Reading, Listening, and Viewing in 2012
by Alisa Alering
I don't think anything I'm going to highlight here actually debuted in 2012, but that is one of the beauties of books: they don't spoil like ripe produce (well, most of them.)
Twitter -- which I am still of two minds about -- has done one good thing this year, and led me to the work of the strange and talented Marly Youmans. Marly hopped onto a conversation I was having with another Tweep (about pancakes, IIRC), and was so persistently clever and silver-tongued that I looked up her stories--of which there are a considerable number. Two of my favorites are:
--"Concealment Shoes," in Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. (2006)
--"The Incident at Agate Beach," in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror 2006: 19th Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant. (2006)
Youmans’s stories have an indelible sense of place, the language of a poet (she is one), and a creepy sense of wonder. I've acquired a copy of her out-of-print YA novel, Curse of the Raven Mocker, and am looking forward to a little spooky Appalachian reading to help me through the holidays.
I also discovered Nina Kiriki Hoffman for the first time this year, thanks to a review by Jo Walton on Tor.com. There was nothing intellectual about my enjoyment of Hoffman's trilogy, A Red Heart of Memories, Past the Size of Dreaming, and A Stir of Bones. These interconnected novels about a group of odd young people with magical abilities made that most essential of author-reader connections, seeming to flow straight out of the author's imagination and into mine without translation. Reading these books gave me back hope for parts of myself that I haven’t seen or felt for at least ten years.
Another work that really stands out from this year's reading is Kij Johnson's Fox Woman. I've read (in translation) Japanese classics like The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. Johnson does a wonderful job of creating the same tone and atmosphere for her characters--even the animal ones. A dreamy, transportingly magical work.
This past summer, I had the good fortune to take a week-long workshop with the inimitable Lynda Barry. Artist, cartoonist, novelist, playwright, teacher, and superstar of karaoke, Barry is an unstoppable fountain of inspiration and incisive humor. Her recurring characters Marlys (The Greatest), Ernie Pook, and Fred Milton Beat Poodle are waiting to improve your world. If you're unfamiliar with her work (as it seems younger people are), get acquainted via Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything which collects her early work. Also recommended: One Hundred Demons.
And now for some non-fiction: Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian Family, by Said K. Aburish. I had been meaning to read this 1989 book for a while now, and I'm glad I finally did. I understand times and places better through people, and this book beautifully and vividly describes the life of the author's family in a small town in East Jerusalem from the 1920s. He traces the different choices made by various members of his large family and how they individually react to changing circumstances and the advent of history. Enjoyable and informative.
Sadly, I almost never listen to music anymore, except the execrable stuff I hear at the gym. Audiobooks and radio shows are a different story. I listen to these when I walk the dog, do the dishes, mow the lawn, clean the cat boxes....pretty much anything that requires my hands and not my brain.
Going along with my 'history through biography' theme, I greatly enjoy the BBC Radio 4 program Great Lives. A celebrity guest (but this is Radio 4, so the celebrity is an ex-Home Secretary, a Welsh poet, or the Astronomer Royal) nominates a ‘great life’. An expert or two is rounded up, and along with host Matthew Parris, they geek out about the subject for twenty-eight minutes. Recent episodes have covered Philip K. Dick, Josephine Bonaparte, Stan Laurel, and Juvenal. The fact that all of this is not dull but fascinating is the magic of Radio 4.
Some audiobooks I enjoyed the most this year are:
--One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms & The Broken Kingdoms, Books 1 & 2 of the Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
--The New Republic, by Lionel Shriver
--The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
--Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
--Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller
I’ve been watching Doctor Who and Sherlock, just like everybody else.
Alisa Alering is a recent graduate of Clarion West (2011). Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Flash Fiction Online, Every Day Fiction, and Writers of the Future, Vol.29. Her story “Madeline Usher Usher” will appear in Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries Lost, Suppressed, or Misplaced in Time, forthcoming from Aqueduct Press. She supervises "The Writer's Room" column in the new Waylines magazine. Visit her blog at http://alisaword.wordpress.com/about/ or follow her on Twitter @alering.