The New York Times recently published its ten best books of 2006, a list that I probably take a little too much interest in. I’ve read three of the 2005 Top Ten and four of the 2004 list. (Sometimes I read them before the list comes out, sometimes they’re already on my “books to read” list.) So something tells me that the collective taste in fiction at the NY Times Book Review is not too different from mine, for better or worse.
At any rate, this year, not a single book in my own Top Ten is on the NYT list (and there’s only one book on my “to read” list: Marissa Pessl’s “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.” Richard Ford might have been, but I’ve never developed a taste for his brand of suburban macho depression. Of course my list is a little different, since I have fewer titles to consider, as I only read 11 entire books. So I’ll simply rank the 11 books I read in their entirety this year. (I did start two books that I don’t intend to finish and I’m currently in the middle of a couple of others--possible candidates for next year’s list.) You’ll also notice that many of them were not published this year.
1. The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk
I added this and The Windup Bird Chronicle to my “Best Books of All Time” list this year. The Black Book was published in paperback for the first time this year, and it is stunning, though not for everyone. Chapters alternate between the plot and newspaper columns written by one of the other main characters, who has disappeared, along with the main character’s wife. The book is often best digested a chapter at a time. But Pamuk’s descriptions of Istanbul and his interwoven threads, including references to Sufism and its adherents are magical and profound.
2. The Windup Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
I’ve recently discovered the wondrous Murakami (what took me so long), and I’m still not sure what’s going on in his world, but I wouldn’t mind living there for awhile to find out.
3. On Beauty, Zadie Smith
Smith is indisputably the best of the young crop of post-modern writers along with David Foster Wallace, who doesn’t really qualify as young anymore, and this is her best yet (third time’s the charm).
4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
5. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Two classics I had never read. Austen and Capote write English sentences better than just about anyone, and their plots never flag. Is there really any higher praise?
Sometimes one of the best things about movie adaptations of great books is that they inspire you to read or reread the books they are based on. “Capote” and the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice were both excellent, enjoyable movies, but I’m most thankful that they got me to read these two amazing books.
6. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
7.The Plot Against America, Phillip Roth
8. Terrorist, John Updike
Two books by “The Great Whites” inspired by current events. I admit I haven’t read much by Roth or Updike, and although these are probably not their best, as most people know, they both can write masterfully, devise intriguing plots that sometimes strain credulity, and entertain.
9. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris
Yes, I’d read many of these stories before (or heard them on his delightful live CD), but one can never have too much Sedaris.
10. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Along with her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, Krauss is one of the most inventive young PoMos, and a joy to read. I’m hoping she has a “great book” in her, but this is not it.
11. Brookland, Emily Barton
An interesting disappointment. A brilliant idea—a young woman in post-Revolutionary War Brooklyn devises a plan to build a bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. But Barton drowns her book in detail and anachronistic feminism, and her sympathetic well-drawn characters never quite recover.