Saturday, January 02, 2010

Top Reads of 2009

I managed to get my top reads down to ten this year, with a handful of "almost made the list." It would have been more difficult but I decided to eliminate titles if I'd reread them, if there were several titles by the same author, or if they were titles in an ongoing series that I've already had in my top read list in the last couple of years. There were a few forgettable books in last year's reading but most of the titles that didn't make it were from authors and series I still enjoy, often waiting anxiously for the newest titles to be published. I just didn't want to keep mentioning the same authors over and over again. Books made the top ten list for many reasons - because they are great literature, were great fun, or perhaps because I just happened to pick them up at the right time to entertain or move me.

I definitely had a favorite book this year, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I've already written about it in another post. It's a lovely story with unforgettable characters about why life is worth the effort and how to grow up to be a man. Sniff.

The rest of my list, in no particular order of degree of love -

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel was a title I heard recommended on Joshilyn Jackson's enertaining blog, Faster Than Kudzu. So when I stumbled upon the book in a pile of used books somewhere, I knew to grab it. It's an autobiographical ramble through what would appear to be a nondescript childhood but the stories pull you in and make your heart ache with beauty, sadness, and understanding. I found it on the cheap, but it's definitely worth going out and purchasing at the bookshop!

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. Last year I read The Audacity of Hope and found it interesting, if not the most exciting read of my life. I decided to read Dreams from My Father out of curiosity and found this more personal story far more interesting than his other book. As I read it I kept coming back to the fact that he wrote the book long before the idea of becoming president had even started to percolate in his head. I think if he had, he would probably have felt the need to censor his words and the book would have been poorer for it. A fascinating peek into the man behind the historical figure.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. Being an unabashed Francophile, this title caught my attention. I loved imagining the author and his family in the many places and sites I have visited myself. It was also intriguing to read about the many changes that have taken place from the period in which the author lived in Paris and the Paris of current years. Each long chapter reads like a rambling essay. I like rambling, so it worked well for me. You might give it a flip through to see if it works for you.

Valiant by Holly Black. Valiant is actually the middle of a trilogy. The first book is Tithe. I didn't realize that the book was the second in a trilogy, however, as there are new characters in the second book and each title stands alone. The third book, Ironside, pulls the first two stories together. Tithe was an unexpected read for me, a Young Adult urban fantasy title that was far grittier than I had yet to encounter. I think I wasn't sure if I liked it until after I'd finished it! Not knowing it had a sequel, I chose to read Valiant on a whim and again was surprised at it's edgy hardness but was now ready for it. I really loved the characters and liked the premises of the faery/human interactions.

The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris. I was so excited when I discovered that there was a sequel to Chocolat! I waited patiently for it to be published in the U.S. (it was originally published in the UK under the name The Lollipop Shoes), then I waited patiently for it to come into paperback. I kept busy by reading Chocolat. I had only seen the movie. (I usually won't go see the movie before I read the book but I hadn't known about the book.) This turned out to be important preparation as the story diverges, as the story often does, between the screen and the book, and if I had only seen the movie I would have been somewhat lost where the story picks up many years later in The Girl with No Shadow.

I found myself second guessing where the author had taken the story, having imaginary conversations with her about whether the characters would really have made the choices she chose for them. (or perhaps, where they chose to take her as she wrote it down) But ultimately I couldn't put the book down and I loved being back in their lives and, cherry on top, set in the wonderful Parisian arrondissement of Montmartre.

The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. I actually bought this book for my Hubby as he lived and worked in the redwoods in his younger years. I thought perhaps I'd read it myself, eventually, and somehow, without thinking about the connection, I picked it up just before I went on a week long trip where I was able to spend a number of days walking amongst the cathedrals of giant trees.

Having the pleasure of living near the redwoods off and on during my adult life, I thought I already knew a lot about these forests, certainly more than your random person. I was amazed at how much I learned in reading, and even more amazed to discover how new most of the discoveries about redwood forests are in the larger history. It fascinated me to read about locations and events that I remember living near during the same time as the story takes place. It was intriguing to think of how many overlaps there must have been between the people I knew and the people in the book.

For anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of the natural world, and our place within the web of life, this is a great read. (Pssst - I discovered after I finished the book that Hubby hadn't yet read it!)

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I keep trying to add to my list of classic reads and so you'd think I'd stop being surprised at how much I enjoy these stories. Duh! It's always fascinating, too, to discover the differences from what popular culture has pulled or tweaked from the story and how the story reads in it's original form. I love a gothic read and you probably can't find one more gothic than this.

Someplace To Be Flying by Charles DeLint. I've been craving a certain kind of urban fantasy all year, in particular I've been trying to chip away at the works of Neil Gaiman and Charles DeLint. Completely unlike me, I've been reading DeLint's work out of order, which has been an interesting experience. In Someplace To Be Flying, I finally found the origin of the Crow Girls, who have made small appearances in other Newport stories I've already read.

I don't know if DeLint can write characters I wouldn't like, so it's redundant to say I loved the characters in this book, but I guess I can have favorite characters within a larger cast of characters. The same thing for DeLint novels - love them all but some stand out. I think I have to say Someplace To Be Flying has bumped Forest of the Heart from it's favorite DeLint spot, or at least is crowding next to it. Probably the biggest confusion I have about DeLint's books is this - Why hasn't anyone made a movie out of any of them yet? Wouldn't they make some great movies!?

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. This was a book I've had tucked away on my shelf unread for a long while and was prompted into reading when I heard about the unexpected death of the author in recent months. I probably would have read the book sooner if I didn't have a copy with a dated cover image. I know, but cover art does make a difference, y'know. Like, I dislike books that have "movie version" cover art, but others must feel differently or they wouldn't produce them, yes? Anyway, it's a wonderful story of myth and archetypes, a good deep read that didn't run in a predictable line, allowing me to get as lost in the story as the characters do in the wood.


More books that hovered on the edge of my top ten, that on another day might have bumped another title out of position, again in no particular order -

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast. This is the first in what seems like a neverending list of young adult fantasy/vampire series. There are so many I can't keep them all straight. I've already got a few going, both YA and Adult, so I wasn't shopping for a new series, but my sister recommended this one so I went out and bought the first book. Written by a mother/daughter author team, I really loved the fast pace and witty banter. I chuckled a lot at the pop culture references that helped to tie the fantasy to "real life." Nothing deep, just a really fun read. I'm anxious to get my hands on the next book.

Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress. This was a book club choice, nothing I would have picked on my own, but the story really stuck with me long after I'd finished reading it. To me, it was like reading TWO stories, the sections bouncing back and forth between a young white boy who lives in the south during the beginning of the civil rights movements and his crazy aunt who kills her husband in the first chapter and runs off to recreate herself. The first story was mostly a serious story, the second mostly dark humor. I heavily favored the story of the boy and wasn't sure how the two stories fit together or why the author felt the need to weave them together. Interestingly, some of the book club members had the exact opposite reaction, preferring the woman's story and disliking the more serious thread. In the end I decided that neither story would be as full without the other.

Defending Angels by Mary Stanton. This is a new urban fantasy series by an author of a few other series I haven't read. I just stumbled on this title during a bookstore visit and picked it up on a whim. I liked the southern location, I liked the characters, and I liked the uniquely new fantasy twist. Instead of more vampires and werewolves, the characters include a collection of angelic justice seekers and a few ghostly clients. The second title in the series, Angel's Advocate, was also a good read.

The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint. This book didn't make the top ten only because it's a second DeLint book and I only gave each author one shot for the list. But you can probably just reread my comments about Somewhere To Be Flying, most of it applies here. Jilly is one of my favorite characters and it was nice to find out so much more about her and other familiar characters.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexander Fuller. This was another book club choice made by a good friend of mine. It also happened to be a title I had picked up and shelved unread into my library. I have a hard time choosing to read autobiographies (as this is) or nonfiction. I really guard the time I have to escape into fiction and fantasy.

This book wasn't a light or easy book to read. I learned a lot about African history. I remembered a lot about how much the world has changed since the 60's and 70's. This book makes the list not because the book left me thinking "ah, what a great book" but because the stories and people in this book continue to linger in my thoughts even now almost a year after reading it.


Well, that's it. I have a mental list of books I'd like to read this year. Hopefully I'll give it some more reflection and post about that soon. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about some of your favorite reads in 2009. Please leave me a comment with lots of new book possibilities, or blog about your own 2009 reading. If I get a few links, maybe I'll add them to this post so we can have a little book list link list. "Book list link list" - say that three times in a row fast!


Blogger Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Just read The Glass Castle. That was an amazing memoir. I'll have to check out some on your list. I love Neil Gaiman.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Just stumbled upon your blog page, and noticed your book list after scrolling through the photos with Chihuahuas.

We have one. My favorite dog. Zoe or more commonly "Zo-Zo".

About The Wild Tree book ... after reading it, I eventually located a couple of the trees mentioned. And started a web page so others could view what those redwoods looked like. Because the book had no images, and virtually none existed online. The page has slowly grown since then.

Largest Coast Redwoods

If the CA storms subside, my next hiking there is in a week or so.


MDV ~ Oregon

9:10 PM  

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