Top Books I Read in 2011

I didn't include non-game related stuff in my Awards Extravaganza, so I thought I'd include my other favorite hobby here. I didn't read a great many releases from 2011, but I did go through a great many quality books this year and I feel they should be mentioned. Just like with my games, there is a clear-cut winner for my Book of the Year, but by no means should that be taken that the others were somehow inferior or shouldn't be read. I think all of these books are excellent.

The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

Without question, this was my favorite book of 2011 and the finest modern fantasy novel since Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The second in the Kingkiller series, this book takes the great groundwork laid out by its predecessor and improves upon it in every way. As Kvothe's alternately sad and sweet tale continues to unfold, I am more and more hooked. It is the story of a very clever, crafty student who stumbles through relationships as easily as he masterfully takes charge of his own fate as a magician, musician, and a warrior, and it is powerfully enchanting stuff.

The First Law trilogy - Joe Abercrombie

It took me a while to get into The First Law novels. At first, I was frustrated with Abercrombie's abrupt, straightforward storytelling. He trims a lot of descriptions down to their very barest essentials, leaving a world that I want to know more about but am left with only the barest of details. However, what the reader is left with is a tight, grim account of anti-heroes trying their best to save the world. The trilogy really pays off in its last novel, spinning on its head everything I thought I knew and understood about who these characters were and where they were heading. The last half of the third novel is perhaps the single most grim triumph of the so-called "good guys" I've ever seen. If you're like me and you hesitate to finish this series based on the first half of the first novel, trust in Abercrombie and stick with it. It turns into a pretty neat read.

The Handsome Man's Guide to Being Handsome - Kevin Shively

This was a Christmas gift from my awesomely awesome brother. I literally read it in two sittings - it's that damn funny and engaging. It's precisely what it sounds like - a comedic look at being handsome, from the fella that runs the comedy blog KevinSaysThings.com. If you're looking for something straight-up funny to read, this is highly recommended. There's a chapter devoted to the description and identification of crazy women that is classic and had me about in tears.

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

This year saw me catch up on a lot of Brandon Sanderson's novels, namely the Mistborn trilogy and this one. I wasn't a fan of the Mistborn trilogy, but The Way of Kings is a markedly better book than those. It is sprawling in the vein of the very best in fantasy novels, has a few great characters, and best of all, he doesn't become overly engrossed or detailed in the inane specifics of his magic system. He has a lovingly crafted world here, and I really look forward to seeing what he does with it in the future.

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

I freakin' love Scott Lynch's novels. Red Seas does an admirable job of carrying the torch from The Lies of Locke Lamora, and while it never is quite as good as that remarkable novel, it is still fantastically good. I said in a review on Goodreads that there's this deception of swashbuckling and a feel-good vibe throughout the first two-thirds of the novel that is slowly, horrifically cast off by the time the novel is finished. Lynch is a master of that sinking void, wherein I try as a reader to claw at the remains of that feel-good nature as he slowly, deliberately pulls me into that pit of sadness by its end. It is full of the same wit and banter that permeated the first novel, with an added feel that the two protagonists have now grown up, insofar as these two gentlemen bastards can grow up. I cannot wait for the third novel.

Start the Conversation
6 Comments
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I didn't include non-game related stuff in my Awards Extravaganza, so I thought I'd include my other favorite hobby here. I didn't read a great many releases from 2011, but I did go through a great many quality books this year and I feel they should be mentioned. Just like with my games, there is a clear-cut winner for my Book of the Year, but by no means should that be taken that the others were somehow inferior or shouldn't be read. I think all of these books are excellent.

The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

Without question, this was my favorite book of 2011 and the finest modern fantasy novel since Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The second in the Kingkiller series, this book takes the great groundwork laid out by its predecessor and improves upon it in every way. As Kvothe's alternately sad and sweet tale continues to unfold, I am more and more hooked. It is the story of a very clever, crafty student who stumbles through relationships as easily as he masterfully takes charge of his own fate as a magician, musician, and a warrior, and it is powerfully enchanting stuff.

The First Law trilogy - Joe Abercrombie

It took me a while to get into The First Law novels. At first, I was frustrated with Abercrombie's abrupt, straightforward storytelling. He trims a lot of descriptions down to their very barest essentials, leaving a world that I want to know more about but am left with only the barest of details. However, what the reader is left with is a tight, grim account of anti-heroes trying their best to save the world. The trilogy really pays off in its last novel, spinning on its head everything I thought I knew and understood about who these characters were and where they were heading. The last half of the third novel is perhaps the single most grim triumph of the so-called "good guys" I've ever seen. If you're like me and you hesitate to finish this series based on the first half of the first novel, trust in Abercrombie and stick with it. It turns into a pretty neat read.

The Handsome Man's Guide to Being Handsome - Kevin Shively

This was a Christmas gift from my awesomely awesome brother. I literally read it in two sittings - it's that damn funny and engaging. It's precisely what it sounds like - a comedic look at being handsome, from the fella that runs the comedy blog KevinSaysThings.com. If you're looking for something straight-up funny to read, this is highly recommended. There's a chapter devoted to the description and identification of crazy women that is classic and had me about in tears.

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

This year saw me catch up on a lot of Brandon Sanderson's novels, namely the Mistborn trilogy and this one. I wasn't a fan of the Mistborn trilogy, but The Way of Kings is a markedly better book than those. It is sprawling in the vein of the very best in fantasy novels, has a few great characters, and best of all, he doesn't become overly engrossed or detailed in the inane specifics of his magic system. He has a lovingly crafted world here, and I really look forward to seeing what he does with it in the future.

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

I freakin' love Scott Lynch's novels. Red Seas does an admirable job of carrying the torch from The Lies of Locke Lamora, and while it never is quite as good as that remarkable novel, it is still fantastically good. I said in a review on Goodreads that there's this deception of swashbuckling and a feel-good vibe throughout the first two-thirds of the novel that is slowly, horrifically cast off by the time the novel is finished. Lynch is a master of that sinking void, wherein I try as a reader to claw at the remains of that feel-good nature as he slowly, deliberately pulls me into that pit of sadness by its end. It is full of the same wit and banter that permeated the first novel, with an added feel that the two protagonists have now grown up, insofar as these two gentlemen bastards can grow up. I cannot wait for the third novel.

Moderator
Edited by dankempster

I wish I'd read some of these so I could post a more constructive comment. Unfortunately I haven't touched any of these books, which means I can only say that the stuff by Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch sounds like it'd be right up my street, so I'll probably either order copies of those in the New Year, or suggest them to my parents as potential birthday gifts. Thanks for the indirect recommendations!

On the subject of books, I've also started Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I'm only about a third of the way through Volume 1, so I've barely made a dent in it in the grand scheme of things, but it's definitely caught me as a very interesting set-up for epic fantasy if nothing else (I read the foreword, in which King reveals his inspiration was primarily drawn from both The Lord of the Rings and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and that sounds like a seriously awesome combination). My only gripe thusfar is that the characters seem a bit flat and uninteresting, but it's still early days so it's probably unfair to criticise at this point. I look forward to seeing where the Gunslinger's journey takes him.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I did like me some Way of Kings. For a book in which the actual plot doesn't really move forward until the last 200 pages or so, it does a great job of establishing its crazy world and main characters. Endless skirmishing over plateaus in order to kill giant enemy crabs with magical gems inside? That is pretty awesome I would say. Sadly, haven't gotten to Wise Man's Fear yet. I got a Kindle for Chirstmas though, and may purchase it as a way to prevent boredom during the plane ride back to school.

I also read Sanderson's most recent book, The Alloy of Law this year, and in fact got the copy signed by the man himself. It's a good read, in part because it's actually quite brisk, especially in comparison to aforementioned Way of Kings. Not to mention, since it already assumes the reader knows what the hell Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy are, it doesn't bother reiterating the world's magic systems in the same level of fetishistic detail. The three main characters are likeable, even if they do fall into somewhat archetypical roles, and it's really cool to see how different the world is after 300 years and industrialization.

However, if we want to talk about books that somewhat underwhelmed, I also read A Dance With Dragons this year. Like two days ago, to be precise. I'm not sure what your George R.R. Martin exposure is, but that book and the prior one suffer from the common fantasy writing trap of dragging everything out to death, something that the first three avoided for the most part. It's nowhere near as bad as the 10th Wheel of Time book, in which all the characters are literally in the exact same circumstances at the end as they are at the start, but it does the thing where once exciting things actually start to happen it ends, leaving a bunch of cliffhangers to be resolved over the course of the entire next book no doubt.

Whew. I guess I had a lot to say.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster:

Yes, at that point in the Dark Tower series, you're right - the characters haven't really developed to the point where they're likable. For me, that didn't happen until the third novel in the series, which was written at right about the apex of King's career. We'll have to talk about King's influences when you've finished the novels.

And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, read Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. I kid you not, they are two of the absolute finest writers out there today.

@ArbitraryWater:

That book will definitely make for a fantastic flight home. You have the Sparky 100% Authentic Guarantee on that one. DISCLAIMER: Guarantee not valid if you don't enjoy awesomeness.

I have read George R. R. Martin's works up until Dance of Dragons, and I vented similar concerns as yours with his last novel. Like Jordan, he's become so enraptured with his own world and characters that - oops! - he forgets to tell a story. I really enjoyed the first two novels of his series, but frankly, until he finishes up his series, I can invest my reading time elsewhere. Sanderson coming in to work on the Wheel of Time was the best breath of fresh air that could have happened for that series (barring the point that a brilliant man had to die for it to happen, which was certainly tragic). I think it's high time Martin examines what has been done with that series and take some notes.

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: That's a good way of putting it. All of these kinds of books get so obsessed with their side characters that they almost lose sight of the major ones. Did we really need Sam and Brienne in the last book? Neither is especially likeable, and really, both of their stories are barely required in the overall flow of the story. This book at least fares better because it has Tyrion, who is always the best character, and insane Theon Greyjoy, but it also has Jon Snow and Dany sit around their respective domains ignoring everyone else's advice and then, surprise, getting bit in the ass for it.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@ArbitraryWater:

At this point, the only damn reason I'd read those novels is for Tyrion. And if you read Joe Abercrombie's stuff, you get a character likable for many of the same reasons as him. Come to think of it, Abercrombie feels like a super-lean version of Martin. Hmmm.

Moderator