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I Read 40 books this Year - These are my Top Five

A Productive Year of Literary Analysis

By Matthew FrommPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 11 min read
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I Read 40 books this Year - These are my Top Five
Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

Ahh welcome! Enter, enter–the fire is warm, and the rest of the bumbling council will not bother us as we chat. It is good to see you again, friends, and I hope you have enjoyed this most recent circling of the sun.

Don’t you remember me? The Judicious Vicar? Well, along with studying the stories from the wisest in our realm, I’ve shuttered myself up in my tower, working on my true quest in this year of the King two thousand twenty and three.

I have been hard at work studying all manners of literature to bring you what I believe to be the finest examples of pen to paper (and those that should be forever avoided, more to come there on our next meeting). All in all, I devoured 40 books, some new, some very old: 12 Science Fiction stories, 7 Fantasy epics, 6 bits of literary fiction, 3 historical fiction tales, 3 historical nonfiction accounts, 2 graphic novels, 2 autobiographical accounts, 1 horror tale, 1 interview series, 1 piece of satire, 1 metaphysical adventure, and 1 book of wonderful poems. All in, 15,594 pages were read to compile this list.

So we can best understand each other, my top five books going into this year are as follows:

1. The Lord of the Rings By JRR Tolkien: 98/100

2. 1984 by George Orwell: 95/100

3. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin: 93/100

4. Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey: 91/100

5. Hyperion by Dan Simmons: 91/100

All stories are graded out of 10 in 10 categories: Plot, characters, conflict, theme, setting, prose, tone, overall quality, impact, and enjoyment, then, ties are broken by scores in reverse order. A 7 in any category is considered “good and satisfactory”; thus, a book with a score of 70 is what I would consider “good.” An 80 or above is a near-universal recommendation, and 90 or above is a foundational and exceptional text. I have only ever given out 5 scores of 90 or higher.

These are what I have deemed the five best bits of parchment I’ve analyzed this year. Sit and listen, and I do hope they will find their way into your lists for the coming year.

5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

When you read the full list of 2023, which will be included after the forthcoming Bottom Three of 2023 reveal (bumper!), one may think I have a disdain for the classics. That’s also possibly true. With that said, All Quiet on the Western Front is the first of two classics included in the top five. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to vomit at points. I am also disgusted at myself that it’s taken me so long to crack it open as the First World War is criminally understudied in the United States' basic curriculum, and it has long been on my reading list. This was one of two books consumed this year on the topic, the other being the autobiographical Poilu, a book that came in at number 6 overall this year at 86/100. Both books tell harrowing stories of the reality of the Great War—a reality that formed a rent in the psyche of the great powers that, I would argue, exists to this day. I’ll let the true academics pull on that thread more. These two books, in conjunction with each other, paint a vivid picture of both sides of the trenches in ways that make you empathize with every individual involved and serve as harsh reminders of what automatic bullets do to flesh and bone. I recommend you read them both together. While Poilu’s honesty and fullness create a work that is one of a kind in academic study, Remarque’s narrative format fills the gaps that Private Barthas, Poilu’s author, could not. It’s greatest strength is also its weakness. The sheer brutal realism that makes it a masterpiece really limits the enjoyment aspect of it. Sadly, it also probably lands it on many a banned books list in some of the states led by individuals with questionable opinions toward literacy. I am ok with reading this one once.

Overall: 88/100 tiebreaker to #4, 8/10 enjoyment

4. The Wager by David Grann

An instant bestseller for a reason. Like the three bears, most of the nonfiction I read this year was either too speculative (Rogue Republic) or, due to the restraints of reality, too unsatisfying (The Last Battle). While neither of these critiques breaks the enjoyment of a nonfiction book in and of itself, Grann manages to toe the line between fact and fiction in The Wager expertly. Only ever speculating where it is necessary to, crafting a coherent plot out of actual events, and portraying the real lives of the Wager’s crew in such a way that they become larger than life while never becoming caricatures of themselves, Grann even overcomes a relatively unsatisfying “end” to the real story but making you so invested in the sailors lives and the contemporary legend of the Wager that you are left wanting more. I put the book down and say out loud, “damn, that was good,” after finishing in five days. Scoring highly across the board, the only area I found deficient was in the overall theme. Grann’s journalistic style serves as a wonderful medium for the story but limits its ability to say more on the theme than “humans are resilient” - Undeniably true but often overused. I almost wish there was more speculation applied to the ending where Grann could have expounded on some greater themes. A truly minor critique in the grand scheme of things.

Overall: 88/100, tie-breaker 10/10 on Enjoyment.

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell

“It’s a satirical novella–about Stalinism!” - Sterling Archer.

I find the irony of this novella being reduced to a warning about Stalinism almost overwhelming. I mean, one of the key motifs is reductionism at the expense of nuance, for crying out loud! It is a direct, succinct, and, through skillful prose, utterly enjoyable piece that says much and more about Orwell’s world and human nature. Wonderfully nuanced, it should be a must-read and very much likely, therefore, to get banned. One could argue (read as me arguing right now) that this is as much of a critique of Capitalism as it is of Stalinism. It’s another one that I’m disappointed it took me so long to pick up, especially given that 1984 is an all-time favorite of mine. It lacks nowhere, but I think I would have liked to have seen more out of it, especially some more explanation of the nuances. Lost some points on enjoyment for causing a certain amount of existential angst.

Overall: 89/100, tiebreaker to #2, 8/10 on Enjoyment

2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

From the moment I picked it up, I knew this one was special. It was the 6th book I read in 2023, and it held the top spot literally up until I finished book 40. This masterpiece has spent more time living rent-free in my head than any other book this year. A unique experience in which the reader takes on the role of the main character, this is the type of book that will make you angry. It will make you face your own prejudices, your own biases, and your own shortcomings. Art is iterative, literature is iterative, and this book is what I would consider a "leveling up," of the medium. This is exactly the type of book that we should be adding to curriculums, and therefore, would get it almost instantly banned by those who would most benefit, reluctantly, from it the most. My only critique is Hamid’s style tends to be very ethereal, and while it helps place you as a character within the story, I found it sometimes difficult to stay grounded in Lahore when compared to the vivid details of Changez’s life in New York. Still, it is the 6th score of 90 or above I’ve ever given out, and if there is a single book I recommend reading in 2024, it’s this one.

Overall: 90/100

1. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

I noted that I had already graded A Storm of Swords at 93/100, and it has long been near the top of my favorite books list. With that said, this was the first time I picked it back up since my first time. That was well before the Red Wedding episode debuted on HBO and shocked the world as I was shocked upon my first reading. Knowing the way it twists and turns, I was expecting to be disappointed in my experience. No way it could be as good knowing how what seems to be half the cast of characters meets fateful ends, right?

Dead wrong. I raised the score a full five points to 97/100. If you wanted to argue that this is the greatest fantasy book ever written, I would disagree on personal preference only. It blows my mind that in a book over a thousand pages long, every single scene, sentence, and word drips with a depth of conflict that I don’t think another single book can hold a candle to.

Let’s look at a single, rather innocuous scene where we have Jamie Lannister, Roose Bolton, and Brienne of Tarth sitting at a table in Harrenhall. At the factional level of conflict, we have a Northman, a Lannister, and a Stormlander woman, all sworn to different kings. In most stories, even really good ones, that would be enough factional conflict. Instead, what we have is Jamie siding with the Northman against the Stormender, whose house is currently fractured in its allegiances but sworn to Stannis. The turns have been tabled.

Let’s take it down to a more interpersonal level with Brienne. She is sworn to Catelyn Stark with Jamie but has also sworn revenge against Renly’s killer, who is her own liege lord, Stannis. She is also believed to be Renly’s killer, so in fulfilling her duty to Catelyn, she will cross paths with Loras, who has sworn revenge on Renly’s killer as well. The only person whose word can protect her from that is, dum dum dum, Jamie, but Jamie doesn’t know this because he does not know that Loras was elevated to the King’s Guard, which he is Lord Commander of. This doesn’t even dive into her relationship with Jamie.

Finally, and I’m going to dive into only Jamie here for the sake of boring all of you, we have the intrapersonal conflict in this scene. First, he’s been maimed and is trying to come to grips with the physical limitations of that and how it impacts his persona as a Knight. We also have this scene coming off the back of him unveiling why he killed the Mad King he was sworn to protect and for his ultimately chivalrous act has been forever cursed. And, at the end of it, he just wants to get home to protect his true love and his children, you know, his sister and her children she had with him, but he can no longer adequately protect them because he lost his sword hand. This ends with him and Bolton meeting alone to ultimately discuss slaying another king for reasons utterly devoid of chivalry that his part in will be unknown.

This is all going on in one single scene…

As to the twists and turns I expected to be less satisfying, I found the signposts infinitely more satisfying. On reread, it’s clear as day what’s coming every single step of the way. Because of this, you get a sense of creeping dread as the characters walk toward the abyss, and it deepens the characters even further.

The only places I took points off for were a single point each for Theme, Prose, and Tone. All are spectacular but can be disturbing at points to a fault.

Overall: 97/100

I hope you have enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. But the fire grows colder, and the night winds howl. Take a rest and we shall return on the ‘morrow with my least favorite of this past year–a topic I’m sure you will find most interesting.

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A/N

If you've enjoyed this, please leave a like and an insight below. If you really enjoyed this, tips to fuel my coffee addiction are always appreciated. All formatting is designed for desktops. All my works can be found below:

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About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (9)

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  • Hannah Moore3 months ago

    So a few days after this, I started listening to the Wager on radio 4. It's abridged, but at least I got some of it, rather than it joining the ever growing queue. Meanwhile I have ascertained that my local bookshop has the reluctant fundamentalist, but I forgot my book token, so...

  • Grz Colm4 months ago

    A very decent chunk of literature read Matthew! Well done! I’ve not read any of these. I’ve only read the first GOT novel. I liked hearing about your passion for reading though in your reviews. The Reluctant Fundamentalist sounds excellent. I enjoyed the film adaption even if it wasn’t perfect. It had ideas and I liked that. I also liked this part regarding Animal Farm …”Lost some points on enjoyment for causing a certain amount of existential angst.” I’m a bit like that too, will take of stars from films or novels if they egg me the wrong way, even if it is a good book etc. I saw an amazing one man play of Animal Farm many years ago where he played all the characters and animals. And of course as a child I saw the animated movie which was very disturbing at a young age haha. Look forward to hearing your worst! 😁

  • Daphsam4 months ago

    Wow, great group of recommendations.

  • Hannah Moore4 months ago

    I bought killers of the flower moon for my partner for Christmas, so you're review of the wager is promising! I got a book token in return and I think the reluctant fundamentalist is where it's going.

  • Shirley Belk4 months ago

    "the First World War is criminally understudied in the United States' basic curriculum" Yes, it is. As a nurse, I was appalled at the atrocities of chemical warfare and amazed at the beginning of plastic surgery. George RR Martin: I gifted my brother the GOT books because he persuaded me to watch the series. I was shocked when I watched an episode of finding your roots and the humble character behind all the magic the author had in him. https://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots/about/meet-our-guests/george-r-r-martin

  • Lamar Wiggins4 months ago

    Very interesting, you held my attention the whole way through. So I must ask, how did you come across “the Reluctant Fundamentalist” your description of it leaves me wanting more. Also, it’s the second time it’s come up. You mentioned it in the conversations with a word junkie interview. It must be good.

  • Mother Combs4 months ago

    🖤

  • L.C. Schäfer4 months ago

    The Wager has been languishing on my To Read list for weeks! I should bump it up a bit 😁

  • Thanks for sharing, I have read lots of Orwell including the ones you mentioned, but my reading, I think has slowed down, I do a lot of rereading which I document on my blog. Keep on reading and enjoying

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