Dorothy’s Favorite Books of 2016: Station Eleven & Born A Crime

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Dorothy McQuaid
Showrunner for Pycera/Social Media for BWP
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Hello, Whisperers! Happy New Year! I loved Rebecca’s post about her favorite book of 2016, and I wanted to make my own.  I was fairly certain what I would choose for most of the year – I said things like “this is the best book I’ve read in years” and actually went so far as to get a quote from it tattooed on my living flesh. However, in the very last days of 2016, I listened to an audiobook version of another amazing book (which was actually published in 2016,) and honestly couldn’t decide between the two. Luckily, one is non-fiction and one is fiction, so I can choose both!

My favorite fiction book I read in 2016: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (published 2014.) Although this book received accolades and awards when it was released, somehow the hype went over my head and I didn’t hear anything about it. Really it should only take four words for you to want to read this book: “Shakespeare after the apocalypse.” What more could you possibly want? Oh, a reference to Star Trek that makes you want to cry and sing and laugh and run out to the tattoo parlor? This book has that too. The core of this book is going beyond survival, into…. thrive-al(?) in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While others cobble together a living from the land or the remains of the cities, this book follows a cast of actors, musicians and other artists who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and classical music. Because survival is insufficient.

My favorite non-fiction book I read in 2016: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (published 2016.) I don’t watch The Daily Show and have only seen a few clips of Trevor Noah, but when several friends of varying literary interests began raving about this book, I had to check it out. I ended up listening to the audio version, and I’m glad I did – it is narrated by Trevor and he speaks the different African languages, accents for each person, just a generally fabulous narration. I couldn’t put it down. Trevor manages to address social issues like racism, sexism, institutionalized poverty, code switching – WAIT DON’T FALL ASLEEP – while also telling great stories about pooping on the floor and getting abandoned by a dog named Foofy. Listen to this book. It will make you laugh and cry.

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Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie,

Howdy. You are really awesome.

That’s all, basically.

I could spend several hundred words telling you how freaking amazing The Raven Cycle is and how much I adored The Scorpio Races.

I could write you an essay about how incredibly skilled you are at blending fantasy with reality, at reminding your readers of the magic that already exists in our world.

I could write a whole letter on your use of mythology in The Scorpio Races and how much this religious scholar just ate that up.

I could write you a book about how following you on various social media platforms has taught me that the world is unfair and that the level of talent you have in the variety of areas you have it is just unreal.

I could go on and on and on about why I went and got a raven tattoo after the release of The Raven King (and yes the biggest raven is named Chainsaw).

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But at the end of the day the most important thing for me to say is that I am grateful for you, and all that you do.

Thank you for being really awesome.

Seriously.

Really, thank you.

-Rebecca

Melina Marchetta

Dear Melina,

I have stayed awake all night reading a book exactly three times in my life. This is not because I don’t become engrossed in many of the books I read, but rather because I have actual anxiety about the amount of sleep I get. As someone who has been suffering from a particularly ugly kind of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and the inability to stay asleep for more than 2 hours) since she was eight years old, bedtime is sacred to me. If I’m going to be even halfway functional as a human I need to be in bed for at least ten hours every night, and I do not push that.

So when I tell you that you wrote one of the books that I stayed up all night to read, I need you to understand that this is a huge thing. The only other books that have this distinction are Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which is my all-time favorite novel and the subject of my undying love and devotion, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I read immediately after its midnight release largely because my brother was going to spoil the ending for me if he finished it first (and also I’m from the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, so that was a major life event for me as well).

Essentially what I’m trying to tell you is that your Lumatere Chronicles really blew my mind. I picked up Finnikin of the Rock during a stage in my life where I had a complicated relationship with YA literature, especially YA Fantasy. I was a graduate student with fairly limited time to read for pleasure so I was drawn to YA Fantasy books because they were shorter and easier reads than their adult counterparts. But I was growing increasingly frustrated because they also lacked a lot of the substance and heart that drew me to most of the fantasy stories that I adored. I was worried I was outgrowing the genre, potentially losing some of my identity as a reader. I was disillusioned with myself and the stories I was consuming. Finnikin of the Rock was my light in that dark time. While I did not read it in one sitting, I did read it in two, and it was the first book in probably years that had me longing for it when I was away from it, that had me thinking about it all day and arranging my work such that I’d have ample time to read it when I got home from classes.

I was so excited about it that I bought copies for my roommates and forced it on my boyfriend at the time (who has since married me, for whatever that’s worth). I immediately purchased both Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn, and I read Froi in one sitting that Saturday and stayed up until 6 am on Sunday to finish Quintana of Charyn.

I then proceeded to re-read the series three times over the next month. They left me deeply satisfied on an emotional level and had my brain firing on all cylinders. Several of my own darker fantasy projects are more than slightly influenced by The Lumatere Chronicles and it is the first series I recommend to anyone who wants to read a good fantasy.

So thank you for restoring my faith in literature and for reminding me what it was like to be an avid reader, to be some consumed by a story that it became the only thing that mattered. You are amazing, truly.

Much love and gratitude,
Rebecca

Neil Gaiman

Dear Neil,

I definitely had every intention of finding a few of my favorites quotes of yours and building them cleverly into this letter, but the fact is there are way too many of them and it’s just not going to happen. Frankly if I’m going to be using your words to talk to you I’m not sure why I should bother writing at all. So please appreciate this stumbling attempt to express to you how grateful I am for your profound influence on my life for what it is.

The thing about you, Neil (may I call you Neil?) is that you are not on my favorite authors list because you’ve written some of my favorite books. Don’t take that the wrong way–I own everything you’ve ever written and I deeply love it all. I recommend your writing far and wide and I’ve convinced more than one person to read Sandman who otherwise would flatly refuse to read graphic novels (spoiler alert: they have all adored the series). I even take some time each year to re-read some of my favorites of yours, notably Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book (though Ocean at the End of the Lane did something to me and is definitely going to be on this year’s rotation). But what I really love about you, what really gets me about you, is who you are outside of what you’ve written.

I have a running Google Doc of all my favorite quotes of yours from your books, from interviews, from talks, from social media, etc. On my list of tattoos I badly want I’ve got about six of your quotes (they are the only quotes on my list because generally I’m not that into the idea of word tattoos). If I had to lay down my life philosophy in writing I could probably do it by stringing your wisdom nuggets together.

Your words have had a profound influence on me and on my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’ll read something you wrote and I’ll think to myself, “Wow, I’ve always felt that way but never been able to put it into words. How does he do that?” Other times I’ll read them and think, “Wow he’s brilliant. Why have I never thought about it that way?”

And the thing is, Neil, that I bet you’ll be both pleased to know you’ve had this kind of an effect on my life and also mildly embarrassed by it. I like to imagine that you’d feel a little bit like anyone who listens to you must be an idiot because of course you don’t know what you’re talking about, but mostly you’d be happy to know that all the work you’ve put into your art has done some work of its own. You’re always encouraging people to live their lives, to tell their story, to put themselves out into the world and to change the world just a little bit at a time. I’d just like you to know that you’ve made quite a success of that yourself, and I couldn’t appreciate you more for it.

Thank you, and never stop doing what you do (pretty please),
Rebecca

Juliet Marillier

Dear Juliet,

I was eleven years old when I stumbled upon a display at my local library that contained both Daughter of the Forest and the newly published Son of the Shadows. At the time my reading palate consisted entirely of Harry Potter and historical romance novels. And yes, I do mean romance novels. Like the really bad kind, the kind that my friends and I would read out loud to each other as we hid under the blankets with a flashlight at sleepovers because we couldn’t get over how gross and silly it all sounded. I can’t say what initially drew me to Daughter of the Forest, but I do know that I ended up picking both of the books up because there was a review from the Romantic Times on the book which praised it as being “surprisingly romantic.” I can’t know my eleven year old mind, not entirely, but I can be certain that this review is the reason I decided to give your books a shot.

At 3 am that same night I was awake in my bedroom, pacing back and forth, talking myself through everything that had happened, everything that could happen, and wondering how in the world Daughter of the Forest could possibly have a happy ending and why anyone would call it romantic. Earlier in the day I’d been deeply traumatized by early events in the book but had persevered with that promise of romance, and had somehow become so entirely engrossed in the tale that it wasn’t until the infamous burning day that it even occurred to me that I might not actually be reading a romance novel.  

The sleep I lost that night finishing Sorcha’s journey was absolutely worth it, and I ordered the soon-to-be-published Child of the Prophecy before I even started Son of the Shadows. Since then I have been an avid follower of yours, pre-ordering each book as soon as the pre-order becomes available, and even ordering some books (such as Foxmask) from Australia since the US edition would be released nearly a year after its Australian counterpart.

Daughter of the Forest is the first book, aside from Harry Potter, that I absolutely lost myself in. It sparked my love of the fantasy genre and encouraged me to broaden my reading and writing horizons. But what always gets me about it (and most of your books, honestly), is that no matter how many times I read it I still have the same overwhelming tide of emotions that absolutely stunned eleven-year-old me. My first copy of Daughter of the Forest is filled with post-it notes and the cover on it has long since fallen off from fifteen years of love and avid use. When I read it again several months ago, for what is likely the 500th time, I still cried at some of my favorite parts, still felt that intense need to finish it, to see the story through, to find out what happens next even though I could probably quote the thing line-by-line at this point.

Sorcha and her story marked the beginning of a lot of things for me, and I love that she was the beginning of your writing journey as well. Thank you so much for bringing her to the world, and to my world. Thank you for years of intense love and joy, and for every story you’ve written since then. I never hesitate to name you as my favorite author, and I am grateful every day for that one Romantic Times review which brought you to my life.

Many thanks and all the love,
Rebecca (aka your actual biggest fan)

Banned Books Week: Wrap-Up

So, here it is: the end of Banned Books Week. We’ve discussed a variety of topics and hope that our readers are inspired to join the conversation or check out some of the books we’ve recommended. But now it’s time to get a little introspective and think about our own histories with Banned Books Week. Was this the first year we really engaged with Banned Books Week? Have we seen library or school displays of banned books? Do we celebrate by baking a banned book cake and reading Huckleberry Finn out loud?


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