Norman's Best Books of 2009: A Fiction Roundup
December 28, 2009
A note from Susan: The biggest reader I know is my husband, Norman, and I recently asked him about his favorite books of the year. Clearly knowing the way to my heart, he wrote the following fantastic list. A change of pace from the usual kid-lit fare here, these are works for grown-ups, not children.
As last year came to an end and I found myself preoccupied with what was going to happen to the Kardashians, whether I could work for Diddy, and which team would win the next “Real World/Road Rules Challenge,” I decided it was time for a bold change—less TV and more reading. I’ve had a great year reading novels, most of which were published (or reviewed) in 2009 and all of which I checked out from my local library.
Many books I liked took me abroad. The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li, was a story of people in a small town in China in the late 1970’s. Two of my favorites spanned generations: The Book of Fathers, by Miklos Vamos, which is largely set in Hungary and focuses on the first-born sons in the Csillag family, and A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, by Brigid Pasulka, which alternated between old Poland and modern-day Poland. The Skating Rink, by Roberto Bolaño, is a slim novel set outside of Barcelona. It’s a well-told mystery filled with political corruption and passion.
I became hooked on Orhan Pamuk’s work years ago when I challenged myself (in between reality TV shows) to read Snow, and this year when I read The Museum of Innocence, a love story set in Istanbul in the 1970s, I was not disappointed.
Fine writing is what I remember most about Love and Summer, by William Trevor, and Anna In-Between, by Elizabeth Nunez; the former set in Ireland and the later set in the Caribbean. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, by Geoff Dyer, is two separate stories, one taking place in Italy and the other in India.
While I am not usually drawn to short stories, Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan (stories set in Africa) and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Pakistan-based stories) were outstanding.
A few other well-liked books set outside the U.S. were The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa; Little Bee, by Chris Cleave; and The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters.
My favorite novels set in the United States were, by far, Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann; Lowboy, by John Wray; and Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn. Also worth reading were Blame, by Michelle Huneven; Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon; In the Heart of the Canyon, by Elisabeth Hyde; That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo, and One D.O.A., One on the Way, by Mary Robison.
Let the Great World Spin and Lowboy are outstanding works set in NYC, and other good city reads are The Believers, by Zoe Heller; Risk, by Colin Harrison; and A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias. Warning: when reading Yglesias’s book, keep plenty of tissues handy. Also worthy were How to Sell, by Clancy Martin; Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz; and Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead. I am going to add a final two novels that take place in both the US and another country; I highly recommend Crossers, by Philip Caputo (Arizona and Mexico), and Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin (New York and Ireland).
While I’ve used several publications for finding good reading (e.g., The New York Times, The New Yorker, and People) and NPR, I especially want to thank the staff of the Westport Library and friends Maggie and Martha for sharing their recommendations with me.
Happy reading in 2010!