What makes great fiction? Is it the book that immediately impacts you? The book you are unable to put down? A book that somehow changes your life?
For my ‘best of’ list this year I decided to choose books that were still stuck in my mind at the end of the year. True, that means it was easier to get on the list if I read the book later in the year. However, the books are fairly spread out. Also, when you read as many books as I do, a book has to be pretty special to be remembered.
Here they are, in the order I read them:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – This book is absolutely haunting. Gentle writing that should be boring and yet keeps you turning the pages. I’m looking forward to reading the follow up in 2013. This book was a great way to kick of the year. I originally gave it a 5 out of 5 and I still agree.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay – I knew the subject of this book and that it was heart wrenching. Seeing the round up of the Jews of Paris and concentration camps through the eyes of a child was horrible. The unfolding story of the modern woman alongside wasn’t as compelling, but both stories really stuck with me. Still a 4 1/2.
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer – I had never heard of Mawer before this year and now love his writing. This story of a house built in the immediate pre-war era and the family that lived there, the story was memorable. The characters were amazing and all the different pieces wove together wonderfully. I later read Trapeze, which was also good, but not as good as The Glass Room. Still a 4 1/2.
February by Lisa Moore – In my initial review of this book I gave it a 3 1/2. However, there were many times during the year when I thought about this book or the writing. Perhaps it is because it was set in any area of Canada close to where I grew up, but I couldn’t get this story out of my head.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – After reading many knock off or ‘sequel’ novels this year, I decided to back and read (or re-read, I couldn’t quite remember) the real thing. Austen doesn’t disappoint. The novel is masterfully written. Definitely a 5 out of 5.
Faith by Jennifer Haigh – This was a heartbreaking story of one priest caught in the Boston Catholic church scandal of the 1990s. The book moved and surprised me. A friend borrowed the book when I finished and finished it in a day. Well worth the read. Still a 4 1/2.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler – This is the only book on my list that I ‘read’ on audiobook. Sometimes I find that medium decreases my enjoyment of the book. However, in this case, the variety of accents helped me keep track of all of the characters. I really enjoyed Tyler’s story of two families who adopted Korean daughters on the same day. I’ve read other Tyler books this year, but this one was definitely the best. Still 4 1/2.
Lost Memory of Skin by Russel Banks – It’s hard to make a sexual predator a likeable main character, but somehow Banks manages to do it. You’re cheering him on in all his flawed glory. You start to see the world through the limitation of a post-incarceration life. I originally gave the book a 4, but on further thought, I think I’d upgrade to a 4 1/2.
The Sacrifice of Tamar by Naomi Ragen – I had never heard of this book or author before picking this book at the library due to the description on the back cover. A look inside the world of ultra Orthodox Jews in New York. A woman trapped by circumstances – a rape she feels she can’t report, a pregnancy when she doesn’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse and a life she feels only stands up with lies. There are some predictable twists and turns, but the genius of this book is the characters. I enjoyed the book and felt like I learned something. Still a 4.
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill – A relatively recent read, but an excellent book. The epic tale of one woman’s struggles from her childhood abduction in Africa through a life in the ‘new world’ always reaching for freedom and survival through her return to Africa and final chapter in London. In many ways it reminded me of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Still a 4 1/2.
Those are my top fiction pics.
A special mention to The Hunger Games. It doesn’t hold up to the other books on this list, but man was it compelling. I was reading it on the Kindle and found myself sneaking my Kindle into many places where I shouldn’t have had it (what, that folder didn’t hold important papers?). That’s pretty impressive.
What were your favorites of the year?