Best of 2009 Picks -- James Stoddard
Here's my list below. Hope it's not too long.
I've also finished the third Evenmere book, and am looking for an agent/publisher to handle it.
I'm always years behind on my reading list, and this year is no exception. Once upon a time, I read an anthology entitled Dragons, Elves, and Heroes, edited by Lin Carter, reprinting excerpts from fantasy works dating back several centuries, like Beowulf, and the Mabinogian. I often thought that one day I would find the original works and read them. However, back in the pre-internet days, obtaining those books was difficult. Only in the last couple of years have I begun looking for them again. This year, I read S. Baring Gould's version of The Grettir Saga, which was excellent, Sir John Mandeville's Travels, which was dull, and John Martin Crawford's translation of The Kalevala (also excellent). With the exception of The Gesta Romanorum, which I will get to, and The Faerie Queen, which I will never get to, I've pretty much gone through all the books now, and have come to the conclusion that, for those readers less compulsive than myself, the anthology itself is more entertaining than reading the entire works. The Grettir Saga is perhaps the strongest exception.
I also read Roger Zelazny's Frost and Fire. Zelazny is one of my favorite writers, and the stories within were quite good. I stumbled my way through War and Peace, and can now say I've read it and it wasn't worth it. On the other hand, Nicholas Nickleby, despite some slow spots, features one of the great villains in literature˜I believe Dickens has a future. Or, at least a good past.
I've also been reading through some of the books listed in Cawthorn and Moorcock's Fantasy, The 100 Best Books. Every reader is most influenced by the books he reads when young, and I think their list is no exception. I forced my way through Zuleika Dobson (a short story in novel form), dragged myself through Pratt's The Well of the Unicorn (well-written, but not gripping), and stumbled through Garnett's Lady into Fox (a short-short story in novelette form). On the other hand, I have to agree that LeFanu's Uncle Silas is indeed an excellent book, though honestly not, by any definition I can think of, a fantasy novel. And The Monk, by Matthew Lewis is quite well-done, though a tad grim. But everyone in Europe was grim in 1796.
I read a little LeGuin (impossible to go wrong) and reread Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer, which has got to be the most atmospheric work this side of Titus Groan. I may read the rest of the series one per year to savor the aroma. I also reread Bob Shaw's Night Walk. Shaw is truly an underestimated writer. (Invent Slow Glass!) I read Ray Bradbury's Now and Forever, more proof, if any were needed, that he deserved the Pulitzer. I also read Card's Seventh Son. Why is it that some of the best writers˜Dickens, Bradbury, Card˜have theater backgrounds?
I read L. Jagi Lamplighter's first novel Prospero Lost, and liked it so much I wrote a cover blurb for it.
When I was in college I read James Stephens' Crock of Gold and found it 'mildly entertaining.' A few years later, I ran across it again and thought it 'a pretty good book.' Two or three years ago, I found a copy at a library sale for a quarter. I read it this year, and am finally old enough to truly appreciate this most excellent and wise novel. Some books are willing to wait for us until we're ready.
I downloaded a free audio version of The Worm Ouroboros from this site, public domain books read by volunteers. Often there are different readers for different chapters, all of various quality. In this case, one Jason Mills does an outstanding job reading the entire work. Although I had read Worm in college,this time around, perhaps because of the lyrical reading, I realized just how much Eddison and Tolkien have in common. Tolkien was surely influenced by the sheer epic scope of the book. It really is the only novel I've read that has the heroic feel of LOTR.
Last night we went to see James Cameron's Avatar. Amazing technology married to a very good script. I was never bored throughout the entire 3 hours. And it's worth seeing in 3D. I couldn't help but wonder if Cameron wasn't heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books. The six-legged horses could be circumstantial evidence, though. . . .
Rereading the above, I am now making a vow that 2010 will be The Year I Read Lots of Books Less Than Five Years Old. Of course, it's only going to put me farther behind on the rest of my reading list
Editors note -- Stoddard's short story, The First Editions, is currently available in the first print-on-demand book from Tor: The Year's Best Fantasy 9, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. It can only be ordered on-line, and is found, not on the regular website, but at Tor.com.