Our favorite books from the year that was
This past year, there were so many good books that we couldn’t bear to rank them in an arbitrary list. Instead, we picked out a few highlights.
Biggest publishing event
“Freedom,” Jonathan Franzen: Love him or hate him, Franzen is the author everyone was talking about all fall, with more than one critic throwing out the phrase, “Great American Novelist.” Even Oprah’s back on board.
“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” David Mitchell: This lyrical novel follows a Dutch clerk working at an 18th-century Dutch-Japanese trading post. The prose is gorgeous, and the story, concerning de Zoet’s unrequited crush on a Japanese woman, will take the reader on an incredible journey.
Staff favorite, Young Adult
“Mockingjay,” Suzanne Collins: A fascist government demands that children fight to the death on a reality-TV program for the people’s amusement, but one young girl fights the system instead. “Mockingjay” is the last installment of a trilogy that will keep you up all night reading under the covers.
“Life,” Keith Richards: The drug-addled rocker actually has something to say. And he (or his ghostwriter) says it well.
Don’t call it a novel
“A Visit From the Goon Squad,” Jennifer Egan: With this exploration of music and maturity, Jennifer Egan challenged herself to create a work that never visits the same point of view twice. The result is like a series of interlocking short stories with one overarching narrative.
“Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” David Lipsky: In 1997, journalist David Lipsky spent five days on the road with David Foster Wallace for a profile in Rolling Stone. This year, Lipsky released the transcript of their week-long conversation. It’s an intimate look at an author that we wish was still with us.
Best literary speculative-future fiction (tie)
"The Four Fingers of Death,” Rick Moody; “Super Sad True Love Story,” Gary Shteyngart: In a nice bit of synchronicity, these two books released over the summer present different views of a near-future world. Each has varying degrees of optimism and comedy, but all sound plausible. If nothing else, Moody and Schtengart are fantastic writers.
Book we meant to read
"The Ask," Sam Lipsyte: Seriously, this well-reviewed satire of modern life has been on our reading list since it came out in March. The story follows a failed painter living in Queens who is tasked with the charge of fundraising for his alma mater. Maybe we’ll finally get to it in 2011.
Most enjoyable death of print
“The Imperfectionists,” Tom Rachman: Rachman’s novel chronicles the downward spiral of an English-language newspaper in Rome. It’s both funny and heartbreaking in its true-to-life depiction of the industry and the people in it.
American history uncovered
“The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson: The unpleasant parts of our nation’s story tend to get swept under the rug, but Wilkerson turns her keen eye toward the Jim Crow-era South in this non-fiction tome.
Steampunk for everyone
"The Dream of Perpetual Motion,” Dexter Palmer: Steampunk as a genre has a nerdy reputation, but even if you aren’t into wind-up robots and bicycle-powered dirigibles, Palmer’s melancholy “Dream” will keep you turning pages. Though it’s set in an alternate reality, “Dream” is just a story of finding human connection in a world of machines.