Time for my annual favorite books of the year ramble. This year, I thought it would be fun to start with some trivial numbers from the year (I mean fun for me, you might find it mildly amusing, though).
Books Read: 75
Pages Read: 21,454
Average Pages per Book: 286
Average Pages per Day: 59
Biggest Reading Month: October (8 books, 2141 pages)
Smallest Reading Month: May (5 books, 1169 pages)
Five Longest Books Read:
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 959 pages
- The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – 883 pages
- An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser – 856 pages
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – 512 pages
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – 471 pages
Five Shortest Books
- Native Guard by Natasha Tetheway – 50 pages
- The Simple Truth by Philip Levine – 66 pages
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 70 pages
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu – 70 pages
- Now and Then by Robert Penn Warren– 75 pages
There. That was fun, wasn’t it? Now, if I haven’t scared you away yet, let’s look at the highlights a lowlights of my reading year (rereads are excluded from consideration):
Biggest Disappointment of the Year:
(Note this is not the worst book I read this year, that would be The Hunger Games, which was required for my job. You can find my contemptuous screed on that book here.)
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides. A lot of people are putting this on best-of lists, but I just don’t see it. I loved Middlesex, but this book has so many issues and is so rife with misogyny (most notably, a female character whose greatest sexual pleasure comes when her boyfriend rapes her), that I could never get into it. There are some wonderful passages and plenty of good moments, but the book, as a whole, doesn’t work.
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson and The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene. A couple of very different titles. Notes might be Bryson’s best-known work and is a delightfully funny read. The Hidden Reality is Brian Greene’s third pop-science book and a great explanation of the various kinds of multi-verse we might live in. I highly recommend both.
Favorite Books of the Year:
Honorable Mentions – Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (her best, I think), Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (a wonderful modern fairy tale), Dancer by Colum McCann, The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett, The Tent by Margaret Atwood, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
5. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – Unlike the Eugenides, I agree with everyone listing this as one of the best books of the year. It’s fantastic. I noted when I first read it that a some pop-culture references might cause it to feel dated in a few decades, thus preventing it from being an enduring masterpiece, but overall this is a fantastic book. I was very excited to read it and it absolutely did not let me down. A great exploration of all the different kinds of love that drive us.
4. Zoli by Colum McCann – I love Colum McCann. I gather he considers this book to be a bit of a failure. Oh, that I should fail so. This is such a wonderful and rarely told story. It follows a Roma (Gypsy) poet/singer through post WWII Eastern Europe. The main character is just so real and fascinating. I can’t find anything bad to say about it. If you haven’t been reading Colum McCann, you are doing yourself a disservice.
3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – In some ways, this is the most remarkable book on this list. Not because it is an unexpected story, but because it is such a common story. Rich people. Banana republic. Hostage crisis. Kind of writes a terrible book on its own, doesn’t it? But this is beautiful. Patchett goes so many places with this, exploring the constraints of class and language and how they might be overcome through art. Lovely.
2. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee – Lee’s newest book, The Surrendered, was up for a number of awards and I’m excited to read it this spring, but I can’t imagine it could be any better than A Gesture Life. This book explores one man’s experiences with comfort women while in the Japanese army in WWII and his later struggles to repair his severely broken relationship with his adopted daughter. What really sets this book apart, though, is the beautiful descriptions Lee gives of even the most everyday things.
1. The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – One of the longest books I read this year, and instantly one of my favorite books ever. This is a complete masterpiece. Byatt takes hundreds of pages to lovingly explore the lives of many beautifully flawed characters. In addition, you get fairy tales, early 20th century England, free-love, socialism, war, and the consequences that spring from all of that. I was hooked on this book from the very first page and spent all my time reading it dumfounded that anyone could ever produce something like this. Unbelievably wonderful. This spring, I plan to start slowly working my way through everything she’s written. I suggest you do the same, and start with this.