A Novel Idea

Last book post for a little while! If reading was the Winter Olympics, novels would be figure skating (i.e., the main event. Possibly other people think that slalom or “curling” is the main event…in which case, fine, novels are pushing a hockey puck with a broom. But if that is your favorite winter sport to watch, you’re weird).

Without further ado…here are the novels I’ve read over the past year that have stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Goldengrove, Francine Prose – Francine Prose (what an apt last name) is an amazing writer. I read another novel of hers, Blue Angel, and a collection of her short stories, Women and Children First, but Goldengrove was, as Robert Mapplethorpe would say, the one with the magic. The main character’s older sister dies right at the beginning (so I’m not giving anything away by telling you), and the rest of the book consists of how the family – the parents and remaining daughter – deal with the fallout. The relationship between the younger sister and the older sister’s boyfriend is also an element, which Prose handles beautifully.

Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson – I very much wanted to talk to someone about this book as soon as I’d finished it; I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d understood what happened. It’s a coming-of-age book, I guess you could say, set in Norway (it was translated from the Norwegian) during the war. The book actually opens with the narrator as an old man, though it is the story of the summer he was fifteen. The writing, the sense of the time and place, the characters…all painful and poignant.

You or Someone Like You, Chandler Burr – This was one of our book club books, and an excellent selection; there is so much to talk about. It’s literary in the extreme – the main character, Anne, has a PhD in literature, and begins to lead a book group for her husband’s Hollywood colleagues. Literary analysis, religious crisis, the inner workings of family, living far from home (Anne is originally English)…YoSLY is rich with discussion material.

The Good People of New York, Thisbe Nissen – First off, brilliant cover art. This novel covers several years, beginning with the main character Miranda’s mother as a young woman, and continuing through Miranda’s childhood and young adulthood, skipping chunks of time here and there. In a way, it’s like flipping through a family photo album, stopping to examine a few pages in detail, then skimming again. Nissen portrays the mother-daughter relationship in a truly realistic way that will, I think, be familiar to many mothers and daughters.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – A fantastic mystery set in postwar Barcelona. There’s an element of magical realism, just a hint really (this isn’t Marquez or Borges or even Esquivel), but it’s wonderful and compelling and addictive and haunting – you won’t want to put it down once you’ve started. I liked The Angel’s Game too, but this was better.

The Whole World Over, Julia Glass – Of the three Glass books I read this year (the others were Three Junes and I See You Everywhere), this was the first, and my favorite. Glass has a talent for writing about ordinary people and their everyday lives in such a way that they seem tremendously real and important. She writes grown-up stories about grown-ups; nothing flashy, nothing fancy, but her characters are simply perfect, flawed and human.

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger – I believe I’ve written enough about this book in previous posts. Niffenegger trends toward the gothic here with appropriately spooky results. Don’t expect another Time Traveler’s Wife – this is another kind of book altogether.

A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick – The details of this one are already fading a little in my mind, but the writing is beautiful, the character development is masterful, and the author conveys a great sense of history and place. There is one simple, elegant plot twist; the characters carry the story.

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby – Hornby’s best since High Fidelity [cue About A Boy fans to come out of the woodwork with tar and feathers, but I don’t care]. In fiction at least, Hornby seems to be at his best when writing about music. He’s switched things up this time and has a female main character, and he pulls it off really well. Read it!

March, Geraldine Brooks – This had been on my list for ages and I finally got it from the library. It’s the story of Mr. March, the father of Alcott’s Little Women. I’m often wary of authors borrowing from other authors like this, but a) I don’t have any special attachment to Little Women, and b) Geraldine Brooks is a genius and it’s no wonder she won the Pulitzer for this book. This is an absolute must for anyone who likes Civil War history, or brilliant storytelling. (I’d also highly recommend People of the Book, which is fantastic in a completely different way.)

Yes, 2009 was a great year in reading, and 2010 is looking good too. Here are some that I’m looking forward to reading this year:

To Read in 2010

Hunger Games #3, Suzanne Collins
-it comes out in August!

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
-loved her collection Birds of America.

The Children’s Book, A.S. Byatt
-Byatt wrote Possession, and this has gotten good reviews.

Drood, Dan Simmons
-I read Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood in preparation for this many-hundred-pages monster.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
-my friend from Alabama lent this to me months ago.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
-all right, let’s see what the fuss is about.

The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
-looks good, and has been sitting on my desk since before it was actually published.

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
-I loved her other two so much it only makes sense to read this one as well.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Richard Yates
-Great title, and Yates wrote Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade, both of which were great.

Angels of Destruction, Keith Donohue
-very much liked his previous novel, The Stolen Child.

The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng
-looks like something I would like (WWII era) and has also been sitting around for well over a year.

Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt
Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
-These four have been on the list since before it was actually a list – it’s time.

Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
-Been meaning to read these essays since a friend gave me a copy of the book – before DFW died.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt
-I’m curious.

Happy: A Memoir, Alex Lemon
-This book’s editor spoke so passionately about this at BEA (BookExpo America) this past spring that I feel like I have to read it.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic, Steven Johnson
-Looks intriguing, has gotten good reviews, and I got a free copy!

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim
-I’ve seen this referenced enough that I’m curious about the original. Also, fairy tales!

What I’m reading: The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris; Songbook, Nick Hornby; Ophelia Joined The Group Maidens Who Don’t Float, Sarah Schmelling

What I’m listening to: The Sight of Any Bird, The Poem Adept; Little Plastic Castles and Not a Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco

1 Comment

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One response to “A Novel Idea

  1. Pingback: Best of 2011: Prequel « Jenny Arch

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