Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Best I've Read in 2009

This morning I decided to browse the New York Times's "100 Notable Books of 2009" list. Then I took a look at the top-10 2009 gift-giving lists from three NYT book reviewers: Michiko Kakutani Janet Maslin, and Dwight Garner. As I perused, I quickly noticed that I haven't read a single one of the books on these lists. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one. 

So, I've decided to make my own top-1o list, not of books necessarily published in 2009 but of books I've read in 2009, to give you all some fantastic recommendations. These are in no particular order (and thanks to for the descriptions!):

HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown Books for Young
 Readers, 9/09) - Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. [...] Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman (Dutton Books, 4/09) - In a single moment, "everything" changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she fi nds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...

A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all makeaand the ultimate choice Mia commands.

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, tp edition 1/06) - Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. [...] Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing to the horrific. [...]

GIRLS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch (Little, Brown, tp edition 4/08) - In this tender debut, a less-than-perfect debutante decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she tries to make sense of city sophistication and to understand the strange and rarefied world she's left behind. 

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger (Harvest Books, tp edition 7/04) - A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. [...] An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love[...]

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial Press, TP edition 5/09) - January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING by Janelle Brown (Speiegel and Grau, tp edition 5/09) - On the day Paul Miller's pharmaceutical company goes public, he informs his wife, Janice, that their marriage is over and that the new fortune is his alone. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Miller's older daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her hot actor boyfriend and is failing at her job, kind of spectacularly. Sliding toward bankruptcy, Margaret bails and heads for home, where her confused and lonesome teenage sister, Lizzie, is struggling with problems of her own [...]. From behind the walls of their Georgian colonial bunker, the Miller women wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, evangelical neighbors, and country club ladies-and in the process all illusions and artifice fall away, forcing them to reckon with something far scarier and more consequential: their true selves.

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 5/00) - Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. [...] Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.
OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, tp edition 9/08) - At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her [...]. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life-sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition-its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel (Mariner Books, 5/03) - This brilliant novel combines the delight of Kipling's "Just So Stories" with the metaphysical adventure of "Jonah and the Whale, " as Pi, the son of a zookeeper, is marooned aboard a lifeboat with four wild animals. His knowledge and cunning allow him to coexist for 227 days with Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.


  1. Time Traveller's Wife and Olive Kitteridge are on my list of to-reads; Intepreter of Maladies was GREAT

  2. I want to read a few of these! And you're right about the NYT list--I'd only read "Columbine" which was excellent.