Looking at my stats, I realize I’ve read a lot more fiction books this year than the previous few. There are several reasons for that. One is I’ve been listening to more audiobooks, which in the past I said I didn’t do because I had trouble focusing on fiction while multitasking. To solve that issue, I’ve basically stopped multitasking while listening to fiction audiobooks. I listen when I first wake up in the morning and just lay in bed with my eyes closed. Upon awakening, I don’t like to get right out of bed. Instead, I lay with my eyes closed for about a half-hour, making it the perfect time to listen to an audiobook. I can really focus with my eyes closed doing nothing else but just listening.
Another reason I’ve read more fiction is I’ve spent a lot less time reading the internet and on social media, reading less Twitter and less blogs. I’ve been trying to focus my time doing more productive things like reading books and writing. Now, onto this year’s list…
1. Exhalation by Ted Chiang (2019)
As I said two years ago, Ted Chiang is my favorite writer working today, so it’s no surprise his new collection of short stories tops my list this year. Most of these stories I’d read previously as they were published in various magazines and websites over the years. They were all worth re-reading, but the best of the new ones was “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom.”
I admire Chiang most for his mastery of and commitment to the short story format. He has probably gotten offers from publishers to write novels or extend his short stories to novel-length because they’re more profitable, but he instead sticks to the short story format, writing his stories as tight as can be while also being stock-full of ideas that will keep you thinking about them long after you finish reading. As Jorge Luis Borges proved, when it comes to writing fiction, sometimes less is more.
2. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft (1926)
I read some of Lovecraft’s stories a few years ago when I wrote this blog post about him, but this past year I became somewhat obsessed with the late author and his Cthulhu mythos. (If that wasn’t already evident from this year’s movie list.) When I first read Lovecraft, I admired the imagination and inventiveness of his stories but found his prose a bit intimidating and off-putting due to its verbosity. Perhaps I’ve grown in my literary tastes since then because I now love the craft of Howard Philips’ prose. He can get quite flowery in his descriptions, but his use of language is so poetic that it’s worth it. To me, Lovecraft is the master of horror fiction because his horror is scientific and cerebral, rooted in deep mythology and history. He’s inspired me to write similarly “weird” tales, which I hope to publish sometime soon.
3. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (2017)
Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft and his mythos, this is a modern spin on Cthulhu and the Necronomicon. It’s actually sort of a mash-up between Lovecraft and Scooby-Doo, which sounds odd, but trust me, it’s good. The story follows a group of kids (now grown up) who used to solve mysteries together but remain haunted by an old case from their past which they decide to reopen. The “monster” may have been more than a man in a suit afterall…
4. Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory (2017)
The short stories in this collection are like modern parables—so simple in style yet extraordinarily deep in meaning. I hate writing that is all style, purposely difficult to understand, with little actual meaning. This is the opposite of that. Loory’s writing is simple enough for children to read yet wise enough for adults to ponder over.
5. God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams (2001)
This is a cross between a science fiction story and a philosophical thought experiment. It’s full of speculative mind-blowing ideas about science, religion, the universe, and the future.
6. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman (2009)
Like God’s Debris, these short stories are more akin to philosophical thought experiments than plot-driven narratives. Written by a professional neuroscientist, each of the 40 tales is a speculation on what the afterlife may be like.
7. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (2018)
Tremblay has been a recurrent author on my best-of lists. This was a divisive book among audiences due to its ambiguous ending. Like most of his work, it’s dark and disturbing, but also gripping and engrossing.
8. Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu (2012)
A nice collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories by another one of my favorite contemporary writers. As with much of Yu’s work, many of the stories get meta—which I always like.
9. The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman (2007)
As I’ve mentioned before, I love time travel stories, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written multiple time travel stories myself. This was a good one, about an MIT student who travels to various points in the future, each vastly different in interesting ways.
10. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (2014)
This is a serial killer crime story reminiscent of the greats like Silence of the Lambs, but with some supernatural elements. It’s set in present-day Detroit with strong well-rounded characters. It’s also one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard. There are various viewpoint characters that change each chapter with different narrators for each, which I prefer. The voice acting overall was great. So much of the success of an audiobook depends on the voice actors in addition to the writer.
- Pulp by Charles Bukowski (1994) — This is the first Bukowski book I’ve read and now plan to read more.
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (1972)
- The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942) — An existential classic.
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981) – A collection of literary short stories by a master of the craft.
- Recursion by Blake Crouch (2019) — I loved the premise of this book but was disappointed by the ending.
- The Bridge to Lucy Dunne by exurb1a (2016) — Short story collection from one of my favorite YouTubers.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966) – Sci-fi classic about an anarchist uprising on a moon colony.
- The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
- The Last Iota by Robert Kroese (2017)
- Taipei by Tao Lin (2013)
- Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (1988)
- Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (1999)
- Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938) – A great novella by Rand set in a dystopian society where individualism is outlawed.
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957) – This book is too long with too many subplots, the romance and drama are weak, the dialogue is stiff and clunky, and most of the characters are more like caricatures, but it’s still worth reading for Rand’s philosophy. There are moments of true brilliance within the 1,000+ pages, mainly through long monologues in which her characters wax philosophically. Rand and her ideas are often misunderstood but as relevant as ever.
- Influx by Daniel Suarez (2014)
- The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson (2017)
- Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut (1968) – A collection of short stories by the great Kurt Vonnegut.
- Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (1973) – Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle are two of my favorite books of all time, but I didn’t like this one as much.
- Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace (1999) – My favorite short story collection by DFW.