As I write this post I am driving past Tifton, Georgia. Their billboards tell me that Tifton is the reading capital of the world. Because I'm driving in a minivan with a husband, four children, a dog, and two car carriers on the roof of the minivan, I'm not going to stop and investigate their claim. I do know that, while this blog is certainly not the reading captial of cyberworld, I've loved writing it this year. It has received little attention in recent months, as I found the opportunity to do some real freelance writing. I hope to do a better juggling act in 2010. Nonetheless, my experiment worked. I did manage to read my 52 books and then some; I just didn't write about all of them. The best hours of my year had to do with books in some way, shape, or form. Most were great. A few were really awful. Here is my list of the ten (out of around 60) best novels I read in 2009.
Favorite Book #10 - Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, is the most brilliantly humorous writing I've ever encountered. A realistic portrayal of an office environment, this is a must read for anyone who has spent time in corporate America.
Favorite Book #9 - Abide With Me, by Elizabeth Strout, is the story of a small church, a pastor, and his congregants. It was breathtakingly convicting to me on many levels, and will be the same even to my non-church going readers. My friend Ruth Anne told me about this one and I'm so glad she did, otherwise I would never have picked it up.
Favorite Book #8 - Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, is stunning in that it was written by a man about a woman's life in suburban America before women's rights came to the forefront of current events. This one is dark and twisty, but oh so well done. Skip the movie and go straight to the book.
Favorite Book #7 - March, by Geraldine Brooks, was the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2006. This short gem takes the charcter of Mr. March from Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women and explains his experiences as a chaplain during the Civil War. A poignant commentary on slavery and suffering, March is a must read even if you aren't a fan of Little Women.
Favorite Book #6 - The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, is a look at a young black girl and how she views herself in light of the way the world views her. The language of this book still haunts me nine months after reading it.
Favorite Book #5 - The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is the best story I read this year. The story of black women working for white women in Jackson, Mississippi, these characters will stay with you long after you've read the last page. You'll cheer for the protagonists and despise the villains.
Favorite Book #4 - A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher, contains some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read. This book is not easy to read, but if you stick with it, you'll realize what a gift it is. It is the story of a woman traveling in a wagon train during the 1800's and is based on the journals of real people.
Favorite Book #3 - Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, is a novel that my friend Abby sent to me and I will forever be grateful. It the story of John Ames at the end of his life, told in the form of letters he is writing to his young son. This one will take your breath away.
Favorite Book #2 - Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, will forever remain on my list of all time favorite books. Olive Kitteridge deals with the reality of human life. There is no fantasy in this novel; she writes about the real things that we deal with every day. It was the realism that I loved when I read this one.
And...the best book I read in 2009 is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I tear up when I think about this book. It is so incredible. It is an amazing story about two unlikely friends with stunningly gorgeous writing. The book starts slowly, so if you decide to pick it up, be sure to stick with it. It will be worth it in the end (Are you listening, Mom?) and it will inspire you to find beauty in the every day. This one has the potential to make a difference in your life. By far, this was my favorite book of the year.
Happy New Year and may your 2010 be full of reading!