It’s that time of year

I’m a sucker for those year-end best books lists. Sometimes they make me mad; often they make me feel like I need to broaden my reading horizons. I decided to come up with my own best-of-the-year list and conducted a highly unscientific poll among readers of my acquaintance. Here are the results (in my poll, it doesn’t have to be a book published this year; just read this year):

My best reads of the year came down to one work of fiction and one work of nonfiction. The novel was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, winner of last year’s Man Booker. I had a feeling I’d love it — I had read and greatly admired Mantel’s historical novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, and I am of course, obsessed with all things Tudor. So when I heard she’d written a novel about Thomas Cromwell, I figured she had written it just for me.

The work of nonfiction is Cleopatra, the new biography by Stacy Schiff. If you think you know the facts about this woman’s remarkable life, think again. Schiff does a wonderful job rescuing Cleopatra from the millenium-long trashing of her reputation, conducted by men who 1) never knew her and 2) had very strong motives to portray her as an evil seductress. A great read even if you’re not all that into ancient Roman or Egyptian history.

Here are the results from my unscientific sampling:

Connie, newspaper books editor: “The best book I read all year was Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom.’ Yes, I know it is popular to bash this book, or say there were too many white people in it, or that it was “unrealistic” or that the characters were unlikable (what, you want to read about boring people???) But I loved it unreservedly. I could not put it down, and I loved every minute I was reading it. And aside from being funny and insightful and brilliant, it also reflects my entirely cynical worldview: we are hopelessly doomed, not just as a species, but from ever doing anything truly selfless!

“My second favorite was Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad,’ which is ostensibly about the shifting music industry but really about a lot more. Clever, funny and hopefully not TOO prescient…”
Arlo, poet and literary seminar media director: “I also liked Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” a novel-in-stories filled with brilliant off-to-the-side-insights into relationships between friends and lovers and clear-headed commentary on the time we’re living in. The PowerPoint chapter is a special treat. 

“I finally finished Richard Ford’s masterful Frank Bascombe trilogy– I’d been putting off ‘The Lay of the Land’ ever since it came out however many years back because I didn’t want to live in a world without more Bascombe to look forward to. It’s probably the sloppiest of the the three (“The Sportswriter” and “Independence Day” are the others), but I couldn’t be sure that didn’t make it the best.

Oh, and Charlie Smith’s ‘Three Delays’ just plain knocked me down.”

Bob, bookbinder and bookstore manager: “Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.”

My mom: “The book I’m reading right now is easily my best of the year: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: a Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary, by Steven R. Weisman, published in 2010.

“You should read it to understand a lot of things about America in the 20th century.  Moynihan had a unique perspective and personal history. The Senate  is a much poorer place without him (and Teddy).”

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Filed under fiction, nonfiction, recommended reading

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