Favorite Books of 2009

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.

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11 comments

  1. I came up with a list of my favorite reads of the decade last week, and Random Family was on it. It’s an awesome book – glad that you thought so too!

  2. I’m still coming up with my list of favorite reads for this year. I haven’t read Random Family but read a lot of recommendations for it. Merry Christmas and happy new year.

  3. I love reading best of lists! I am putting mine together and hopefully will have it done sometime next week. The Likeness was on my list last year I think. Such a good book. I really want to read Hunger Games. Everyone raves about it!

    Wishing you a wonderful holiday!

  4. I’ve only read 3 of the books you listed (1, 6 and 7) but those were books I loved too. And of course, Fingersmith will be included in my list as well 😀

    I hope you had a great Christmas, Prisiclla!

  5. Florinda, I am still working on my favorites list for the decade, but Random Family will definitely make the cut for that list as well!

    Vasilly, I look forward to seeing your list. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well!

    Iliana, I have added so many books to my TBR because of all the “best of” lists, it’s not even funny. I loved The Likeness, and I cannot wait for her third book. You must read The Hunger Games! Happy holidays to you!

    Nymeth, I hope you also had a great Christmas! I saw the pictures of your loot! I am happy to hear Fingersmith is on your list as well, especially because it was one of my guesses for your list! 🙂

  6. I feel exactly the same way about A Gate at the Stairs. What a relief to find someone else who shares my opinion. Also, Random Family is one of my favorite nonfiction books. I participated in the NYTimes discussion of it back when it was initially published.

    This is my first time visiting your blog. I’m adding it to my blogroll — I’ll be back. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  7. Sherry, I was happy to have found your blog today, and I have added your link to my blogroll as well. That Random Family discussion must have been interesting. I used to follow those NYT book club strings sometimes, but I never joined a discussion.

    It truly pains me to say anything bad about Lorrie Moore’s writing…I was so happy when I read that post in The Nation, because it was the first realistic discussion I had seen.

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