I'm going to talk about a few books I read this year and why I like them.
I don't keep up with everything that comes out each year. I don't even keep up with a tiny portion of what comes out each year. So these books aren't ones that came out recently, necessarily--they're simply things I read. I've mentioned before that I need to keep in better touch with the industry and I'm doing that these days by reading blogs--the cheapest and fastest way to stay on top of what is going on. When I do get around to reading books its often a while after they came out.
I think I lag behind because I don't read much. Certainly not as much as I should. I can't afford books and I just don't get to the libraries these days--they rarely have what I want and when they only have one of a series I find myself spending money to buy the rest when I shouldn't. I'm a total snob. I'm not sure what did this to me because when I was a teenager I would read anything and everything that came into my possession. These days, I look at 98% of books and think "meh." I can safely blame my wife, who reads the last page of a book to decide whether its worth reading and then discards it pretty much without hesitation every time. I can blame Steve and Nick, the fellows who run Elitist Book Reviews because--in between gaming sessions where they completely destroyed my confidence in being able to play board games--they introduced me to a new tier of writers like Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson.
Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe. Gene Wolfe is one of those giant names of genre fiction. If you read science fiction and fantasy it's just kind of understood that you have read Gene Wolfe. He was at World Fantasy and when I saw the immense line for his book signing table I realized that I'd never once read anything of his (that I can remember). So I went to the dealer's room and randomly snatched up a paperback. Soldier of Sidon is the third in a series, but I didn't feel out of place starting there. The first one came out in 1986, another in '89, and this one in '06 and this book is left without any sort of climax/wrap-up whatsoever so I'm wondering whether we'll see a sequel when Gene is 97. The book is written as a first-person journal account which is very similar to what I did in Drums of War (a book I plan on going back to next year) and it was very good to see what other people do with that technique.
Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson. This book sat on my bookshelf for about 3 months because I knew the moment I started I wouldn't be able to stop. It's the ninth, and second-to-last, book in the series and one word describes it: wow. I mean, it's a behemoth. The depth, size, and complexity honestly makes Robert Jordan look like an amateur. It's bold, bloody, and heartrendingly powerful. As a reader, I feel swept along, barely able to keep track of what is happening (and sometimes not at all), unable to do anything but read the next page.
The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. Read these books. Just... do it. The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. This series is phenomenally good. I feel like even the best of books tend to have a huge boring section in the middle. I didn't really feel that way with any of this series. Abercrombie turns a lot of conventions of fantasy on their heads in a really enjoyable way. I actually read this series last fall-winter, but I'm including it because I read it during the initial planning stages of Promise of Blood and it certainly had some influence, especially on structure.
Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook. This was actually a re-read. I first got this book at World Fantasy '08. Yes it took me until '08 to discover Glen Cook. I don't want to talk about it. As for this year's re-read, I had a lul in my writing mid-summer and needed something to boot me back into the swing of things and this did the job perfectly. Cook it just fantastic at pacing and storytelling and characters and it was inspiration when I needed it.
World War Z by Max Brooks. I'm cheating again. I read this book last year but I'm including it on this list simply because of how often I think about it--including when I started writing this post. This book is wild. It affected me in a way that books rarely, if ever, do. Maybe it's because I don't generally read horror or thriller, though this book didn't have the traditional trappings of either. It was actually a memoir. For two weeks I had nightmares of the zombie apocolypse. Now, you may think that's silly. But it's not. Not when you wake up sweating, hyperventilating, worried that all of your family has been eaten and that you're on the run with the what's left of humanity and you consider having bars installed on the windows of your house but then realize that wouldn't help because oh dear heaven why did I read that book I'm freaking out now.
Obviously these aren't all the books I read this year, but they are the ones I reflect on the most, and the ones I feel influenced my own writing. I'll come back and add one or two more if I think of any.