I feel bad making this list on December 27th when I’m in the midst of two books that are really quite good (A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg) what if they turn out to be mind-blowingly awesome? Then what? WHAT? My list turns into a crock of shit, that’s what. So sad. It’s the guilt of the lowly book reviewer trying to choose the books they like the best.
A lot of people hate these kinds of lists. I like them because they are sort of a exercise in the macabre, choosing which books will live on in the pantheon of your personal favorites and those that will die a bitter death, banished to the land of what was that again?
So fun. Here we go, in no particular order, my favorite books of 2009 (not necessarily released in 2009, because there are too many good books waiting to be read to limit oneself to only reading books released during one specific year, that’s madness).
Local by Brian Wood and illustrated by Ryan Kelly: Oh Local I still think of your beautiful pages and sigh dreamily. This story of Megan McKeenan’s life from age seventeen to thirtysomething is engaging and tender and beautifully rendered and if it weren’t for Stitches this would have been the best graphic novel I read this year. [review]
The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget: I read this one all the way back in March and it still made it to the list. Why? Because Helget’s story of a hermaphrodite dealing with life in small town Minnesota around the time of WWI is haunting. I can see still picture the final scene even though I haven’t touched the book in months. This novel is populated with wonderful characters and has a touch of magical realism I love so much (see Mudville). [review]
The Song is You by Arthur Phillips: Any book that can make me quote Chuck Klosterman in a favorable light has to be some kind of magic, right? This one is. Phillips’ novel about a commercial director who falls for an Irish singer is by far the best book about music I read this year. It’s so damn charming I don’t see how anyone could read this novel and not adore it. [review]
German for Travelers by Norah Labiner: Norah Labiner's latest novel was a lot of fun to read. The way Labiner plays with language and storytelling, made me smile in the middle of a page. It's as though I could tell she had fun writing that sentence or paragraph. Her book is smart and clever in the way that makes you feel like you're in on a joke. [review]
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Like some sort of Christian, virgin-until-her-wedding-day bride who just got laid for the first time, I'm so glad I waited to read Diaz’s debut novel. It means more that way. Being able to just read this book without the buzz in the back of my brain allowed me to focus on this magnificent feat of a book. [review]
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy: This is my FAVORITE collection of the year. Admittedly I only read like seven or eight, but this one was the best. There isn't a dud in the bunch. It's cliche to compare a short story writer to Raymond Carver, but somehow I cannot escape the cliche. I can't avoid it. The Carversqueness comes from Meloy's sparse prose and her ability to tell stories about ordinary people in a way that feels real, genuine. It's a high compliment, really, that Meloy has earned. [review]
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon: Best Novel of the Year. [review]
Stitches by David Small: I just read this one a week or so ago. It devastated me. In fact, I still get a little choked up when I think about this powerful, moving graphic novel. This is probably the book that affected me the most this year. [review]
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: I picked this one up after years of it languishing on my bookshelf and then I couldn’t put it down. I cannot think of a single piece of writing that proves the power of point of view quite like Shriver’s novel about the mother of a high school murderer. This one is so fucking good it gave me goosebumps. [review]
Twin Study by Stacey Richter: The stories in this collection are touching and odd and the kind of good literature that sticks to your ribs and makes you so happy that you read something so worthy of your time. [review]