Favorite books of 2009

‘Tis the season for publishing year-end lists, which means I need to provide a wrap-up of my favorite books of 2009.

In perusing my postings on Facebook and LinkedIn, I noticed that I read a lot more mystery and science fiction this past year than literature and nonfiction. I suspect this may be due to a desire to escape from the depressing economic times into a world where the detective always solves the crime or the hero always conquers the impossibly powerful or crafty villain.

Which is not to say that there isn’t amazing, thought-provoking work being done in mysteries and science fiction. In fact, scifi is often the best place to look for such topics – think Philip K. Dick or William Gibson. In 2009, I read my very first graphic novel, The Watchmen, which is laden with cold war anxiety. And yet, I know I’ve missed some good writing because of these choices. Therefore, my New Year’s resolution will be to read outside that genre box.

So, let’s get to my lists. These are not books published in 2009, just books that I finally got around to reading in 2009. I’ve organized them by category, but otherwise they are in no particular order:

POETRY
Geography III: Poems by Elizabeth Bishop
They Carry a Promise: Selected Poems by Janusz Szuber
The Circle Game by Margaret Atwood
Divine Comedy by John Kinsella
Time and Materials by Robert Hass
The Goose Bath Poems by Janet Frame
Things I Must Have Known by A.B. Spellman

FICTION
Aura (Cara y Cruz) by Carlos Fuentes
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

GENRE (MYSTERY/FANTASY/SCIFI)
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
Bamboo and Blood by James Church
The Ice House by Minette Walters
The Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva

NONFICTION
Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett
Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson

What’s on tap for 2010? I enjoyed Jess Walter’s Citizen Vince, so I’m looking forward to his latest, The Financial Lives of the Poets. A friend told me that I simply must read J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace – and disregard the movie, which he claims did not do it justice.

I’m always a bit behind, so although 2009 was the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I have yet to read Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkovskaya or 1989 The Berlin Wall by Peter Millar. I have also heard good things about Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, which is not about perestroika at all, but is set in Stalin’s Russia in 1953.

I was peeking over a friend’s shoulder as he read “Hello,” Lied the Agent by Ian Guntz, which appears to be a hilarious account of working on TV shows in Hollywood, so he loaned me the hardcover.

And on my visit home for Thanksgiving, I stopped at a wonderful little bookstore in Dixon, IL – Books on First – and picked up A Grave in Gaza by Matt Rees. This is the second in a newish mystery series, so I’ll have to read The Collaborator of Bethlehem first. Oh, the hardship!

My poetry bookshelves are bursting with unread volumes: Campbell McGrath’s Shannon, Kay Ryan’s Uncle, Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Saadi Youssef’s Without an Alphabet, Without a Face. On the classical front, I promised myself I would read Horace’s Odes.

Finally, I started reading Don Quixote over the summer, but stalled somewhere in the mountains with the madman beating upon poor Sancho and the Knight of the Sorrowful face turning naked cartwheels. I resolve to finish!

I wish you all happy reading.

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2 thoughts on “Favorite books of 2009

  1. Thank you for sharing your favorite books of the year and what you are reading. I look forward to reading more of your poetry and of those you have noted.
    It is very interesting how our lives intersect. I and my husband Larry Dunphy are proprietors of Books on First in Dixon. While he is out there at the bookstore full-time, I am in Chicago on what I call my “weekday gig.” We appreciate your mention. I have just started a blog (blog.booksonfirst.com) and am apprenticing at this writing form. Hope you and I will get to meet someday, -Carolyn

  2. Glad you’ve picked up my novel A GRAVE IN GAZA. I hope you like it. There’s a fourth in the series out Feb. 1 which is, appropriately, called THE FOURTH ASSASSIN. Maybe you’ll keep going and enjoy that one too. Meanwhile, I’ll be picking up the Proust book you mentioned in your list — looks like fun. best, Matt

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