The Best Books of 2014

I’m part of a wonderful group of nine women who make weekly reading recommendations–every Wednesday, all year long at Great New Books. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for a good read.

This week, we have our list of the Best Books of 2014. Have you read any? Do you have any to add to our list? Need gift ideas?

Click on the image below to get started!

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Ruined

I’m happy to welcome author Tina L. Hook and her beautiful contribution, below, on something, in this month of Thanksgiving, that she’s thankful she does not have:
 
Standing in the doorway of my childhood bedroom makes me feel unsteady, disoriented.  When I unlatch the warped window and pull it open, the metal siding shrieks in disapproval, only permitting three inches of fresh air.  I press my nose into the lopsided opening and inhale.  The creaky bed frame digs in beneath my knees.  A memory of shivering beneath a thin pile of sheets comes reaching back from 25 years ago.  If I close my eyes I might remember everything, but I don’t close my eyes.
Photo: Sue, fieldartdublin.com

Photo: Sue, fieldartdublin.com

Back then, I didn’t know that my life was supposed to be ruined.  I’m thankful that I didn’t know.

The word “ruined” arrives often in my adult conversations.  Mostly it comes from within the confines of white picket fences and air-conditioned living rooms—the gentle world I travel in these days.  It’s a word I hear used to describe children with troubled pasts or women who have survived ordeals.  It’s a word that settles like an ulcer at the bottom of my stomach, stinging with accusation even when it isn’t meant for me.  What does it really mean to be ruined?

Waiting for me back in my grown-up home is a pretty stretch of yard, and an embarrassingly comfortable couch.  I often check the thermostat and ask my husband if the temperature is good, to which he winces and answers the same way he always has.  I’m constantly rescuing things too, from my pets to my up-cycled projects.  Even my 40-year-old house is in need of plenty of work but is on the road to completion. I guess it has to do with the old promise I made with myself, that I will try to leave things better than I find them.  It’s a tenet that puts me in unreasonably good standing with landlords and neighbors, but more importantly, it means my caring becomes a tangible actionable thing.  It means my loved ones are warm at night.

After I settle into my childhood bedroom, I notice the flecks of red paint—the roses I painted around the borders of the room with a childish hand.  I recognize the stickers peeling from the dresser mirror—evidence of happy days I hoped to remember again.  I see the drawer where I used to hide my stories and my dreams of becoming a writer.  Before I leave, I place one more memento behind.  This time it’s my name tag from my college reunion.  Maybe next time I’ll leave a copy of my first published novel in my old hiding place.  Because that’s what I do.

I defy my ruins.

You can find Tina on Facebook, Twitter, and her web site, Tina L. Hook

The Snow Child

The other day, my 5-year-old son and I engaged in a game we play frequently, where we ask each other questions that we both have to answer. The questions often start with, “What’s your favorite…” Really, it’s just an organized form of chatting.

I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “Paleontologist and soccer player. What do you want to be?”

I beamed at him. “I’m already grown up and I’m doing what I wanted: writing.” He stared at me, in wonder I assumed, so I continued. “I write down stories and one day they’ll be in a book like the ones on your shelves.” (I’d already told him all this, but my son’s memory of things is directly related to his appreciation for them–he can name about 800 dinosaurs.)

“Oh. Okay.” Clearly, I’d told him I had a large infection in my eye because he looked at me with such concern.

See–this is why I have to write a blog. I get no appreciation from my day job.

My first piece is up at Great New Books and I’d love it if you dropped by. I review The Snow Child (bet you thought that referred to my 5-year-old son). I’m closing comments at True STORIES, once I figure out how to do that, so CLICK HERE to swing by Great New Books and drop me a line!

 

I Say Genre, You Say Genre

Steampunk” is my new favorite word. I think it should be the name of a band but it’s the name of a fiction subgenre, unfortunately for aspiring musicians.

I’d never heard of it until I started researching exactly where my recently-finished novel fits in. There are about eight million genres these days. I’m pretty sure when To Kill A Mockingbird came out, it was simply regarded as Fiction. Now it would probably be “Gothic Fiction,” or “Coming of Age Fiction.” Or, more likely, “Gothic Coming of Age in the South Fiction.”

Those novels that can’t be categorized cleanly, like mine, are lumped into literary fiction or mainstream fiction. The two genres are similar and the lines between them seem a bit blurred, depending on where you look.

This hyper-need to define and categorize down to the eighth sub-plot, or lack of, has created quite the battle between the Literary and Commercial genres. (Commercial being composed of the many subgenres, like Romance and Western. And Steampunk, Cowpunk, and Butterflypunk. Just kidding on the last one.)

Literary writers are demonized for caring too much about the words themselves and not enough about plot. Highfalutin, they are. They care about the craft. In Hollywood, they’d be the Method actors who pretend to be homeless for two weeks to prepare for a role.

Commercial writers are demonized for ignoring the beauty of the language for the excitement of the plot. Dumbed down, they are. The Transformers movies.

There’s all manner of stuff written about this apparent enmity. There are hundreds of blog posts and articles titled, “Literary vs. Commercial.” (Which is why I didn’t use it for this post.) Most recently, I read of it HERE, where the author stated that plot IS more important because that’s all anyone ever remembers. I argued in the comments that we also remember stories that are well told, and the words matter. He’d quoted Homer and Shakespeare, for crying out loud. Not such bad writers.

I’m more with agent Donald Maass, who just wrote a book about the merging of commercial and literary fiction. For me and many others, both matter. The best of the best write beautiful sentences that string together an interesting story.

But not everyone focuses on both. Some writers care more about plot. Some writers care more about language. My question is, Who cares? In an age when we have the subgenres of Frat Lit and Synthetic Biology, Decadent and Dying Earth, it’s clear there is more than one way to skin a cat. And write a book.

**I just have to list some more subgenres I found because they sound so perplexing and/or ridiculous (apologies to writers of these): Feghoot, Fabulist, Quiet or Soft, Rampant Animals, Firm Science, Generation Ship, and Wetware Computer.