by Shannon Stockdale-Elftman
In the interest of honesty, I have a contrary streak—a large one. Sometimes, I don’t like things simply because too many people do. It’s committed me to a lifetime of missing out on stuff like Breaking Bad, Sarah J. Maas, and Takis. Due to my contrary nature, I generally do not make resolutions. If I aim for life-altering change, I will wait until I hit rock bottom in the time-honored traditions of my ancestors. No preemptive SMART goals for me, thank you very much. Besides, I haven’t felt hopeful at the start of a new year since January 2021. That turned out to be less phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes and more put-out-grease-fire-in-my-trailer-kitchen-only-to-have-a-tornado-blow-it-all-away kind of year.
However, despite my dislike of the resolution, I’ve realized that between work, school, children, lack of focus, and increasing existential dread, my reading the past year or two has not been as well thought out as I would like. For starters, there’s been less of it. In years past, I’ve averaged 60–100 books a year (not all hefty reads, mind you, and some in audiobooks, but still). I’ve read 35–50 books a year in bad years. In the last few years (since 2020, really), I’ve been closer to 25. For someone whose primary personality trait (at least if you ask my friends) is “reader,” this is a depressing turn of events.
In addition to volume, my reading selections have been somewhat arbitrary. I’ve read whatever feels good at the moment (on top of books for my graduate classes and book club). While reading whatever feels good in the moment is great soul comfort, it does leave me languishing as I look for a book to fill my immediate need. It’s the literary equivalent of standing in front of the pantry looking for a snack and being unsure if you want something salty, cakey, gooey, and like a starving woman, you grab a package of peanut butter crackers and call it good. So, to be a bit more meticulous about my reading, I’ve come up with the following list of authors who I’ve either sampled and loved or just books I have in my TBR stack and have been avoiding in favor of the literary equivalent of peanut butter crackers. Because I’m an oversharer, I thought I’d, well, share.
So, in no particular order (and shortened for space), my reading plans.
Jo Walton is one of those rare authors who never does the same thing twice (unless she’s writing a series, but even then, the books are different). I read Among Others, perhaps the novel she is most well known for, quite a few years ago and recently finished My Real Children. I also regularly read her newsletter on Tor.com, “Jo Walton Reads.” I can’t recommend it highly enough if you haven’t read Among Others. It’s a beautiful book about a lonely, book-loving teenager who also happened to save the world from her evil, crazy mother (not that the world knows or cares) and lost everything she held dear in the process. I plan to read the rest of her catalog, including her newest: Or What You Will.
I read An Unkindness of Ghosts when it first came out and loved it. It was such an odd fever dream of a book that I still think about. However, life got in the way, and I lost track of the author since then. As nonbinary and intersex, they are not an author who hit most mainstream radars, and their writing style is more about the journey than the destination (at least in AUOG); this means that you have to settle in for the meandering thought process and the seemingly dropped threads that weave back into the narrative later; in short, not an easy read, but rewarding in its exploration of the -isms (sexism, racism, post-colonialism…you get the idea).
Peter S. Beagle
This man does not get enough respect. His fantasy novel, The Last Unicorn, is iconic. It’s one of those rare books that ages with you; when you are young, you see it as an adventure, a love story, and as you age, well, let’s say the character of Molly has taken on new meaning for me over the years. But Mr. Beagle has a body of work that never fails to amaze and delight. There have been, over the years, several of his novels I haven’t gotten to, though. Including The Folk of the Air and his newest book, I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons.
Robert V.S. Redick
I used to read a lot of epic sword and sorcery fantasy. Even today, it brings a nostalgic warmth to curl up with a genre classic. I’ve struggled to find something in this sub-genre I enjoy in recent years. However, I read Master Assassins last year and loved it. The cover looks like something straight out of 80s era fantasy, but what Redick does to the genre is unique. The story begins with two half-brothers in the service of a warlord who—by traditional fantasy standards—would be the big, bad, evil villain. Honestly, in Redick’s version, she is, too, but we at least get her back story and come to understand (somewhat) the forces that have shaped her. Along the way, we explore a brotherly relationship that makes Cain and Abel seem healthy in comparison. All of this is wrapped in a desert world of dried ocean beds, competing political interests, and monstrous creatures the likes of which Conan would have been proud to fight. The second book in the trilogy is already out, and I plan to dive into this world again as soon as possible.
I could eat up several more pages describing the authors I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with or meeting for the first time. But the editors don’t like it when I ramble. So, I’ve included a picture of my TBR pile that I’ve assembled to share with the story-hungry masses.
What authors or books are you looking forward to this year?