Thursday, December 14, 2006

The books I loved in 2006

For some reason I read very erratically this year for pleasure, it was quite off-and-on-ish--heavy doses of lightish reading from January to May during the isolated spell in Cambridge, then heavy doses of breeding-related reading over the summer and virtually no non-work-related reading this fall. It seems clear that I need a slightly different format from last year (here was last year's list), the first thing I want to have is a list of my favorite unread books: books I have procured & want to read but have not yet!

(NB I am too lazy to paste in links, but basically everything I mention here has my hearty endorsement, with one or two exceptions as noted.)

Most-anticipated unread books in my apartment as of this particular moment & mood: Jennifer Egan, The Keep; Zoe Heller, What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal; Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen; John Green, An Abundance of Katherines; Robert Harris, Imperium; Thomas Harris, Hannibal Rising (is it not awfully confusing that these two guys have the same last name?!?); Bob Dylan, Chronicles, vol. 1; Stefan Collini, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain; James Buchan, The Authentic Adam Smith; Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People (I am going to read all of these as soon as I can, but especially the reindeer one, I read a bit of it & it's amazing).

(The two books I have checked out from the library but haven't yet read & imagine will be the most delightful are Richard Wollheim's Germs and Ramachandra Guha's A Corner of a Foreign Field.)

All right, now I've got that bit out of the way.

A few absolute top picks for 2006:

First and foremost, of course, Toni Schlesinger's Five Flights Up. A work of total genius. Belongs in everyone's library. Great holiday present, too!

Other extreme and avidly cherished favorites, books about which I feel so passionately & enthusiastically that I will recommend them to everybody regardless of reading tastes: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home; Edward P. Jones, All Aunt Hagar's Children; Richard Powers, The Echo Maker.

Surprise love (all right, this is my stealth holiday gift pick, it's so amazingly well-written that any novel-loving reader will surely be completely enchanted--but especially suitable for college-educated women): Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind.

Most exciting new discovery on the literary fiction front (new to me, I mean): James Lasdun, The Horned Man (crazy brilliant book!) and Seven Lies.

Most it-changed-my-life-to-read-it book: Heather Lewis, House Rules (and The Second Suspect and the posthumously published Notice are pretty mind-bending also, these books really did something to me when I read them).

Top everyone-must-read-it book (seriously, this was maybe the most chilling & memorable book I read all year, it's essential reading): Svetlana Alexievich, Voices From Chernobyl.

Most absolutely perfect light reading (Fantasy Division): The Napoleonic-wars-with-dragons novels of Naomi Novik.

Most absolutely perfect light reading (Crime Division): Lee Child, The Hard Way.

Most otherwise all-round delightful light reading in a category I do not usually love (i.e. no murders, vampires, werewolves, dragons, etc. etc.): Marisa de los Santos, Love Walked In.

Delightful latest entries in ongoing series of trilogies by particularly favorite authors (everyone should read these, both of these sets of books totally have my most gold-star-like stamp of absolute approval and endorsement): Charlie Williams, King of the Road (rounding out the Mangel Trilogy, which began with Deadfolk and proceeded with Fags and Lager); Poppy Z. Brite, Soul Kitchen and D*U*C*K (following Liquor, Prime, Soul Kitchen, etc.). In my opinion each of these writers should be paid something like $100,000 a year by philanthropic foundations to keep on producing what is surely pretty much the most staggeringly appealing series sort-of-crime fiction I have ever read. Williams and Brite: both character-creating geniuses of the first order.

Favorite young-adult fiction: M. T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing; Catherine Murdock, Dairy Queen (get that one and read it, everybody! I defy even the hardest-hearted and least sports-loving person in America not to fall in love with this astonishingly beautifully written novel about a high-school girl who loves playing football); Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Barry Lyga, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl; Tim Pratt, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl (all right, all these books were great but everyone is henceforth banned from titling their books with these nostalgia-induced "astonishing this" and "so-and-so-girl" words, it is true that we are children of the 1970s but enough is enough!); Meg Rosoff, Just In Case; Melina Marchetta, Saving Francesca; Rachel Cohn and David LEvithan, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist; Diana Peterfreund, Secret Society Girl; and (a particular favorite, of course) Justine Larbalestier's Magic Lessons, the middle volume of the trilogy that began with Magic or Madness.

More favorite young-adult fantasy by writers whose books I devotedly love: Diana Wynne Jones, The Pinhoe Egg; Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith (I read both of these last night in a fit of mental exhaustion, how absolutely delightful).

Favorite novel about demons (but it was one of my favorites, period): Sara Gran, Come Closer. I have made about ten people read this, without exception they have all fallen for the sly Gran genius. Read it and see for yourself.

Favorite other sort-of-thrillerish-but-still-literary novel: Elliot Perlman, Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Favorite novel about competition (I have thought of this book again and again since I read it, it has my highest recommendation): Lionel Shriver, Double Fault.

Favorite fantasyish (oh, lots of good stuff this year, and this of course really is my most beloved category, with some bleeding over into the young-adult section): Martin Millar, The Good Fairies of New York; Graham Joyce, The Tooth Fairy; Pamela Dean, Tam Lin and Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary; Kit Whitfield, Benighted; Sean Stewart, Mockingbird and Perfect Circle (this guy's great! why had I not read him before?).

Favorite literary fiction by writers whose work I already knew: Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black (well, it's an unpleasant novel, can't say it's a favorite exactly, but it's a work of total genius in my opinion, which is more important); Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn and Girl in Landscape; Joyce Carol Oates, High Lonesome (selected stories) and Missing Mom.

Favorite crime novels by writers new and old: lots by James Sallis (this guy's a great genius!); George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener; Cathi Unsworth, The Not Knowing; Denise Mina, The Field of Blood; Megan Abbott, Die a Little; Charlie Huston, Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things; Dick Francis (this one's a nostalgia pick, possibly not actually recommended to the non-Franciscan), Under Orders.

Favorite book that deserves a category of its own: Charles Burns, Black Hole.

Best poetry (I was two for two on this, I only read poetry I know I will like & often it's because it's written by people I like!): Wayne Koestenbaum, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films; Stephen Burt, Parallel Play.

Favorite non-fiction: D. T. Max, The Family That Couldn't Sleep; Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love; and (published a while ago, but new to me & highly, highly recommended) Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics.

Other favorite non-fiction that's sort of more essayistic but basically uncategorizable: Peter Davidson, The Idea of North; Penguin By Design; and (a particular favorite) Jenny Diski's collection of essays On Trying to Keep Still.

Favorite books about books/writing: Samuel R. Delany, About Writing (sensible title, eh?!?); Joyce Carol Oates, Uncensored: Views & (Re)views; Alice Flaherty, The Midnight Disease; Jonathan Coe, Like a Fiery Elephant; Andrew Biswell, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess; and finally (another stealth favorite, check this one out if you missed it at the time) Thomas Warton's strange little Borgesian novel The Logogryph.

Two bonus categories:

Best surprisingly enjoyable work-related re-read: Plato's Republic (with Godwin's political and philosophical writings coming a close second).

Favorite plays: Martin McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmore; August Wilson, Seven Guitars.

One more bonus category: my two least favorite novels out of the year's reading! In both cases perceived by me as being actively pernicious as well as not just to my taste! Nope, David Mitchell's Black Swan Green isn't even one of them, I think I overreacted on that front. Most disliked novel #1: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Most disliked novel #2: Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. In both cases they are rather remarkable achievements, or they would not produce in so many readers such a passionate cult-followerish feeling and in me such a strong feeling of detestation!

44 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so curious as to what you detested about Book Thief. I read it a couple months ago for my book club and have divided feelings.
    — CAAF

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  2. 1) You exhaust me.
    2) What Was She Thinking? is excellent.
    3) Yet another difference between you and me is that you consider Stefan Collini light reading (I mean, he's great, but I wouldn't stay up late for him).
    4) I have just added The Last of her Kind and Double Fault to my list, and yes, I know I should have long ago.
    5) This makes me want to give up the novel I'm currently reading whose first chapter was SUPERB, but now I've kind of lost interest, but feel I should continue, as I'm now several chapters into it and it is widely-hailed. But I could be reading all these other things!
    6) Have gotten the first two in the Brite series for a local chef for Hanukkah, which means I should be reading them by Tuesday.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your recommendation put Davidson's The Idea of North onto my Christmas list. The Collini is well worth reading: exhaustive without being tiring and clear as a glass of water.

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  4. you are amazing! This is enough to keep me reading for the rest of my life. I am only 1/3 the way down your best of 2005 list. just how do you manage to read so much in between marathoning, churning out the book reviews, and racing up the academic ladder? speed habit? pepetual mania? freak neuronal mutation? pure genius? It doesn´t matter to me, as long as you keep it coming.

    thanks for this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  5. 1. Here was my Book Thief rant:

    http://jennydavidson.blogspot.com/2006/03/when-i-find-myself-disliking.html#comments

    (CAAF, what I want for Xmas is a Tingle Alley post! Will you not do us just a little one for the holidays?!?)

    2. Becca, you are going to love Last of Her Kind and Double Fault both! Very, very good books, with different strengths and weaknesses (but actually, come to think of it, some substance in common--hmmm, hadn't thought of it like that before). And you are really going to like those PZB ones too. Just stop reading that other book...

    3. Brian: Drop me a line to let me know what you think about the Davidson book! Nice Collini descr., I am gathering that this book really is something excellent (in fact I believe one of my other informants used the word "refreshing," hmm--pattern emerging...)

    4. Dr D: Nice as always to hear from you! I check in on your blog now & then to see how everything's going--I like the disease photographs in particular... I think I am going to vote for "freak neuronal mutation" out of your list of options. (NB I am told by a reliable informant that next week's New Yorker has an article on Lesch-Nyhan syndrome! You must make sure to get a copy--or perhaps it will be posted on the website...)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd have to second two things for sure after a quick read of this post and the comments to this point:

    Voices of Chernobyl is absolute must reading material, and if I had to ask for one thing for Xmas it would be for Tingle Alley to begin firing up again!!

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  7. I finished Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind at lunch today---what a book! Have you read anything else by her?

    ReplyDelete
  8. No, no, I haven't, but I'm definitely going to. Probably the marmoset one first, I hear it's very good and I am fond of primates...

    ReplyDelete
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  15. What Was She Thinking? is excellent.
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    But I could be reading all these other things!

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  16. Voices of Chernobyl is absolute must reading material, and if I had to ask for one thing for Xmas it would be for Tingle Alley to begin firing up again!!
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    Your recommendation put Davidson's The Idea of North onto my Christmas list. The Collini is well worth reading: exhaustive without being tiring and clear as a glass of water.

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