Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My favorite books of 2009

Love it or hate it, the list is the perfect starting point for a conversation. As reliable as Christmas itself--fraught with anxiety and yet still packing a walloping dose of hope?-- around this time of year, every web site you can imagine serves up the year-end list. As Umberto Eco says, "We like lists because we don't want to die." In that spirit...

Best Books of 2009

New York Times (This one, at 100 items, is almost as good as browsing at a real live bookstore. Note I said almost.)
100 Notable Books

Of course, the Times would be remiss if they didn't choose their very favorites. For fiction,their top five:

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

Of these five, I've read only the Moore, and I didn't like it nearly as much as some people. Did you read it? What did you think?

Publisher's Weekly (This list stirred up the most controversy, as it included no women in its top ten. The internets were abuzz with anger.)

Their fiction picks are: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon; Big Machine by Victor Lavalle; In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin; Jeff in Venice, Death in Varansai by Geoff Dyer; and the graphic novel, Stiches by David Small. I read Await Your Reply,

To write too much about this unnerving novel would be to give away all its rhythm and pacing. But generally, this book is about the nature of self and what that might mean in a world where you can easily slip from one persona to another in both the physical and virtual worlds. It has an undercurrent of decay and loss. Beautiful prose, packed with ideas.

Christian Science Monitor
picks Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

I like it when non-reviewers get to recommend books, and at NPR, they surveyed indie booksellers. This isn't a "best" list, but a "suggested" one instead. Await Your Reply makes this list.

Guardian (if you love books, you should be reading this site daily. RSS anyone?) The Guardian has a different take. They ask notable authors to suggest best books of the year. Here, Peter Carey recommends Kamila Shamsie, Ishiguro suggests Bolano, etc. This list has the most personality of all the lists. In addition to this feature, they are also summing up every year of the 2000s with sweet recaps written by various authors.

Atlantic's list includes nonfiction, with the authors in alphabetical order.

Contemporary Lit chooses The Blue Notebook by James Levine

LA Times has a good list.

Chicago Tribune picks Zoe Heller's The Believers as #1, Lark and Termite as #2, and Homer & Langley by EL Doctorow as 3.

Denver Post writer chooses Valerie Martin's The Confessions of Edward Day as the best novel that was largely ignored by the MSM. I read Martin's Trespass and found her to be a smart, nuanced writer.

My list. I didn't read many 2009 titles, but you can be sure that I found a lot of titles to put on my to-read list for future enjoyment. My favorites are: Await Your Reply, Last Night in Montreal, Olive Kitteridge, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and The Little Stranger.
Salon: Laura Miller's list. Includes, yes, Await Your Reply. I'll let you click the link to see the rest.

Best of the Decade Lists

The Millions (link to their decade wrap-up, but put them on your RSS for daily reading. They really love books. They chose The Corrections as their best book of the decade, garnering predictable bitching in the comments section. Though their comments are a walk in the park compared to the mean jabs of Salon's.)

Dirty Realistic (thoughtful book commentary. This is his best of the decade list. The winner? Austerlitz by WG Sebald. That was my pick, too.)
Paste Magazine (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon is their top pick)
Times Online (uk) (They choose The Road by Cormac McCarthy as #1)
UK Telegraph The Telegraph chooses Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

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