Somewhat shockingly, it turns out that I’ve been doing this booklog thing for nearly three years now, which allows me to graphically see just how far my reading has declined — if it weren’t for graphic novels, I doubt I’d’ve read more than a dozen books this year. (I blame the Internet.) But as pathetic and lame as my reading volume was, it’s nevertheless early January and therefore time for my traditional year-end wrap-up. Let’s open the envelopes.
Trend of the Year: A year ago, I gave the illusory trend of the year award to the increasing prominence of graphic novels in my reading; this year, that illusion turned to reality, as a full 22 of the 53 books I read were graphic novels. This trend barely beats out “not reading very much”, as those numbers depressingly show. (I still blame the Internet.)
Best Series: The arbitrary rule I set for myself last year was that I had to have read “most” of the series in the last year. I figure that 2/3 counts as “most” for these purposes, and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle picks up the easy win. This is a seriously great trilogy, and easily the best thing I read all year.
Best Book: I was afraid that I was going to have to give Stephenson a double win, since The System of the World is clearly and obviously the single best book I read last year (and possibly since the inception of the booklog); but my arbitrary rules save the day, as this category is apparently supposed to go to the book I’d tell you to read if you could read only one book, and I’d never suggest the third book of a series in that situation. Looking over the rest of the contenders, I find myself in a situation much like last year: The runner-up is a non-fiction book, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and the winner is a big ol’ brick of historical fantasy, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale .
Worst Book: Two years in a row, we have a tie in this category. Here we split the honors between a magazine article padded out to a book, Henry Petroski’s Small Things Considered , and a piece of tedium magically captured and bound between covers, Steven Gould’s Wildside . Avoid them both.
Most Disappointing Book: This is an easy category, thanks to Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun , a turgid piece of crap from a guy who’s written some of the best fantasy in existence. Let’s all hope that it represents a small stumble rather than the start of a precipitous decline.
Best Graphic Novel: Last year, I declined to give this out, as there were no worthy nominees. This year, there is one stand-out, the four volumes of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias . I’ve lightly enjoyed most of what Bendis has written, but this is just way above his normal level.
Best Publishing Trend: Befitting 2004’s apparent status as the Year of the Graphic Novel, I’m going to go with the increasing prominence of graphic novels. It’s maybe not a new trend, but it is an ongoing one. It’s easier and easier to find comics in a useful collected form these days, which is what makes it feasible for someone like me, who’s not about to get into comic collecting or run down to the local comic book shop to get this week’s batch o’ pamphlets, to actually read this stuff. For yet another reason, I’m incredibly thankful that I don’t live 20 years ago; the Golden Age of Reading is right now, and it’s pretty damn cool.