Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Laura Miller lists the Best Books of 2004 in Salon.

A brief run down here, since following the link means sitting through an ad for access:

Fiction:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (Hurray! Will be on my year’s best list, too)

“An exploration of the loss, grief, and misplaced guilt that torment three clients who hire Jackson Brodie, an irresistibly grumpy divorced father working as a private investigator in Cambridge, England.”

And

“If Lorrie Moore decided to write a genre-busting detective novel it might resemble Case Histories, a book in which people take precedence over puzzles and there’s no greater mystery than the resurrection of hope."

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Not on my best list, but mighty fine nonetheless)

Clarke’s “capacious, digressive, amply footnoted and very original Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a classic historical novel—only the history it’s based on just happens to be entirely fantastic.”

And

“As for her wondrous, image-rich depictions of her heroes’ spells (ships made of rain, a twilight land accessible only through mirror), that’s nothing less than pure sorcery.”

Happy Baby by Stephen Elliot

Petty criminals, Chicago group homes, chapters that jump backward in time, “a wincing, dogged search for the truth,” and published by McSweeney’s/MacAdam Cage.

I’d never even heard of this one. The above makes it sound interesting, but I’m not providing the elements of the book that make me disinclined to read it because listing them might make this blog show up in searches for Things Unsavory.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

C. snagged this one off the new book cart yesterday (I snatched The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates and The Know-It-All by A. C. Jacobs), so I’ll have to wait a bit to get to this one.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Another one from my year’s best list)

“What’s it like for a disillusioned, secular idealist to witness his nation losing faith in the future and sliding back into the rigidity of religious fundamentalism?”

There’s a discussion of this at Readerville in, I believe, February, but I’ve gotten the idea somehow along the way that I ought to read Dostoevsky’s Demons before rereading it, so I might not be quite on track. Also, a yahoo group I’m on is reading Pamuk’s My Name is Red in January, and I’m tempted to reread that one, too. I just don’t know. I have at least three other books about Turkey here on the shelves, including another Pamuk.

Best Non-Fiction (I’d heard of none of these)

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle

A sensational trial and Clarence Darrow, to boot. African-American Ossian Sweet moved into “a house in a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925, and found himself fighting for his life and property against a mob of locals.”

Sounds interesting, but I hate reading trial stories, so nah.

Nightingale: the Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

A bio that presents FL as one in “a long line of English radicals, freethinkers and even bohemians” while providing “a mercilessly skeptical eye to the pettiness and absurdities of the English class system.”

Hmmm.

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman

A “meticulous history with propulsive narrative power, a fresh take on one of the most examined events in American history”

And

A "Booth who was far more cunning, manipulative and talented than conventional wisdom would have us believe.”

Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King

“Gruesome fun”—a Connecticut-based merchant ship crew enslaved by nomads in the Sahara Desert in 1815.

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

“An old fashioned commitment to telling the whole story—in this case the reality that millions of Americans who work hard, full-time if not more, can’t keep their heads above water.”


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