA fiction on occasion, albeit titles that are more "realist" than "speculative" in nature.  One of the great joys this year was getting to read and review the finalists for the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature (click on this link to see how I "ranked" these and others in the various categories).  Yet outside of these finalists, I read very little YA fiction this year (I can only think of the book publication of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; it previously was published online and was a finalist – and I think winner – of the Norton Award for YA spec fic this past year at the Nebula Awards banquet; very good book, I might add), so it would not be a representative list to just note six books read that are classified by marketers as YA.

Likewise with graphic novels.  I have completed two excellent graphic novels that were published this year, Anders Nilsen's stunning Big Questions, a book that is already on my longlist.  The same goes to the collection of Kate Beaton's eponymous webcomic, Hark! A Vagrant, which made me smile in near-laughter on several occasions (okay, I might actually have laughed aloud a bit).  Craig Thompson's Habibi would possibly have been considered if I had the time to finish it, but it and a few others will have to await until next year before I get to them.

Speaking of unread 2011 releases that I do plan on reading in the very near future:

Drew Magary, The Postmortal

David Lodge, A Man of Parts

Carlo Ginzburg, Threads and Traces:  True False Fictive (non-fiction)

Although I am reading more non-fiction, I am not doing a category this year due to not feeling it is comprehensive enough (unlike prior years, where I should have eschewed posting).  But there were several excellent non-fictions I read this year, including the National Book Award finalists in Non-Fiction that can be found in the link above.  The same goes, including links, to poetry published this year.

I've only read three fictions published in other languages this year.  Of those three, I would recommend them all, but would probably start with Javier Marías' outstanding Los enamoramientos, followed closely by Carlos Ruiz Zafón's El Prisionero del Cielo and a bit further back, Tibor Moricz's O Peregrino (Brazilian Portuguese; the others are Spanish), which I also found to be enjoyable.

I don't read many translated fictions these days due to wanting to read them in their native language whenever possible, but there were four titles released in English translation in 2011 that I thought were great or at least worthy of discussion:

Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards (Brazilian Portuguese; would have bought this if available).  Oh, this was a great, short novel to read.

Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories (Hungarian, which I don't read at all).  There are a few flaws, but the scope and technique are very, very impressive.  Will likely review this in the coming year, possibly on Gogol's Overcoat.

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Japanese).  It is my second completed Murakami novel (the other was the World Fantasy Award-winning Kafka on the Shore) and it is nearly as good as that.

Gonçalo M. Tavares, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique (Portuguese; again not available via Amazon in the original).  The narrative style Tavares employs in following the rise and fall of a dictator is excellent.

Later this week, I will have two essays devoted to the realist and speculative fictions that I read in 2011, followed by the best 25 2011 releases that I read this year.  One hint (and the reason why I'm not doing a post on debut novels):  the winner is a debut novel.  Another hint:  it's not who you think it is (I haven't reviewed this book yet).

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