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Tell Me a Story…

I have a confession to make. Although I love to read and my reading tastes are fairly eclectic, I really, really like trashy vampire novels. OK, technically that’s not a recognized literary genre, but I’m talking about that class of urban fantasy novels with its female protagonist pictured on the cover clad in leather and wielding a sword. And I’ll admit I have dabbled in werewolves, witches, demons and even valkyries – though I draw the line at zombies. I don’t do zombies.

Last November, feeling a little guilty at the fact that I had pretty much exhausted the trashy vampire (and werewolf and demon) genre, and looking for something to atone for the rot I had in all likelihood subjected my brain to, I came across Goodreads’ 2012 Choice Awards. They have several different categories, and to my shame I realized I had not read a single one of the fiction novels nominated.

So, in typical Wendy overkill fashion, I decided to read them all.

Initially I thought there were 12 books, and I set myself the goal of reading them by Christmas. The rot in my brain must have made me miscount, because there were in fact 20 lovely fiction books. As you may have guessed by now, I did not finish them by Christmas. I finished book number 20 last Sunday. Most of these books are not ones I would have normally picked up. Some were exceptionally difficult to read – dealing with heavy, painful topics. Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue used language in such an unusual and brilliant way I had to read it in complete quiet. (One chapter was a single sentence told from the point of view of a parrot as it escaped and flew past all the other characters in the book.) A couple of times I had to take a break to read something else. (Jim Butcher’s Cold Days came out, and who can wait for that?) The journey has been amazing – in the last 4½ months I have traveled to India, Texas, Saskatchewan, Oakland, Rwanda, North Korea, Mississippi, Iraq, Italy, Hollywood, Appalachia, post-apocalyptic Wyoming, England (twice), Cambodia, inside an autistic boy’s imagination, NYC, San Francisco, Southern California at the end of the world, and the Dominican Republic. Pretty good for a gal who didn’t go on vacation last year.

Each and every one of the books was excellent, and definitely worth the time it took to read. But some books I just, well, enjoyed more than others. And the ones I enjoyed most were not necessarily the ones I would say were the best written. That kind of subjective preference is a delicious mystery about humans – we like what we like for reasons we can’t (or won’t) articulate. Why did Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore appeal to me so much more than, say, The Orphan Master’s Son, which is probably a much more important (and certainly more intellectual) book? Reading 20 books deemed by a collective of readers to be the “best” of 2012 removed my personal preference from my selection process, but not from my appreciation. And the winner? J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which took me awhile to get into, but paid off handsomely at the end. Though I have to wonder, did it win simply because so many Harry Potter fans read it and voted for it, even though they hadn’t read the rest of the books? Did anybody else read all the books? Are awards like this really just a popularity contest? Or are they a form of crowdsourcing literary criticism? If the result of these types of choice awards is that I discover more of these wonderful books, I’m OK with that.

Now you will have to excuse me, because I have a few trashy vampire novels to catch up on.

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