Saturday, December 26, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

Every year at this time I look back over the list of books I read over the last twelve months and pick my favorites.

Last year, I noticed that I'd read an awful lot of books I wasn't crazy about. I noticed the same thing this year. Why do I keep doing this?

The answer, which I am going to pull out of my librarian hat, is because people read books for different reasons. In 2008, I read a lot of mediocre young adult books because that's what I was writing at the time. In 2009, I read a lot of pulpy whodunnits because they kept my mind occupied between losing my job and figuring out what to do with myself.

I was surprised to find that I'd barely read any nonfiction this year, because I've always been a big reader of stuff that tells you why and how things got to be how they are. Although it's possible that I've given up that slightly adolescent search for definitive answers, I've probably just been reading more magazines and news sites, and fewer books.

All in all, I liked this year's crop of books better than last year's -- for the most part, the stories are better put-together. Better stories for an author to be working on while simultaneously trying to put together her own fiction projects.

So here are this year's favorites, in the order that I read them.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright by Jean Nathan

Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard S. Marcus

I read these two books in tandem - Brown and Wright were two of my favorite authors as a very small child (Brown wrote Goodnight Moon and Wright did the slightly creepy Lonely Doll series, which is incidentally one of Harriett Logan's most requested books.) Both women were tragic figures, but in entirely different ways.

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
Absurd, horrific, delightful Ohio.

Lirael by Garth Nix
Everyone should read one artfully-rendered epic story per year.

Walking the Labyrinth by Lisa Goldstein
I read this after lamenting to a fellow librarian (who's much better at readers' advisory than me) that most urban fantasy felt too gimmicky and trendy. My only complaint is that Lisa Goldstein hasn't written more books.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
I'm probably the only person on God's green earth who didn't know what happens in the end. Surprise!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is still one of the only authors who makes me feel glad to be alive. Why? Because it's so obvious that he enjoys what he's writing.

Modern Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, ed. Richard Dalby
I suspected that I might enjoy writing ghost stories, read this anthology, and found out that I do.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This is one of those books that I should've read at some point, but never did.

Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner
This one, too. It's been on my list forever, but I've always been afraid I would hate it. Either it would be too sentimental (it isn't) or it would have that loathsome studied quality that I've come to expect from academics (it doesn't). You can read my full review here.


Blogger Cookbook said...

I love you for not listing only books that were published this year. Good list! I've always meant to read Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Winegardner is a sentimental fave of mine.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Christine Borne said...

I almost never read new books - I've been disappointed too many times with books that were IMO over-hyped. It is my professional opinion that in most cases, a book is not worth reading until it has aged a few years.

What was the best book you read this year, Cookbook? I bet it was Cleaving.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Cookbook said...

Ha. No. My favorite non-cookbook was I Am Not Sidney Poitier.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Bill Barrow said...

I also read Crooked River Burning this year and enjoyed it too. I was initially afraid it was dropping historic place-names for gratuitous local color, like one author who'll remain nameless, but after a few chapters I realized that his name dropping was necessary to the story.
Others I really liked this year, not that anyone asked, were Seeds of Discontent: the Deep Roots of the American Revolution, 1650-1750, about the hundred years of unrest leading up to the American Revolution, and The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, arguing a more realistic approach to relations with Iran. Also read some Paretsky and Grafton novels, though I have trouble telling their characters apart.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Christine Borne said...

Bill, I think I know who that other nameless author is, and I feel the same way.

The only part that felt gratuitous about Crooked River Burning were the long "Local Heroes" interludes. I was left wondering if Winegardner's publishers insisted on them because they felt the book was too "regional" otherwise.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Bill Barrow said...

Like the publishers of White Hurricane -- a book about the horrific effects of a sudden blizzard in 1913 on late-season shipping on the upper Great Lakes -- where one chapter is surprisingly about the effects of the blizzard on downtown Cleveland? Something for the land-lubbers? ('Course I loved a chapter about Cleveland.)

4:10 PM  
Blogger Audient said...

I enjoyed "Knockemstiff" very much. Good choice.

2:45 PM  

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