In no specific order:
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami: Kenji is a young guide who takes tourists through Tokyo’s seedy underground. It’s an illegal job that brings him into contact with the seemingly plastic-faced and socially awkward Frank, whom Kenji suspects is a murderer. This book is absolutely chilling. In my favorite scene, blood spills from a slit neck and is the color of soy sauce. [Review]
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: An unnamed narrator is nursed back to health by a mysterious sculptor after a fiery car accident screws him up pretty bad. Turns out they’ve met before — a long, long time ago. The burning flesh is palpable. [Review]
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell: Within the first few pages, the main character, a doctor with extensive martial arts knowledge who is in witness protection, thwarts a would-be mugger by stretching out his ligaments like they are silly putty. It never really slows down from there in this mafia, hospital, madcap, whiz-bang, ridiculously funny novel. [Review]
Homer & Langly by E.L. Doctorow: How fortuitous that this was released just as hoarding has become the OCD d'jour. You’ll want to keep one hand on the book, the other on Wikipedia while reading this novelette, it’s fascinating. Doctorow tweaks the legend of the Collyer brothers, two New York City, right-side-of-the-park eccentrics living together in a somewhat spousal situation. They become less and less likely to leave their house, but are not opposed to quirky visitors. Like hippies, prostitutes and gangsters. [Review]
The Song is You by Arthur Phillips: This is a little story about a man who discovers an up-and-coming musician and develops an intense fascination with her that starts when he leaves her some performance tips on bar coasters. She returns his interest. This one is a real charmer. [Review]
How it Ended by Jay McInerney: Okay, fine. Jay Mac could log his dietary intake on a chalkboard and it might make my top ten just ‘cuz. But this is actually good, reads a bit like a posthumous collection of his old and new stuff, and includes revisiting some familiar characters. [Review]
Lit by Mary Karr: Here is that rowdy Mary Karr’s life story, post Liars Club and Cherry, through her own struggles with the drink and her hoity toity rooted husband. Bonus points for the time David Foster Wallace threw her coffee table at a wall. [Review]
A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans: It was this sentence that made me love this novel about young George, a kid in dire need of an exorcism: “It was a house halfway between this and that, between upper-middle-class luxuries and absentminded squalor.” [Review]
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: The young protagonist in this story is the most likable young protagonist I’ve ever encountered. Oskar Schell is a roaming the streets of NYC looking for clues about his father, who died in the WTC on 9/11. [Review]
Adderal Diaries by Stephen Elliott: This book is a gloppy, unorganized mess of great. True crime and addiction memoir wrapped in one – and the S&M provides the opportunity to play armchair psychiatrist on the writer. It is a brave collection of words, although I'm not sure it counts as brave when the writer doesn't seem to struggle with ripping off any pretenses and laying naked on the table. [Review]
BONUS: Worst Books I read in 2009
Wetlands by Charlotte Roche: This one had a bit of hype because the main character eats everything that comes out of or off of her body. It is so over the top that it actually makes it more of a farce than any sort of feminist rally cry. Embarrassing.
I’m So Happy for You by Lucinda Rosenfeld: This makes the list because it was so disappointing. A writer who’s short stories I’d loved comes back with a piece of chick lit filled with the most loathsome creatures on the planet. Unfortunately, much of the planet finds it relateable (as seen on Goodreads), which begs the question: Do women actually treat each other like this? WHY?! Sad.