My favourite books of 2013

Time Being The Orenda Cinnamon and Gunpowder

This has been an interesting year in books for a number of reasons, from the changing face of the landscape itself (self-publishing, big publishing house mergers) to major nominations and award wins for Canadian authors, to my own reading habits. I included more non-fiction in my reading list this year, and for the first time began listening to audiobooks. I read 64 books total (not including manuscripts for work, of course! That would push the number considerably higher).

This year I consumed 15 audiobooks (two of which, A Tale for the Time Being and Night Film, I enjoyed in combination with their book version, because they both included visual material that enriched their stories), three short story collections, three non-fiction titles, five mysteries, seventeen historical fiction books, two YA, and ten sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. I’ve read books set in eighteen different countries, and because of discussions on diversity in publishing at BookCampTO 2013, I’ve become more conscious this year of how many books I read by people who don’t look like me. (For the record, this year I read exactly the same number of books by women as I did by men, without any forethought, and fourteen books featuring main characters and/or written by authors of colour. That second number could certainly be higher.)

As for my blog, the number of views in 2013 is more than double that of 2012, I included more author interviews, ran my first contest, and participated in a few blog tours. I also learned that I’m really bad at keeping up readalong posts, and the next one I attempt, if I do one, I’ll write in its entirety before starting to post! I want thank everyone who has stopped by to read, and who commented or tweeted or emailed. Thanks for the conversation! I look forward to a bigger and better 2014.

And now the fun part: my list of my favourite-favourite books of everything I read in 2013! (You can check out 2012’s list here.)

In chronological reading order, my favourites of 2013 are:

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“When we explore the past we are always inventing”: An interview with Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay at the Appel Salon, Toronto. Photo © Alex Hoffman.
Guy Gavriel Kay at the Appel Salon, Toronto. Photo © Alex Hoffman.
River of Stars

Guy Gavriel Kay has been writing epic stories for many years. From the high fantasy of The Fionavar Tapestry to magic-tinted analogous histories in TiganaA Song for Arbonne, and The Sarantine Mosaic duology, Kay’s style weaves together sweeping narratives with poetic, pitch-perfect writing.

In his new book, River of Stars, now available from Penguin Canada, Kay returns to the land of Kitai, which he first introduced in Under Heaven. In a setting based on Song-Dynasty China, we meet the ambitious warrior Ren Daiyan, a second son who wants to win military glory and take back lands long lost to Kitai, and Lin Shan, a woman educated by her father in a way that only boys are allowed. Poet, songwriter, and thinker, Shan must navigate a society that wants her to be much less than what she is. As the face of Kitai shifts once more, as war looms and “barbarians” encroach, Daiyan and Shan move and are moved by the currents of history. . .

I have always been fascinated with the way you tell stories in worlds close to our own but a little removed: something like medieval Italy in Tigana, Moorish Spain in The Lions of al-Rassan—a world you revisited in the Sarantine Mosaic duologymedieval Provence in A Song for Arbonne. Can you talk a bit about how you choose time periods and geographies, and why you set your books in (historically accurate and meticulously researched) analogues rather than the actual historical places in our own world?

Huge, very good question. I’ve done speeches and essays on this, so a sound bite is hard! Certainly there is no rule or formula for “where I go” in a next book. So far (knock wood) I seem to always end up with a time and place that fascinate me. I do that “quarter turn to the fantastic” for many reasons (see “speeches and essays,” above!). One is that I am not happy about pretending I know the innermost thoughts and feelings of real people. I don’t like “piggybacking” on their fame (or even taking obscure people and allowing myself license from that obscurity). I find it creatively liberating and ethically empowering to work in the way I do. There’s a shared understanding with readers in this: that when we explore the past we are always inventing, to a degree. I also like how a slight shift to the fantastic allows me to sharpen the focus of the story towards those themes and elements I want the reader to experience most clearly, and I can even change things, keeping even those who know the history on their toes!

Art by Li Gon-lin.
Art by Li Gon-lin.

Continue reading ““When we explore the past we are always inventing”: An interview with Guy Gavriel Kay”

The Event: Guy Gavriel Kay at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Guy Gavriel Kay. All photos in this blog © Alexander Hoffman.
Guy Gavriel Kay. All photos in this post © Alexander Hoffman.

A day that takes a quarter-turn to the fantastic…that’s how I would describe April 4th.

It took me a week to write about this event because I needed enough distance from it to say something more interesting than “Eeeeee!” We all have those particular authors, don’t we? The ones we’ve just discovered, or the ones we’ve loved all our lives, whose writing moves us, whose imminent new books make us tingle with glee and anticipation. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several authors from my own superstar pantheon, but I’d yet to have a chance to meet Guy Gavriel Kay, whom I have read and loved for more than fifteen years. With the release of his new book River of Stars, the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon series rectified that for me by presenting a wonderful evening with Mr. Kay and Chatelaine books editor Laurie Grassi.

With the exception (the exceptional exception, one might argue) of the high fantasy of the Fionavar Tapestry, Guy writes books that are deeply steeped in history and geography, writing in settings that are based on, but are not, in our world–settings similar to Moorish Spain, medieval Italy, and Viking invasions of Saxony. In his 2010 novel Under Heaven, we encounter the land of Kitai, based on China during the Tang Dynasty. In his new novel River of Stars, we are returned to Kitai some 400 years later. In conversation with Laurie Grassi, Guy discussed River, history and his not-quite-historical settings, what moves him to write, and–what else?–baseball.

Continue reading “The Event: Guy Gavriel Kay at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon”