Book Meme Day 1: Best Book from Last Year

And we’re off! The first post of this month’s Book Meme requires me to choose the best book I read last year.

Oh boy. I shall have to find a definition for “best.” Great.

Well, considering how many of the other meme topics are about my “favorite” this or that, I shall define “best” in a more objective way. So, which of the books I read in 2010 was artistically the most accomplished? There are three competitors that stand out: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead, and Airman by Eoin Colfer. It might be easier if I had the literary equivalent of a gladiatorial arena where I could just throw the books in and let them fight it out, but unfortunately, as it stands, I have to do some actual thinking.

For convenience in narrowing them down, let me try to use three main categories, corresponding to the way I think about stories: excellence of the writing craft, thematic depth, and moral resonance. In my notes, I have given each book a rating from 1 to 10 in these categories and then added them together and divided by 3, giving each book a number out of 10. This number will allow easy comparison of each book’s overall quality. (Whoa there, did I just willingly do math?)

And to that I will add my utterly subjective whim.

Drumroll, please…

The winner is Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay!

American 2008 reprint cover

I gave the book a fairly low mark in morals, because Kay’s treatment of sexuality really bugged me to an extreme. Taliesin almost beat it out because of that issue. But in the end, it is Tigana that stands as the towering achievement in fantasy literature. Kay’s writing style and plot depth is just about perfect. Tigana revels in its author’s ability to make the labyrinthine plot both relatable and passionate. Characters are not shortchanged, but all highly developed. Tension is common and action is satisfying. The magic is sprinkled in key places like a potent spice, all the better for its relative rarity.

Airman delighted me with its enthusiastic, old-fashioned adventure. Taliesin warmed me with its strong treatment of religious themes and the interweaving of Arthurian legend and Greek myth. But only Tigana caused my jaw to drop in amazement at, it seemed, every other chapter, and my mind to boggle at the sublime balance being so confidently trod on the pages before me.

Read my review of Tigana here.


Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

7 thoughts on “Book Meme Day 1: Best Book from Last Year”

  1. I have never heard of this book! But it looks like it should make it onto my summer reading list. For, ya know, when I only have work and Latin class to take up my time. Good plot development is always a sign of a good book!

    1. Technically speaking, it may be the best-written novel I have ever read. However, whenever I speak of it I must include a warning caveat: Kay felt the need to include a few very explicit, very deviant sex scenes. I didn’t know about them going in, and they disgusted me. I say a little more in my review, but just be warned. I haven’t been able to see how, from a Christian perspective, I can recommend the book because of that. It’s so sad, too, because take those away and you have a true masterpiece.

  2. I looked ahead at the meme topics, and I think by far the hardest for me would be “favorite book of all time.” I just can’t answer this kind of question. I could narrow it down to a list of maybe the top ten (if really pushed) but my “favorite” book depends on my emotional mood as well as my, I guess you could say, “literary mood.” Do I want classic sci-fi? A scary gothic story? Romance? Fantasy? Historical fiction?

    I do think I could give my all time favorite line from a book, though. It’s this one, from The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle:

    “They [the unicorns] passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints.”

    That line has haunted me ever since I saw the old animated Last Unicorn movie when I was about eight. To me, that line tells about the loss of all the fairy-stories you ever knew and a longing for something beautiful that is gone forever. In other words, it sounds like the loss of Eden to me. Of course, we know it’s not a permanent loss, but for me, every experience of Joy in this world is tinged with a little of that pain. I like the line because it calls to my mind that moment of almost remembering something you used to know that goes along with Joy, and which hurts just a little as it passes again. (I’m thinking of what Lewis says about the subject in Surprised by Joy, of course!) Um, does that make any sense?

  3. It does make sense! Such talk is my language, friend. Of course, I am still numbered among those poor souls who have not read The Last Unicorn (nor seen the movie), and thus it is hard for me to truly experience that quote out of context. But it does seem beautiful, with some yearning attached to it.

    Ranking books this way is actually pretty difficult. I can easily name my top favorite books, or the ones that have influenced me most, but it’s not a short list, and each one is so different as to render comparison irrelevant or just plain silly. How does one compare The Lord of the Rings with The Lantern Bearers, or either of those with Mossflower, or Phantastes? Even when I acknowledge that LOTR is my favorite series overall, I find I have very little to say about it (a vexing problem for someone trying to make a name through literary reviews).

    P.S. Emailing will recommence ASAP, but this meme is making me spend so much time sitting in front of a computer that my legs are getting weak, my eyes tired, and the thought of typing much more of anything is producing something akin to the anticipation of agony in me. I do wonder if it was a folly to begin with!

    1. The Last Unicorn is one of those books that would make my top ten list, and I highly recommend it. Beautiful language, a beautiful (and bittersweet) story, memorable characters. In some ways, very Tolkienesque. In a nutshell, it’s the story of the last unicorn who goes on a quest to find out what happened to the rest of her kind. Along the way, she meets a wizard, a female outlaw, a prince, a bitter king. There is a witch, and a harpy, a talking cat, a riddling skeleton. Just lots of good stuff.

      I grew up watching the movie; it was one of those formative stories of my childhood. I didn’t read the book till Freshman year of college, but it completely lived up to my love of the movie, and sort of fulfilled it, because of course books are more deeply detailed than movies. But the movie is quite good (if you don’t mind the look of the ’80s cartoon style). Beagle helped write the screenplay, and it is very accurate. And the music is beautiful, with vocal songs performed by the band America.

      1. I can’t wait to encounter it, then. Everyone I know who knows the story, loves it. There was also a graphic novel adaptation, with reputedly gorgeous artwork. My friend Shanra wrote a good review of it here — she also grew up with the book and movie.

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