I'm not very good at keeping track of what I've read during a year. Nevertheless, I comb other people's lists for suggestions, and it struck me as selfish that I wasn't contributing to the general festschrift celebrating the year 2009. So here are a dozen or so books I read this year (although not published in 2009, sorry), that, months later, still hold their shape, resonate, or echo down into my present. In a brain overburdened by infotainment and administrivia, that's clearly an accomplishment.
The year of magical thinking Joan Didion
Didion is one of my favourites from the Sontag generation, and this book, about the year after her husband dropped dead of a heart attack, captured me completely. Didion finds the large in small details, and has a gift for encompassing this with artful phrases. No soppiness. The work of grief sculpted in sinewy relief.
The Lacuna Barbara Kingsolver
I've just finished this, so perhaps it's unfair to place it on the list, but I'm pretty sure it will stick with me. It was slow to start, which is why I'm mentioning it straight up. Stick with it, if someone has gifted you with it. The whole in the heart of a certain US history.
The Book of Negroes (in Oz, Someone knows my name) Lawrence Hill
I interviewed Hill for Good Reading magazine, so I "had" to read this, but the story, which cannot help but skirt the repulsive as it limns the history of slavery in Canada and the US, is made beautiful by the heroine, who is sharp-witted, astute, and generous.
The woman in the fifth. Douglas Kennedy
Another crossover novel which is, as far as I know, entirely billed as litfic. If you like Stephen King, and you've spent any time in Paris, you could enjoy this.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.
For charming whimsy, I don't think you could beat this one. It's short, you can polish it off in the dentist's office. Wear hat and gloves.
Kim Westwood's postapocalyptic Australian novel, Daughters of Moab. Mad Max meets Jeanette Winterson. Entirely homegrown, with international finishes. You ain't gonna read anything quite like this anywhere else.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
I liked this the way a watchmaker likes an 18th-century Swiss watch. I kept wanting to take it apart and see how Haddon had pulled off the engaging yet difficult POV character. And of course, I liked the story.
Joshua Ferris' novel, Then we came to the end.
There's an injunction that goes: "Write what you know!". Anyone who's spent any time in a writers group will add: "but not if it's about your life in a cubicle farm. Please. NOOoooo...!" This first novel about, wait for it, life in a cubicle farm, manages to breathe life into its subject, and there isn't even a whiff of zombie. I think Ferris' gift for dropping in unexpected yet apt sentences to invigorate his paragraphs draws you along until you're ineluctably lost to the stories at the heart of the cubicle labyrinth.
Andrew Hussey's Paris: the secret history
is a Parisophile's book on Paris. Much more argumentative than British doyen of French history Alistair Horne's The Seven Ages of Paris, and so, much easier to love.
The enchantment of Lily Dahl by Siri Hustvedt.
Like a plain girl who turns out to be quite lovely, this small-town mystery story in Hustvedt's hands is definitely worth asking out.
The City & the City China Mieville.
This is not the most byzantine of Mieville's works, nor the most challenging politically, but I found myself pondering it in odd moments in the weeks after I finished it. I'd like to read it again.
Shelter, Susan Palwick.
I liked this because there just isn't enough homely sf out there.
And in June this year, to my 2-yr-old niece Mary, I read the Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham, and Michael Dugan's Wombats can't fly. Apparently, the latter did the trick. She recently mounted the kitchen table and announced, flapping her arms, "I Mary and I fly."
That's why we read books.
- Tags:alan bennett, andrew hussey, barbara kingsolver, china mieville, daughters of moab, douglas kennedy, joan didion, joshua ferris, kim westwood, lawrence hill, mark haddon, michael dugan, paris: the secret history, shelter, siri hustvedt, susan palwick, the book of negroes, the city & the city, the curious incident of the dog in the n, the enchantment of lily dahl, the lacuna, the uncommon reader, the woman in the fifth, the year of magical thinking, then we came to the end, wombats can't fly