The best reading I did in 2006...
1. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak – I read this book in my adolescent lit class and was quite excited about it given the amount of buzz I’d already heard in my groups and from trusted reading buddies. I was not disappointed as I embarked on this unforgettable journey of a book. I was touched by the story, impressed by the writing, and blown away by the total package. Death is undoubtedly one of the most interesting narrators I’ve ever read, and the cast of characters as a whole have stayed with me. As Death proclaims in the book, “I am haunted by humans.” Likewise Zusak’s characters haunt me.
2. The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster – It was a real toss up between The Book Thief and this book for the top spot. I can’t, at the end of the day, say that one is better than the other, for they represent very different things for me. While The Book Thief was a staggering story, Paul Auster’s three interwoven tales are no less than staggering stories, but they’re also mind-bending postmodern explorations of the writer as detective and the power of language. This book made me think like no other this year, and I find myself haunted by this one as well.
3. The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman – The second in the His Dark Materials series was just as delightful and heart wrenching a ride as the first. I have to admit, I haven’t read the third because I don’t want the series to end. Lyra’s ongoing adventure is rich with intertextual allusions to the great masterworks of literature and at once a thrilling adventure through a fantastical world that rubs up against our own.
4. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote – Certainly my interest was piqued after viewing the film, Capote, but this book lingered on the edge of my wishlist for years before the film rolled out. I wasn’t the least bit disappointed, as Capote weaves a tale filled with horror and tragedy but at once brings the villainous so vividly to life that one can’t help but feel some sympathy. It’s an odd feeling, an uncomfortable feeling, and a lofty achievement by an incredibly talented writer.
5. The Professor’s House, by Willa Cather – This one was a result of a Modern American Literature class I took in the spring semester and my first Cather. I expected something different based on my limited knowledge of Cather—something that made me feel dusty perhaps, in the vein of Steinbeck. What I found was a subtly nuanced story of an aging professor and his fondest memories of a talented, enigmatic student. Beautiful imagery, striking turns of phrase, and a definite re-read in the future.
6. A Plea for Eros: Essays, by Siri Hustvedt – As most anyone who has been a bookish friend of mine for more than five minutes knows, I adore Siri Hustvedt. The wife of Paul Auster, she is undoubtedly one of the most underappreciated authors in America…a diamond in the rough for lack of a more innovative comparison. This book of essays focuses largely on her growth from a girl in Minnesota, to her years as a student at Columbia, to her adventures and misadventures on her way to the present. She ponders art and literature and writing as a craft. The essays left me breathless and mired in thought.
7. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer – At Heather F.’s encouragement I picked this book up for some light reading. I was endlessly delighted by this first of Meyer’s books, the story of a lonely adolescent girl and her unlikely love for a vampire. I was immediately transported back to my childhood when I basked in the goodness of authors like L.J. Smith and Christopher Pike, yet the thing that sets Meyer apart is her lovely writing—quite a lot more sophisticated than those earlier authors I enjoyed as a child. I read this first book at somewhere around 500 pages and the 2nd at 500+ in exactly three days. As I was preparing for my thesis defense. ‘Nuff said.
8. New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer – After finishing the first book, I immediately picked up the second and devoured it in a day and a half. While I had my doubts about New Moon, I was even happier with it than with the first. While the hero I adored so much in the first book was largely absent from the second, the writing was superior and the adventure just as thrilling.
9. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – McCarthy’s most recent offering has been called post-apocalyptic and friends of mine would go so far as to categorize it as post-post-apocalyptic as the story unfolds in a world so torn and destroyed that people scavenge where there is nothing left to scavenge, in a world of dust and desolation. The Road is about a father and son and the nothingness that stretches before them. The need for hope when there is almost nothing left to hope for, and it is up to the reader to decide whether McCarthy delivers that hope or not.
10. The Golems of Gotham, by Thane Rosenbaum – It was hard to pick this last title, and I actually nixed Sister Carrie (Theodore Dreiser) at the last minute. While I think Dreiser’s novel was superior in its writing, I think Rosenbaum has done something special in The Golems of Gotham, and at the end of the day (or year as it might be) this title was much more affecting. It’s the story of a young girl and her father—their family plagued by death and loss. In an attempt to save her father, a writer, from his depression the girl summons her dead grandparents, Holocaust survivors, from the other side and with them comes a cast of famous authors, also Holocaust survivors who met their demise as a result of suicide. Rosenbaum deals in inheritance—how the children and grandchildren of those so inexorably changed by the Holocaust inherit that burden and live with it (or die by it). The novel is magical, something akin to magical realism I would say, and the writing is gorgeous. Rosenbaum is certainly a young author with good things on the horizon. I urge any and everyone to give at least one of his books a try.
Very honorable mentions:
Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
Hand to Mouth: A Memoir, by Paul Auster
Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, by Charles Hatfield
Feed, by M.T. Andersen
In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway
Fables: Homelands, by Bill Willingham
iPod says: "Maybe I'm Right"...Pete Yorn (I'm lying, I left it in the car. But that's the song in my head.)