Thursday, December 08, 2005

Life in the world can’t be so bleak (a.k.a. Best Books of 2005)

after all when I got to read so many really excellent new books in 2005. I'm going with the whole Best Books of 2005 thing but with a twist. I’ve just skimmed back through the year’s blog entries and am quite delighted to see how many AMAZINGLY good new-and-newish books crossed my desk. (Most of these were published in 2005, in other words, but I include a few slightly older ones and also a few authors I discovered for the first time and read wholesale with delight from the library.)

These are all books I absolutely loved; I read a lot of other stuff I liked too, but anything on this list has my passionate endorsement for holiday present-buying etc. I haven't linked because I am too lazy, but I've sorted roughly according to category (all the headings are silly, I don't really believe in dividing it up this way--and a lot of the 'fantasy' ones are probably more usefully categorized as 'young adult'--but hey, it makes sense in practical terms...)

Oh, and before I get to the whole list thing...

My pick for author of the year: Peter Temple. I can't believe I only first read one of his novels in January of this year! Really, I was shocked; they have so much entered my worldview & now serve as my exemplary best-fiction-and-if-only-I-could-write-like-this thing. If you're only going to follow up on one suggestion I make here for future reading, buy the first two Jack Irish novels, Bad Debts and Black Tide. They are perfect crime fiction--perfect fiction in general--and come with my absolutely highest recommendation. (You see, I even linked because I so much want you to buy and read these novels.) My equivalent author for 2004 was Ken Bruen, and the only reason he doesn't make an appearance on this year's list is that I obsessively read everything I could get my hands on last year. But it is a certainty that both Temple and Bruen will be on my reread-in-2006 list.

‘Literary’ fiction:

Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude and The Disappointment Artist (essays)
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
A.L. Kennedy, Paradise
Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Liz Jensen, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
Cintra Wilson, Colors Insulting to Nature
Albert Murray, The Magic Keys (but get The Seven-League Boots as well or this one may not make so much sense; TSLB is one of my favorite novels ever)
Martha O’Connor, The Bitch Posse
Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica

Fantasy, loosely conceived:

Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky
Lian Hearn, Tales of the Otori (a trilogy; the first volume is Across the Nightingale Floor)
Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners
Paul Park, A Princess of Roumania (first volume of a trilogy)
Holly Black, Valiant (and see earlier novel Tithe)
Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness
Scott Westerfeld, Peeps
Geoff Ryman, Lust
Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian
Emma Bull, reissue of War for the Oaks

Crime (single volumes):

Lee Child, One Shot
Poppy Z. Brite, Liquor and Prime
Charlie Williams, Fags and Lager (and go ahead and order Deadfolk while you’re at it: in fact, here's another pair of books I really feel strongly about, demented lager noir, and Serpent's Tail has a free international shipping deal so you have no excuse not to click... oh, wait, their website is having problems! Well, do really get these books and read them, that's all I can say...)

Crime authors whose 'irvs' I obsessively devoured as a whole:

Reed Farrel Coleman, Fred Vargas, Steve Hamilton, Harley Jane Kozak, Andrea Camilleri, Phil Rickman

Girlier light reading of note (sorry, there's no more polite way of describing it, and it's not at all chick lit either--talk about another unhelpful category):

Victoria Clayton, Charlaine Harris


Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
Michael Chorost, Rebuilt
Adam Phillips, Promises, Promises
Emily Fox Gordon, The Mockingbird Years

(Addendum: the 2004 Best American Essays is much, much more to my taste than the 2005 volume [I hesitate to say 'better,' since these things are partly a matter of taste, but--you know what?--let's just say it's better and be done with it]; if you don’t have either and are only planning on buying one [and especially if you teach creative nonfiction and want a teaching text], I recommend 2004.)

Poetry (I was two for two on this, mostly because I refuse to read any book of poetry that I am not already sure I’ll love; isn’t that pitiful, that I only read two recent poetry collections over the course of the whole year?!? Resolution: more poetry in 2006)

Jane Yeh, Marabou
Craig Dworkin, Dure

Favorite rereading: Barbara Trapido, Garth Nix

First book to look out for in 2006: Charlie Huston, Almost Dead


  1. ok so i found this webiste that ranks the best books of 05, the thing is, that it's a survey.

  2. I recommend the Best American Essays of 2000 (ed. Lightman and Atwan). Leslie Sharpe uses it as a teaching text in the Columbia Personal Essay class and it's an extraordinary collection of tip-top contemporary non-fic writing.

  3. Thanks for the tip, I'll make sure to get hold of it. The last one I used for teaching was 1999, that's a good one too (ed. Hoagland, I think). I really miss teaching a personal essay class--I did it often in grad school, but haven't since I've been at Columbia--I must see if I could fit one in, perhaps with more reading from classic 17th-20th-c. essays as well so that it would seem a suitable not-just-writing class.

  4. I was amazed to discover when i read through your lists that i've actually read a number of the books you recommend.