As usual, I compile a list of my favourite reads of the year, and as usual most of the entries don’t actually date from the year in question. I’ve decided to exclude graphic novels/comics, as at this point I think they deserve a separate list.
Entries are alphabetical by author.
1.Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto
I read the first few cantos of Ariosto’s epic back in 2015, and they served as the inspiration for the incomplete NaNoWriMo novel that I’m currently attempting to adapt into a comic. This was also the spur to actually read the whole thing this year, making Orlando Furioso the most influential read of 2017 in a chronologically unusual fashion.
It’s an epic you don’t hear much of these days, which is tremendously unfortunate: of all the epic poems I’ve read, this is the one which is the most committed to sheer entertainment. Set during the wars of Charlemagne, it’s chock full of knight errantry, romance, monsters, wizards, epic battles, comedy, etc., with a huge cast of characters and a panoramic, world-spanning scope. Also was letting the ladies pick up a sword and kick ass centuries before Star Wars thought to do so.
2.Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
It took a while, but I finally wrapped up Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which the Hugo Awards once decided was the “best sci-fi series evurrr”. I wouldn’t go so far, but I can see why these books are so seminal. It’s an intellectual epic in the sense that the characters aren’t so much the driving actors so much as their ideas and theories are. Which is also embodied in the overall structure of the trilogy, where the sequels subvert expectation by challenging and repudiating the ideas of the previous entry. You can still blast holes in Asimov’s philosophical assumptions, but that itself feels pretty true to the spirit of Foundation.
3.Comics and Sequential Art, by Will Eisner
The fun here is not just in reading one of the great old masters of comics talk at length about storytelling technique in the medium, but also in how it reveals a mind that is as insightful as it is warmly humane.
4.The Histories, by Herodotus
Still haven’t finished reading this one, and I don’t think it requires much introduction. The big names in historiography have long been a lacuna in my reading, so I’d might as well start at the beginning.
5.Gork, the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson
While the story leans a little too hard into teen comedy movie antics for my liking, it was still a pretty zany piece of fluff.
6.H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
A memoir about one woman’s attempt to deal with the loss of her father through her obsession with falconry. Admittedly I enjoyed it more as an informal introduction to falconry than as an actual memoir.
7.Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
McCloud notes that, while there are a lot of books teaching you how to draw various different styles of comics, there are few interested in talking about how to tell a story through comics, which this one aims to do. Along with Eisner’s book, this one has proved a good inspiration for getting my feet wet in the medium.
(I’m cheating a bit, since this one technically is a comic book in its presentation)
8.Mort, by Terry Pratchett
Another Discworld novel. A young man named Mort winds up becoming the grim reaper’s apprentice, and all sorts of bizarre antics ensue.
9.The Once and Future King, by T.H. White
At first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of White’s famous retelling of La Morte D’Arthur. The deliberate anachronisms were off-putting and the frequent editorializing made it feel more like I was reading a commentary than anything else. But it’s really not so much a straightforward adaptation so much as it is one man’s attempt to make sense of the world and humanity through his own personal reading of the Arthurian mythos. Once I realized that, everything snapped into place, and I saw it for the literary masterpiece it is.
10.The Book of the Short Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Of the three multi-volume novels that make up Wolfe’s Solar Cycle sequence, this one is my least favourite. But considering how high a standard we’re talking about here it’s still pretty great. It’s a clever subversion of the standard hero’s journey arc, filled with Old Testament mysticism.