I love top ten lists – even if they are biased and flawed. I like the tidiness and simplicity that lists give to my world overflowing with too much information. Even if I don’t agree there is always something new to learn from what other people see as the ‘best’ or ‘worst’ of the year.
The following books aren’t necessarily the best ones of the year – they are simply ten that I read this year and recommend to others who enjoy literary fiction.
Five Books I Re-read this Year
- The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. If you read this when if first came out, take another look. You’ll discover nuances you missed the first time around. And if you never read it, please do. It has stood the test of time and outlasted all the hype.
- Emma, by Jane Austen. The six novels Jane Austen wrote during her lifetime are six of my favorite all-time books and I usually re-read one a year. This year it was Emma, which is my favorite of the six. Many people are put off by the costume-drama milieu but it is really a very perceptive tale of family dynamics, feminism, and love.
- The Feast of Love, by Charles Baxter. My all-time favorite book and I re-read it every year. Do yourself a favorite and read it. (And DO NOT watch the movie instead of reading it. You are only hurting yourself.)
- The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh. I remember reading this during an English class on “Comedy” and laughing until my sourpuss professor told us to look at the subtext of despair under the comedy. He ruined the book then for me so I thought I’d give it another try. And it’s still as funny, and yes, still full of despair. It’s called Black Comedy, professor!
- A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and The Girl with Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace. Whenever I need a guaranteed laugh, I re-read DFW’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, his hilarious essay about the cruise industry. He writes with such intellect and vividness that you feel his confusion at the entire concept of cruises, as well as his pain at being beaten at chess by a nine-year-old. His suicide in September left his family, the literary world and his millions of fans devastated. When the shock wore off for me, I re-read his story, The Girl with Curious Hair, which had been my first introduction to him. While it didn’t have the same overwhelming impact it had when I read it newly into my writing life a dozen years ago, it still moved me and reminded me what a talent our world had lost.
Five New Books I Read this Year
- The List, by Tara Ison. Only read this if you are NOT in the midst of a romantic breakup (or breakdown). Reading it from the security of a wonderful marriage, I stopped every few chapters thinking, “Thank goodness I’m done with that.” And if I was single, I could imagine myself thinking, “Right. This is why I like being single.” In the book, two lovers decide to do everything they had wanted to do together before they break up for good. Melancholy but ultimately uplifting – a lot like The Feast of Love. A great book by a great writer. (Disclaimer: Tara Ison was a professor of mine during grad school and is one of the coolest writers I know.)
- This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper. I wrote about this novel in a post earlier this year. For a good laugh, and maybe a good cry, read this book.
- The Women, by T.C. Boyle. I love me some T.C. Boyle. I’ll read anything he writes – from hits (Drop City) to misses (The Road to Wellville). This year, he gave us The Women, a fictional novel about Frank Lloyd Wright and the many wives/mistresses in his life. I was reminded of the line “talking about love is like dancing about architecture” (from the movie Playing by Heart). While it’s hard to entirely “see” the buildings and houses just from his descriptions of them, Boyle gives insight into an architect as an artist, not engineer, and for me that was fascinating.
- How I Became a Famous Novelist, by Steve Healy, and A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz. I wrote about both of these novels earlier as well. Check out my posts on Novelist and Fraction and put them on your list for 2010.
Looking over this list, I have the same regret I do every time I got to the bookstore or library. The lack of female authors. I try very hard to read novels and stories by women but I have a hard time finding works by women that are not 1) mysteries, 2) crime or 3) chick lit.
I just don’t enjoy those genres. I like to read literary fiction. Some of the ones on my list to read in 2010:
- Trouble, by Kate Christensen
- Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks
- The Writing Class, by Jincy Willet (she wrote Jenny & the Jaws of Life)
- Veronica, by Mary Gatskill
If you have others to recommend, let me know!