HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
So, I only made it through 93 books this past year. Well, 93 that I’m sure I read. There might be 7 or 8 that dropped along the wayside, that would put me over the coveted 100 mark…but…these last couple of weeks have been insane, and filled with more knitting for the Wunderkind and less of the reading.
Regardless…here are the highs (my 2008 recommends) and the lows (please, don’t even think of reading!) of the past year, as we enter 2009.
1. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth – I have not had a book make my cry in a while now (okay, so a couple of years,) but this book had such clear insight into human nature and an unflinching ability to end realistically rather than happily, in a bittersweet sorrow. I don’t know how I had never read anything by her before.
2. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin – I don’t know how she does it. I start her books, and they feel slow, overly full of details and heavy on character, but when I get to the end, I’m left startled and more than a little in awe. I’m not always a big fan of her overly feminist approach to life, but her writing is flawless.
3. Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – The sweetest book of 2008, by far. Simple, charming and it has the rare quality in a book of not giving too much information, but letting your mind fill in details. Really a lovely read.
4. Tana French, The Likeness – Best crime novel of the year. As my dear Buffy pointed out, once you get past the suspension of disbelief required to swallow the cop/victim lookalike, this book is incredible. Not for those whose realism will make them spend the whole read saying “But, that’s not even possible…” French’s characters are fascinating and intricate.
5. Jessica Day George, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow – This one wins for the best YA/Children’s book that I found this year. An age old fairy tale, with yet another fresh voice, and I will say that I really think that George will be a formidable fresh voice, in the league of Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and Edith Pattou. This book is going into my comfort food shelves, and I’m excited to see her work in the future.
And the worst:
1. Richard Powers, The Echo Maker – I have never met a book this whiny. I had high hopes for this book, since it deals with issues of memory and self-identity that I had seen dealt with already in Atmospheric Disturbances and The Missing World with varying success, but this one centers around a self-centered sister dealing with her brother’s memory loss in a flat, pathetic way. You’re left wondering why her long-suffering high school boyfriend lets her move in with him, or why the psychologist with a strong loving marriage cheats on his wife in a mind-boggling and pointless novelistic bunny trail.
2. Lorrie Moore, Anagrams – Such a promising premise that fell so far short. Take three people and write a novel in which every chapter finds them in different life situations, in different relationship triangles and with different struggles…except that the last story is longer than the other 3 put together, and you can’t figure out what went on at all. I think that Lorrie Moore has incredible talent, but that she should try again.
3. Sarah Hall, Daughters of the North – I don’t even know how to articulate my disappointment with this book. When you are touted as reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale you don’t expect to have a disturbing man-bashing war story dystopia. Just way overrated.
4. Allen Kurzweil, The Grand Complication – This book’s synopsis sounds incredible: “Alexander Short is a reference librarian who spends his days dealing with the minutiae of his work world. At night he goes home to his French wife who is also a book person. She makes pop-up books and other three-dimensional volumes, including a “girdle” that Alexander wears in the manner of medieval monks, tied around his middle and used for his “girdling” or taking notes–something Alexander does obsessively, to the detriment of his job…Alexander is fascinated when he meets Henry James Jesson III, an elderly man with equally obsessive interests. In Jesson’s Manhattan mansion there is a cabinet of curiosities that tell the life of an 18th-century inventor. But one of the compartments is empty. Jesson, and soon Alexander, are agog with curiosity about what was in that compartment.” And in that, you have read the best parts of that book. *sigh*
5. Hmm….it seems I’ve abandoned most bad books. No #5, folks.
And then, a little bonus – the best re-reads of the year (no particular order):
1. Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy – Two books in one is a good deal, and this one is just a good sweet read for when you’re down or tired or sick. Sweet, but funny.
2. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow – This is the best secular book about God and suffering I have ever read. The thing I like the most about it is how the main character is convinced of God’s reality in the midst of pain and disappointment. Not for the faint of heart. My middle sister hated it, she thought it was depressing. I thought it was beautiful.
3. Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Perilous Gard – I re-read this book all the time. It’s a kind of mix between real and fairy tale, and I just love it. Reminds me of being at home.
4. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game – I love this book, too. I think it gets better each time I read it. The complexity of the emotions of battle, even between these young kids. Really, science fiction at its best.
5. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – This book gets better with re-readings. A little sad, but really a wonderful, quintessential coming-of-age story. Lovely.
Alright. I love all of you dearly. And I’m going to start up the new year by reading David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice per Andrea’s suggestion..and finishing The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which while it has still failed to stun me, is better than 2007’s Man Booker Prize Winner (The Gathering, Anne Enright – TERRIBLE.)