Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Best Books - 2009 Pt. II

Here are my favourite novels from last year. There are some years when one novel leaves such a lasting impact that it's easy to say, 'that was the best for this year.' 2009 was not one of those years. There were several novels that vied for the 'best of 2009' spot, but none that really stood out from the rest. So, I have settled on "Mudbound", the debut novel from Hillary Jordan, as first among equals. The story is told in the first person by the six protaganists. A father moves his family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II. The story unfolds as the war hero sons of the farmer and the sharecroppers on his land return and form a friendship that exposes the racism deeply embedded in this part of the South. Another son, the antithesis of his war hero brother, creates more tension, as long-held secrets hold sway over the two families. An unblinking and beautifully told narrative of the personal and structural evil that is racism.
In historical fiction, the standout novel was "World Without End" by Ken Follett, the epic sequel to "Pillars of the Earth", one of my favourite novels, which is in post-production as an 8 hour mini-series. I also enjoyed "The Eleventh Man" by Ivan Doig, whose "Whistling Season" is another favourite.
Madeleine L'Engle's "A Live Coal In The Sea" is a beautiful, painful and hopeful story of three generations carrying the scars and open wounds of poor choices and long-held secrets.
In short stories, Wendell Berry's "Fidelity" comes highly recommended. I'm not a fan of short stories usually, but after a slow start, I was drawn into this collection - my first by this son of Kentucky, our new home. Also set in Kentucky, I was pleasantly surprised by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Faith, Hope and Ivy June", her 136th(!) novel. It tells the story of two high school students who spend two weeks in each other's school: one a private girls' school in Lexington, the other from "the hollow" in Hazard County.
Thanks to Rebecca, I have become a big fan of adolescent literature - here are my favourites from last year. "Notes From the Dog" by Gary Paulsen, who is consistently good: a laugh out loud, ache in the gut tale of the summer friendship between an awkward teen and a young woman with breast cancer. Did I mention it features a garden? Another couple of crackers in this genre are "Angry Management" by Chris Cutcher, which features a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of an evangelical; and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, another laugh out loud story which also manages to be entirely non-sentimental about the issues of racism, justice and poverty that it raises.
In the "late night page turner" category, "Simple Genius" by David Baldacci takes the honours. Although I find that when I re-read one of his, I barely remember what happened. Which probably says more about me, than it does about him.
In the "old friends" category, highlights were "Airman" by Eoin Colfer; "Nation" by Terry Pratchett; and "The Private Patient" by P.D. James, which I'm really hoping is not her last novel.
I hope you find at least one to whet your appetite from among this selection - support your local library! And remember, just because you start a book, you don't have to finish it. In that category this year was "Foreign Body" by Robin Cook - complete and utter tosh.
Up next - the best books of the last ten years...


Pete the Brit said...

Looks like a good list. I read 'Nation' while on the plane to the U.K. and loved it - different for Pratchett, but still good.

I noticed 'Easter' by Michael Arditti didn't make your best of list LOL

The Gladdings in Lexington said...

And you're surprised how? ;)