Kelly’s Top 10 Books of 2009

1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King: It's not a new read, but it's definitely my favorite King book (and it gets better every time I read it). It doesn't improve with age in the same way The Great Gatsby does, but it has a sustainable storyline filled with memorable characters that I love coming back to. Mike is mourning the sudden loss of his wife and finds himself afflicted with every writer's nightmare: writer's block. He moves into his cabin on the TR to try to reconnect with his writing, but finds himself connecting with the past, present, and future-and, of course, the supernatural world as well. [review]

2. The Other by Thomas Tryon: This book was recommended to me by a friend-who actually wanted me to read it badly enough that he mailed it to me. The attached note said “sleep with the lights on.” While it didn't cause me to stay awake at night out of fear, The Other is truly the most unique horror novel I've ever read. Unique because I can't figure out if the author is lazy or brilliant-if he made me say “a-ha!!” without real cause. Tryon led me down a path, blindfolded, where I thought “Ah, we're going to the lake” but when we arrived-at the lake-I didn't know why I ever thought we were going to the lake in the first place and was left feeling vindicated in my rightness but very, very unsettled. Good writing, tricky author. Yes.

3. Still Alice by Lisa Genova: This is the book I've recommended to the most people since reading it a few months ago. It's very user friendly-good for the literary snobs who need character and story as well as the fluff readers who just want to be kept entertained. A narrator with Alzheimer's Disease and her family. The ending isn't a surprise-books centralized around terminal illness need something else to use as bait. What brings this book to my top ten is its characters that I feel like I want to be related to. [review]

4. The Shining by Stephen King: It was kind of a King sort of year. Again, not a first read, but one that I learn something new from every time I read it. Sometimes I forget, with the movies, how brilliant King really is-so brilliant that his writing rarely translates well to film. The Shining is still at the top of my list in terms of “show don't tell” technique. And the minor characters are works of art. For writers, it's a master class within itself.

5. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, Mario Spezi: My non-fiction pick of the year. This book centers around the killer on whom Thomas Harris based Hannibal Lector. From the 1960s-1980s, a serial killer terrorized Italy, murdering young couples in their mid- or post-coitus. How I had never heard of 'The Monster' I have no idea. But, this book, written by an American writer and an Italian reporter, shows all the chilling details in a combination of artful prose and specific detail.

6. Purge: Rehab Diaries by Nicole Johns: Also non-fiction, but the technique and style weren't quite as strong here. I loved the book, but I think part of what made me favor it was my own interest in eating disorders. I'm fascinated by them, and by victims of them, so to read a book from a “source” was a dream. If I look at it objectively, it probably isn't a super-amazing-awesome book. . . but I dug it.

7. Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: Non-fiction number three. . . a book that made me laugh, cry, get angry, roll my eyes, and wonder 'what if.’ I was so irritated with Burroughs going into this read, I'm pretty impressed with his talent and skill to pull me back over to “Team Augusten.” But, he did, so I'm there, and if you haven't read Running With Scissors, please do. And let me know how it makes you feel. [review]

8. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: I had some issues with this book, but I stand by my original opinion that I would rather read a mediocre book by an author willing to take risks than a great book based completely in safety. Zusak has some damn good ideas. His execution in I Am the Messenger wasn't the best, but it was still a decent read and totally worth my time. [review]

9. The Time it Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean: This is technically a young adult novel, though it works for grownups as well. An unassuming, pure story that my mind travels back to from time to time. Written from the point of view of a teenager whose father works for NASA, the Challenger has not yet exploded and changed history?except we all know it did, and did. The Time it Takes to Fall is that story-scrubbed missions, blame, finger-pointing, and no more of a resolution than we got here in the real world. [review]

10. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: This book scratched my historical fiction right where it itched, and, for that reason, it ranks in the top ten. Hanna, a book restorer, gets caught up in a DaVinci-Code-esque thrillride that can't, of course, end the same way because that story was already written. I loved some of the prose and I learned something from the reading, which is my favorite part of historical fiction. It's one that I think I may go back and reread because I'm not sure I gave it a totally fair shake the first time around. If I do, I'll let you know. [review]

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  1. christa 09.Jan.10 at 7:44 pm

    Still Alice was my favorite fiction in 2009. I can’t wait to read her next book!

    I’d read Running with Scissors and it’s my favorite Augusten Burroughs’ book. I just couldn’t believe his parents would do something like that… after reading this book, it also sparked my interest in reading memoir (hardly read any memoir, or non-fiction, before). The Glass Castle is another great one to read (dysfunctional family).

  2. Kelly 09.Jan.10 at 9:33 pm

    I *loved* The Glass Castle! I picked it up at the bookstore about ten times before I bought it because I wasn’t really into memoirs at the time…but it kept calling to me so I finally bought it. Have you read her new memoir? I’ve looked at it but haven’t picked it up.

    There were parts of Running with Scissors that made me cry…parts that were kind of surprising. And, yes, his parents–yeesh.

  3. christa 10.Jan.10 at 3:53 pm

    No I haven’t read Jeannette Wall’s new memoir yet. I think I put off reading the Glass Castle because I didn’t like the cover art (,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_.jpg) which made it look… boring. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but still!

    Have you read The Help? That’s my 2nd favorite fiction, again not something I’d usually pick, but it surprised me (in a good way.)

    Here are my fav from 2009:

  4. Kelly 10.Jan.10 at 5:04 pm

    I’m reading The Help right now–I was avoiding it because it was hyped in kind of a strange way (i.e. everyone “loved” it but I never heard a word about what it was about or why it was so loved). But, so far I’m totally digging it–only about 1/4 the way in.

  5. christa 10.Jan.10 at 6:01 pm


    I hope you like it! I avoided it too because of the hype (the same went for Harry Potter and Twilight… just to see what the fuss was all about) but gave in after reading numerous reviews. It’s not perfect, but still a very good read.


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