Yes, I know. Every lit blogger is linking to or compiling their own year-end best of the year reading list. So why add another? Mainly because lists are fun, and because I like to take a look at what I’ve enjoyed over the past year. This list isn’t limited to books published in the past year, although a good majority of them are. If you want to search for more details on the books, you can do so at RiverRun’s website.
Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer: A smart blend of art & science. Lehrer poses the convincing idea that great artists have sometimes discovered scientific truths before scientists have proven it.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: By far one of the best books I have ever read. A whimsical modern fairy tale with a heartbreaking, but life-affirming, ending. I wanted to underline whole passages in this book to go back and re-read. The characters are wise beyond their years, passionate, and very giving, and each chapter reads like a tiny philosophical essay on the nature of beauty, art, and life. I cried at the end of the novel, which hasn’t happened since I read Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: A book written by a Latin American writer and featuring an epic tale of several generations of a family (using a magical realism style) of course can only be compared to Garcia Marquez, and rightly so. Allende brings her own twist to the genre, however, and focuses on political upheaval as both the conservatives, socialists, and a dictatorship cause political strife and tragic consequences. I adored the clandestine romance between Blanca and Pedro Tercero Garcia, as well as between Alba and Miguel. The writing is dreamy and passionate, and full of a mixture of hot-headed tempers and despicable violence, but it’s also about the perseverance of humans in the darkest hours. I loved it.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson: Landscape is as much a character as Trond in this spare-prose meditation on memory & dealing with the sorrows of parental abandonment. I truly felt like I was deep within the Norwegian woods as the narration moves fluidly, like the river that is so central to the story, back and forth between time; at once examining Trond’s life as an adolescent spending a couple of summers with his father in the woods, and then returning to the forested geography when he is in his late sixties. The prose is so grounded yet capable of transporting the reader that it feels like you’re in the woods with Trond, experiencing the overpowering displays of nature both through sound and touch and smell.
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum: Bynum perfectly captures the tween years and parallels them with the equally tumultuous twenties, as she focuses on one popular but unsure of herself teacher. You don’t read this for the plot, but for the tiny, almost timid moments of insight.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I must be the last person on earth to read TSH. Novels as good as this one just don’t come along that often. A group of mostly privileged college students at an elite New England college (complete with the picturesque campus)become morally corrupt (or were they always?) in a story of the extremities of searching for beauty, knowledge, and emotions. Tartt’s characters are all fundamentally flawed, and that, together with the richness of the writing, makes for a page-turner. I read 200 pages of this 500+ page novel in one sitting– it’s that good.
Dancing After Hours by Andre Dubus: Dubus is a master of writing about love’s trap doors and hidden tricks; about the beauty and despair it can simultaneously cause, and the mysterious ways love works either to our benefit or downfall. A must-read for fans of short stories.
Comic Book Tattoo edited by Rantz A. Hoseley: A must for any Tori Amos fan! A bunch of talented artists created their own stories based on Tori’s original and captivating lyrics. Some are better than others, but overall, the book is a gorgeous one for your coffee table and a captivating example of bridging music, storytelling, and art together into one medium.
Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago: This slim novel packs a lot into the narrative/fable of death (a woman) deciding to pause her normal duties and let people in an unnamed country live. It’s part social commentary and part love story, and Saramago’s long, sweeping sentences serve the story well.
The Great Man by PEN/Faulkner winner Kate Christensen: Christensen is a master of witty dialogue and truly quirky characters. She’s hands down one of my favorite living writers. I’ve read somewhere that there’s something almost British about her writing, but with a unique American twist, and I have to agree. If you haven’t read my favorite book by her, The Epicure’s Lament, be sure to check that one out first.
Without a Map by Meredith Hall: One of the most meticulously crafted, well-written memoirs out there. Meredith’s story itself is incredible, but what really made this book marvelous is her writing style: a mixture of poetry, emotional analysis, and compelling narration. Her memoir explores the ramifications of getting pregnant as a teen and shunned by her own family and folks in her town.
The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine: I loved the epic scope of The Hakawati; a novel that recounts a man returning to his father’s deathbed, and weaves throughout the narrative retellings of Arabian Nights tales. Alameddine shows the importance of stories to us & their deep undercurrent in our lives.
What were some of your favorites?