Bookish High Fives of 2019

As promised, a post highligting our best reading experiences of the past year 🙂 Though originally we wanted to limit the best to top five, it turned out to be more difficult than expected – so the title should be treated more metaphorically than literally 😉

Piotrek: I wanted to title the post “year in genre”, but I moved a bit from genre this year… our post summing up year 2019 grew too big, so we decided to split it and tell about our reading and watching in a separate one.

I will start, as in our previous post, with some stats, and Goodreads was kind enough to prepare a Piotr’s Year in Books presentation. 79 books read (it’s 81, actually, already, but the stats are not updating fast enough 😛 ) – not as many as in previous years, but, well, life happens. Still not a bad result, and what’s interesting is not the amount, but the composition. And there were some interesting changes in what books I was reading in 2019. Not a radical change, but a slight move in non-genre direction. I’ve read more non-genre lit and non-fiction than I tended to, this decade. Mostly Polish stuff, but it included this year’s Nobel Prize laureate, Olga Tokarczuk. Highly recommended, and there’s even a movie. Her Nobel Lecture is powerful, and beautiful, audio and text available here. Just one quote, but she touches many topics in a very interesting way…

I think we have a redefinition ahead of us of what we understand nowadays by the concept of realism, and a search for a new one that would allow us to go beyond the limits of our ego and penetrate the glass screen through which we see the world. Because these days the need for reality is served by the media, social networking sites, and indirect relationships on the internet. Perhaps what inevitably lies ahead of us is a sort of neo-surrealism, some rearranged points of view that won’t be afraid to stand up to a paradox, and will go against the grain when it comes to the simple order of cause-and-effect. Indeed, our reality has already become surreal. I am also sure that many stories require rewriting in our new intellectual contexts, taking their inspiration from new scientific theories. But I find it equally important to make constant reference to myth and to the entire human imaginarium. Returning to the compact structures of mythology could bring a sense of stability within the lack of specificity in which we are living nowadays. I believe that myths are the building material for our psyche, and we cannot possibly ignore them (at most we might be unaware of their influence).

I’m going to read more Tokarczuk in the future, that’s for sure! But well, that’s Tokarczuk, what about my reading in 2019? It’s been marked by the finishing of my great Discworld re-read. And then I’ve re-read The Trilogy (Tolkien). Both were, in different ways, as good as I remembered them. I’ve also re-read American Gods, while visiting America for work, and it was also a great experience. I will continue to re-read more, there are too many new books published all the time, I will not read them all anyway, and every encounter with my favourites brings so much joy and new observations!

Ola: As a Goodreads non-user, I base my stats on an old good Excel file – which doesn’t show all the nice pics, but is just as reliable (meaning – ultimately only as reliable as my own entries ;)). So, in the end, I know my list is not complete, as I tend to omit the less memorable comics, and usually forget to include audiobooks (there aren’t many of them, only 3 or 4 a year, and I did my best to count them here ;)). All in all, I have managed to read (and record that I have indeed read) 92 books this year, and started but haven’t finished, 2 more. With all the comics I haven’t included, I’ve probably reached the magic number 100.

Of the books I have read this year, 10 were non-fiction, 5 – literary fiction, 4 – re-reads, and 18 – comic books, two of which were beautiful hardcover Hellboy omnibuses (no, I don’t own them, the library does, but oh, I do wish I did!). No books by Polish authors, though – and only four translated to Polish. The price of living abroad, I guess – I got out of sync with Polish literature. Nevertheless, my copy of Tokarczuk’s Księgi Jakubowe will be with me soon  😉

Piotrek: I will limit myself to books read in 2019 for the first time. My top 5 – favourite novels, not ranked, as they are too different for direct comparisons, and a few words about my non-fiction readings.

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Gene Wolfe, The Wizard Knight (2004)

Gene Wolfe was (he died this year) a prolific and acknowledged American fantasy writer. His short stories (I have one anthology, but it’s still waiting its turn), and novels have many admirers, among them Le Guin, Gaiman and Ellison. His signature? Unreliable narrators, selling you their version of very complicated stories. It’s not his invention, but I have to agree I really have to pay attention when reading Wolfe, not to get totally lost. I find it impossible not to get lost a bit 😉

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My first encounter with Wolfe, though, was when I read his Soldier of the Mist, a novel (part of a trilogy, but I only have volumes one and two, the third part was published years later) about a young Greek mercenary who, after suffering a head wound, is only able to remember event of a current day. Not knowing who he is and pretty little about the world around him, he couldn’t be a reliable narrator if he tried to 😉 Fantasy element is added when he discovers he’s able to communicate with gods and other supernatural beings. I liked it, but couldn’t find any of Wolfe’s other works. A few years later, The Book of the New Sun was recommended to me, and these tomes I devoured with great taste. Story of Severian, young (Wolfe’s heroes do have a few things in common, and not only their youth 😉 ) torturer (!) exiled for showing mercy – and wondering the dying Earth of far future. Quite soon after that I ordered a cheap, used copy of The Wizard Knight, for when I have a fancy to read more Wolfe. I finally read it earlier this year and with a great pleasure, although with a feeling it’s mostly more of the same.

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