Monday, January 4, 2010

Top Ten of 2009

Here they are, my favorite reads of 2009 (some still in's looking at you, long-winded feminist lit.) Click on the links for more thorough reviews. In no particular order:

1. Most likely to make you contemplate a radical career change: Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

2. Most likely to make you weep while intermittently Googling leaders of German Romanticism: The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald

3. Most likely to make you think, "God DAMN!" in the manner of Mrs. Mia Wallace: Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, by Alice Munro

4. Most likely to elicit an 11 p.m. weepy phone call from a friend or relative after completion: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

5. Most likely to make you obsess about the consequences of First World living (and rightfully so): Collapse, by Jared Diamond

6. Most likely to make you sit in a cold park in April in order to finish it without stopping: Equus, by Peter Shaffer

7. Most likely to give you a strange sense of hope while being unemployed: Lyrical & Critical Essays, by Albert Camus

8. Most likely to leave your childish fairy stories a pile of pulverized mush, revealing someone new underneath: The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir (still trucking along on this one, but almost there)

9. Most likely to reincarnate Louisa May Alcott as a bodice-ripping rebel (among other necessary transformations): A Jury of Her Peers, by Elaine Showalter (savoring this one in fits and starts - the style is well-suited for that)

10. Most likely to become the voice in your head: A tie between the recently finished There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by Grace Paley

All reckoned, I'd say that Gilead is one of the best two pieces of fiction I've read in the past two years, the other being E.M. Forster's Howard's End. As for non-fiction, I'm already feeling shock waves from The Second Sex in my life now, and I'm still 100 pages shy of the end.

What were your favorite reads of 2009?

1 comment:

  1. Here are my top reads of 2009 (I wish I had time and ability to come up with clever categories like you did, but this will have to do for now):

    Best Mystery: A tie between The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser, a brilliant, beautifully written, and suspenseful postcolonial deconstruction of the murder mystery, and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, a more traditional murder mystery with a great heroine, plot twists, and Cambridge setting.

    Best book to while away the long winter nights: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

    Most tragic impossible love story: Three-way tie between Doctor Zhivago, A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, and Stoner by John Williams.

    Biggest tearjerker: Stoner.

    Most perfect novel: Tie between A Month in the Country and Stoner.

    Best poetry: The Stray Dog Cabaret, a collection of early twentieth century Russian poetry that's beautifully translated by Paul Schmidt.

    Most depressing, yet educational: I Didn't Do it for You by Michaela Wrong, about Eritrea.

    Most likely to change your world view and most impossible to put down, even a week before finals: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, an exploration of the clash between Western doctors and a Hmong refugee family who both want to heal a young Hmong girl with epilepsy.

    Most relevant: Tie between The Spirit Catches You and The Shia Revival, by Vali Nasr, which is essential to understanding the politics of Iraq and Iran and which I wish I had read in about 2003.

    Most difficult to read in public because of reflexive laughing out loud and shouts of "Amen, sister": Reasonable Creatures, by Katha Pollitt.

    Most likely to make you wonder why she married Martin Amis: Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, a thoughtful and openminded account of time spent living with gypsies/Roma/Romani people in Eastern Europe.