Friday, January 01, 2010
Bests of 2009
I have been spending some time looking backward in preparation to look forward-Tee, Hee!
Well one of the things I was trying to remember was "What books did I read this year that really stuck with me or made me feel something?"
One of most recent reads was The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt. A luxurious epic of a book, chronicling the lives of an impressive array of children (at least thirteen), their parents and various hangers-on from the late Victorian period through the end the First World War. Over the course of the book the children go through the usual processes of growing up, but for this bunch that includes some pretty serious complications. The families, whose paths cross in interesting ways throughout the book, are all involved in some way with the crafts movement of the period (pottery, book production, theater, &c.), as well as the political goings-on (socialism, suffragism and so forth). Byatt expertly integrates the history of the period with her narrative, and seamlessly inserts her characters into the real-world milieu. The fantasy worlds she creates, in all their creepy possibility (and some of the plot-lines she pursues really are disturbing) are remarkable. This is a truly rich book, but the number of characters Byatt introduces and documents is staggering, and I found it difficult at times to keep track of them all. The meandering nature of the text sometimes seems a bit much, and there were times when I needed something more fast-paced - but overall (and, I must say, especially the last third of the book and the gut-wrenching treatment of World War I) this is a real achievement.
Another book that really held me throughout was Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gould. This is a thrilling, romantic, fascinating book and could be my favorite book read this year. Carter Beats the Devil is a historically fact-based novel about magician Charles Carter who performed in the golden age of magic (1890s thru the 1920s). This story pits Carter against rival magicians and Secret Service agents who suspect Carter had a hand in the death of President Harding. I was drawn in from the get-go. This book is full of suspense, humor, and panache. It came highly recommended from Michael Chabon, author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (also an excellent book). Carter Beats the Devil is a richly imagined story full of wonderful characters and it has perhaps the most thrilling, exciting, whiz-bang conclusion I've come across in ages. Great, great book.
I read Anansis Boys by Neil Gaiman. I loved this book and the "trickster" character. Wonderful mythology and a ripping good yarn! I actually listened to this on Audio Disc and the reader was the fellow that plays the Chef in that British sitcom. Great voice for the character!A story of two brothers, twins, one a God, another a human, total opposites, whose lives collide when the human twin speaks to a frog, and summons forth his irresponsible, funny, and self driven brother. Told in that way only Gaiman can tell a story, if you're a Gaiman fan, you're sure to gobble this one up.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski was one of the best books I have ever read! And it was of all things a Best Seller! For me that nearly never happens. But this story is so compelling that I can't recommend it too highly. The perfect book to curl up with on a blustery afternoon, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a not-so-simple tale of a Wisconsin boy and his dogs. An eloquent exploration of both inner and outer landscapes, this novel will wind about your psyche and will haunt you long after the last page.
I also read Enchantment by Orson Scott Card and really loved it! While staying at his Cousin Marek's farm Ivan comes upon a clearing in the Carpathian forest. On top of a pedestal encircled by leaves a girl lay as though she were dead. After a closer look, Ivan realizes that she is only sleeping. However, as Ivan moves closer a monster stirs and sends the ten-year-old boy running. Years later, Ivan becomes an American graduate student and is engaged to a girl named Ruth. Still he can't forget the day in the forest when he saw the sleeping girl. On a research assignment on fairy tales, Ivan goes back to his native land, Russia, and soon finds himself playing the part of the prince in a twisted Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The only scary part is - it's real. This book is fun to read and Card puts an interesting twist to the Sleeping Beauty story. I liked how realistic the conflicts in the story were. Many authors don't fully think about what sort of problems time-traveling would create, but it is clear that Card did. Oh and Baba Yaga is in this story! Really scary!
Next time we can talk about what to read in 2010!
Talk to you soon,
Most new books are forgotten within a year, especially by those who borrow them.
Evan Esar (1899 - 1995)