I was trying to put off listing my favorite books of 2009 until next week, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I am going to take the risk that the last few books wouldn’t have made it into this list anyway, and if they do turn out to be remarkable, then I’ll give them their due in 2010.
I was outside my comfort zone quite a bit this year. One thing I noticed is that I have only one short story collection on this list, and I only read three collections total, which is unusual for me, as they usually make up the bulk of my reading. I am sure if I had gotten my hands on a copy of Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, it would be on this list.
I read some terrific books, and I read some books that I hoped would be terrific and were not: A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore’s latest novel, was a great disappointment. I see it making many “best of” lists, and I can’t help but wonder if no one wants to admit the empress is not wearing any clothes. The Nation seems to get it right in its assessment, though. I plan to read it again, because it’s still Lorrie Moore, after all. The other book I expected to wow me was Richard Price’s Lush Life, which was good but a bit like reading, say, a novelization of The Wire. This is actually high praise in a way, because The Wire is a terrific show. I suppose I just expected something else. So ultimately, that’s what did me in for both books: expectations.
I also re-read two wonderful books which if I were reading them for the first time most definitely would have made this list: Carol Shields’s The Stone Diaries and Don Kurtz’s South of the Big Four, which is a quiet, unassuming, and wonderful novel that never got its due.
My favorite “discoveries” this year were Sarah Waters and Megan Abbott, both of whom appear on my list. I had a friend recommend Waters to me years ago, and as I was reading Fingersmith, I continually smote my forehead. Why hadn’t I listened to my friend? Megan Abbott I found quite by accident, but I am happy that I did. I have books by both these authors sitting on my TBR pile for January.
If I could pick one book from the list that I believe everyone should read, it would be Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, the only non-fiction book on the list. It reads like the most gripping of novels, but the fact that everything in it is true–well, it’s harrowing, but necessary. Put aside any prejudice or discomfort you may have, and read this book with open eyes and an open heart. LeBlanc’s unsentimental compassion is amazing.
And so, finally, here are my favorite books I read in 2009:
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clark
Delicate Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff
The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
The Accidental, by Ali Smith
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Likeness, by Tana French
Queenpin, by Megan Abbott
What were your favorites in 2009?
Click here to see my favorite books of the decade.