My Top 5 Reads of 2011

I do a lot of reading. Thanks to my good friends, the library and my Nook, I get through at least a few books a month. As a writer, I consider this not only an enjoyable hobby but a very important study of the masters. Exposing yourself to great art is an important part of growing as an artist. And I've come across some amazing books this year. These are my favorite, most inspiring reads of 2011.

Neuromancer"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." I was in love with this book from this stunning first sentence, crafted by the incomparable William Gibson, king of cyberpunk. The bold writing in Neuromancer just blew me away. And the story is a suspenseful mystery full of strange and trippy twists that gave me chills of joy.

Also, it is the origin of the term "cyberspace." Yeah. This man is my sci-fi hero.  The day I discovered I could follow him on Twitter was an amazing, amazing day (@GreatDismal).

The Book ThiefI read this book after former literary agent Nathan Bransford raved about it on his blog. Like Neuromancer, the writing of this book was so unique and beautiful I sometimes stopped to reread single sentences. Technically this is more a historic fiction because it tells the story of a little girl in Germany during World War II. The horrid realities of the Holocaust dip in and out of this book with a power that made me cry. But at the same time,  it had the enchanted feel of a fantasy because it is told from the first-person perspective of Death. If I ever taught a literature class, this would be required reading. More books by its author, Marcus Zusak, are definitely going on my 2012 reading list.

FablesA coworker became my personal comic book dealer when he introduced me to this series, created by Bill Willingham. I've always been a fan of the genre, but it's hard to get into something that's already been running for years. This comic book is the (superior) predecessor to the growing fairy tale trend reflected in TV shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

The premise is this: fairy tales were driven out of their homeland by the Adversary,  and into our own realm. They've built their new home in the heart of New York City. The twists and plays on beloved classic characters (and forgotten but fascinating old ones) are always interesting. And the cover art is ethereal and dark, true manifestations of everything I love about fairy tales. When I reached the end of the books of older issues and had to wait for the next month's new release, I was like a junkie in need of a hit.

The Hunger GamesTechnically, I started reading this incredible series in December 2010, but it was in January 2011 that I finished the first book and forced my husband out into the middle of a snowstorm with me on a trek to Barnes and Noble for books two and three, because I absolutely just could not handle a single second of waiting to read what would happen next.

Suzanne Collins has rendered tangible and compelling characters and built around them a colorful, detailed and dangerous world. All the hype around this series and the upcoming movie is 100 percent earned. I strongly recommend hopping on the bandwagon now so you have time to read all the books before the March 23 movie release.

The Family Fang. I've already done a little writing about this excellent piece of contemporary literature by Kevin Wilson over here, but it deserves a second mention on this list. The Fangs are a family of artists, in which the parents direct and the children are a part of the execution. But the art the Fangs create is a little unconventional--they orchestrate situations in real-life, public spaces with the intention of causing mayhem.

The novel flips back and forth from scenes of the Fang family creating these events when the children are young, to present day, where, as adults, the Fang children struggle with their relationships with their parents and how these childhood experiences  shaped them. It is absurd and hilarious, with characters so broken you can't help but love them. And deep at its core is the question of what makes something art, and what it is worth. What better subject could there be for an artist?

Now it's your turn—tell me, what has inspired you this year?

Emily Wenstrom
Read more at Creative Juicer
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