I am notoriously bad at decisions. All decisions. Big ones, little ones, decisions of all shapes and sizes! Can’t make ’em, not at all. I go all Hamlet and freeze, so I just don’t do anything. I’m not kidding. I’ve gone entire days without eating because I can’t decide what to make. And it’s no different with books, either. I’ll carry around a stack of about fifteen or twenty books for a few weeks before finally choosing one. It wastes so much time I could probably read the entire stack before I finish just the one I finally choose!
So you can imagine my surprise when, at the start of 2014, I settled almost immediately on Andorra by Peter Cameron. I noticed, because I’m very sleuth-like, that Andorra starts with A, and I knew, from all my degrees, that A is the first letter of the alphabet. What, I thought to myself, if I read a book for each letter of the alphabet, in order? Would that help?
As it turns out, nope. I wanted to finish by the end of 2014, but it took me an extra five months, so clearly I didn’t save any time. But I did read a lot of books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, and I did finish a lot of books I probably would have chucked into the latrine if I weren’t doing Project ABCs. I think that, really, is a better gift than saving time, actually.
So… twenty-six letters, twenty-six books. (Okay, I cheated a little: my X-book was a short story… but you try to find an X-book that isn’t like the twenty-third in a science fiction series!) I reviewed, more or less (usually less), all twenty-six books here on this site… but I don’t really compare them to each other. So let’s do that now! Best and worst, go!
It’s hard to choose a favorite, really. If we’re going strictly by the ratings I gave the books after I finished each of them, Grendel by John Gardner and The Host by Stephenie Meyer are the only 5 stars… but a simple star (or five of them) is really a mediocre way to judge anything. The books I remember the most vividly, though: The Host again, and Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and Rita Mae Brown’s Venus Envy, despite its abrupt nose-dive into incredibly out-of-place erotica. Looking at these three very disparate novels, you begin to see some similarities: strong characters with forceful, distinct voices and unique plots with some sort of quirky twist (an alien invader-human-human love triangle, a man who talks to cats, Greek gods as characters). So… I guess I have a type after all!
Now, though I hate to be a hater, let’s talk about the books I didn’t like, the ones that I had to fight to finish: A Meeting by the River by Isherwood and Point Omega by Don DeLillo… and maybe Zazen by Vanessa Veselka. Any similarities? Weak (or non-existent) characters for the first two, which felt like stories about scarecrows. Zazen had a single strong character, but she was so mired in the politics of the book that I never really connected. (She was a strong scarecrow, but still a scarecrow.) That’s another similarity, though, between Zazen and Point Omega: they felt like mere vehicles for intellectualizing. I’m a smart guy. I love critical theory, and I like to read critical theory texts, too… but I like them to not pretend their novels, I think. But that’s just me.
But I’m not sad or regretful that I’ve read them. I think sometimes that I put myself into too tight a box — gay fantasy fiction, please, and nothing else! That’s not any healthier than my lugging around a stack of books before I can decide, you know? I got to read books that I’ve wanted to read for years — Grendel and Orlando, I’m looking at you! — and, as I said, I read books that I would never have even found let alone read — Zazen, for instance, and Xingu.
Would I do it again? I don’t know. I’d have to read the first twenty-six books in that one science fiction series I found that had an X-book, but it may be worth it. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would; to be honest, I’m really proud I finished. There were a few times — like when I had to find that damn X-book — that I didn’t think I’d finish. But I did! And I’m proud of myself. And you should be, too!
And you should do Project ABCs, too! And then tell me about it! So… get started, okay?