Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite books of 2009

My sole criteria for determining what goes on my favorites list each year is this: do I finish the book with the feeling that I will want to read it again? If the book then holds up to a second reading it becomes regarded as an all-time favorite, an exalted estimation that it's become most difficult for a book to achieve since I've fallen into the habit of not re-reading very much. I must mend my ways and do justice by these deserving books.

This year the two books that left me most sure that they will be re-read were A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Byatt has a tendency to be hit or miss with me, but we were definitely in sync this time out. I would have happily read about these characters and their interests in a book twice as long. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this with my friend W., too; there was certainly enough in the book to warrant our daily discussion phone calls.

Wallace flat-out blew my mind. Infinite Summer was such a valuable resource and now I will have to read everything else he wrote before I circle back around to Infinite Jest.

The only first novel that made my favorites list in 2009 was Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. I loved this tale of a 12-year-old cartography genius and his journey east to the Smithsonian in D.C., and all his maps and drawings that filled the margins (no mere marginalia either, but an integral part of the story) of this gorgeous book that was immediately placed behind protective glass in the secretary once I turned its final page.

Why wasn't this book a bigger hit in book blogging world?

Other favorites were Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey, Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, and Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. Moore and Tyler are, of course, a couple of my favorite authors, so no surprises there, but I didn't expect to be as taken with the story of an imaginative Scottish boy and the quantum mechanics that Sputnik Caledonia concerns itself with. I was sidetracked from reading Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship this year, but once I do, I will be re-reading the Crumey, which references it greatly. Buddenbrooks was so wonderful that I immediately bought a copy of Doctor Faustus and thought that maybe I'd enjoy a re-read of Magic Mountain--if I read the John E. Woods translation,.

Other books read this year that will lead me to read other books by their authors include Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite (I reread a great deal of this one immediately after finishing it because I figured out late in the book what she was doing with the mystical element and was in total awe); Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout; Josh Weil's The New Valley; and Stefan Zweig's Post-Office Girl.

And while I ordinarily don't bother with a list of books I dislike--because I know we all have our own tastes, because I usually abandon a book I don't get along with rather than finish it--there were two I read this year that I can't chalk up to taste and do think I should warn everyone against: Kaye Gibbons' The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster and Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Instead of outlining my reasons here, I think I will save my thoughts about these books for another post in a week or so.

Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's lists of favorites!


  1. I started The Children's Book when it first came out but set it aside--not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I thought it was too good to read in my sometimes haphazard manner (too many books at once). So I'm saving it for 2010. I've never heard of the Larson book, but now that you mention it I will add it to my wishlist! Family Roundabout is just about my favorite Persephone and I loved the Zweig as well! I don't reread as much as I'd like to but I did better this year than in a long time. Happy New Year, Susan. Hope you read lots from your stack in 2010! (And too bad about the Gibbons book--I usually like her).

  2. Fantastic review of your 2009 reading. Maakes me want to add Infinite Jest to the 2010 list and move Buddenbrooks up from its place in the middle of the festering pile!

    All good things for 2010, including your reading!

  3. Anonymous12:54 PM

    My boyfriend and I are hoping to embark on our own journey with Infinite Jest this year. It's one of the only DFW books I haven't already encountered - and it seems like it is long overdue.

    Happy New Year to you and to your family and friends. I hope you have a lot of fun. It has a been a pleasure visiting your blog and reading your thoughts, reviews and excerpts throughout the year. (:

  4. Anonymous1:19 PM

    I am now intrigued by Lark and Termite as well as the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. Thanks!

    - Christy

  5. I've had Infinite Jest on my TBR list for about 10 years if I am not mistaken. A former colleague of mine at work told me it was a must read. How sad that I haven't taken the time to do so. Thank you for your reading retrospective and for reminding me to put it back on my list to read in 2010.

  6. I really want to read Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. It's an interesting question about why it hasn't been a bigger hit in the blogging world, but I think availability (via arcs, libraries, publishers, etc.) makes a big difference.

  7. Anonymous10:55 AM

    I love your favorites lists because you are so careful and selective. I am going to keep an eye out for the Reif Larsen book especially and the Crumey book too.

  8. I'm reflecting today on why I like the books I like.

    I want to focus on reading books I love in 2010.

    I want to request more books from the library and only buy those I am certain that I want to read.

    That said, I just requested the Larsen book from the library. Thank you for the recommendation.

  9. I've had the Larsen book on my list and still plan to get to it one of these days.

    Glad to hear you really enjoyed the Zweig book. It made my best of list!

  10. I agree about Infinite Jest, and I'm already looking forward to rereading it.

  11. Buddenbrooks was my favorite book of 2009, and I found a biographer of Rilke who summarizes the poet's favorable contemporary review of the novel. Reading such a long novel just before and during the holidays was not my smartest move of the reading year. Good choice for a beach read, though.

    Hard to believe Mann was only 26 when this novel was published. His powers of observation were masterly.


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