Thursday, December 29, 2005

BOOKS: A Somewhat Dated and Highly Subjective Real Book Lover's Guide to the Ten Best Books of 2005

It's the end of the year, which means it's "best of" list time. Amazon has theirs. Salon has theirs. And The New York Times, of course, has theirs. To illustrate that I can make a list alongside the best of them, I decided to compile mine.

Unlike the big boys' lists, however, mine won't be full of fancy-pants new releases and current bestsellers, for a couple of reasons. First: hardcover books? What honest-to-god book lover in their right mind buys hardcover at full retail price? Puh-lease. (And for some unfathomable reason, I'm still not on publishers' mailing lists for comps. Don't they know who I am?) And second, who has time for new releases when you're just trying to keep up with the tottering stacks of "must read next" books that have been accumulating since 1992?

So instead I offer you this:

A Somewhat Dated and Highly Subjective Real Book Lover's Guide to the Ten Best Books of 2005
Vanity Fair - I bet if they came out with top ten lists back in 1848, this would have been near the top. As it is, it probably tops my list as the best book I (re-)read this year. Still so catty and funny and accessible. I heart Thackeray big-time.

The Roaring Girl - I'm so glad I finally cleaned and purged my bookshelves because, if I hadn't, I never would have rediscovered this amazing collection of short stories by Canadian Greg Hollingshead, one of the best writers you've never heard of.

Good Omens
- Funniest new book I read this year, hands down. I'm chagrined it took me so long to get to it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - This was a re-read. And I may have to read it again in 2006.

A Complicated Kindness - A dark horse! I was not expecting this book to be poignant and funny and deceptively simple, despite the fact that the book jacket kept promising it would be.

Paris Stories - Because I am both a slowpoke and a dumdum, it took me until this year to finally discover
Mavis Gallant. Fortunately, Gallant seems to be wonderfully prolific, so I look forward to a long and beautiful relationship.

The Great Gatsby - To think, this book used to bug the bejeebus out of me. Thank goodness I smartened up.

The Remains of the Day - Yes, the ending did force me to wake my dog so that I'd have someone to hug, but it was still an amazing read. I need to approach this one again, now that I can lose (or at any rate fully embrace) my sense of dread.

The Little House box set - Envisioning these stories from the perspective of Laura's parents breathed fresh -- if somewhat terrifying -- life into them. "Good old days," my foot.

Right Ho, Jeeves - I will say this as many times as it needs to be said: you simply cannot go wrong with Bertie and Jeeves.

Books that I could have lived without but stubbornly read anyway because I get That Way once I've started a book: Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Christopher Moore's Fluke, and -- this is going to shock you -- Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2. (Were you shocked?)

Ah, well. You can't always kick a goal.


Mike said...

I keep thinking Terry Pratchett isn't going to suck -- and I don't really want to point fingers: but he does. And yeah, there's Good Omens; however, I think that was a fluke for both Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. (Also, lather, rinse, repeat for Christopher Moore who just seems really aggressively unfunny to me.)

I wish you liked Mrs. Dalloway more. But that's just me; it's the only Virginia Woolf novel I've liked/finished.

And finally: have you tried The Unconsoled. I think I like it; it's by Ishiguro; but I don't know that I necessarily get all of it. Anyway, it's mostly lovely and dreamlike.

Veronica said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't like Mrs. Dalloway. Of course, that's because I didn't understand it, but if I have to work that hard to maintain even the tiniest grasp on the story, then it's not for me. (Or maybe I'm just not smart enough...)

landismom said...

Oh, I really liked Cloud Atlas--sad that you didn't. I listened to the audiobook of Gatsby on one of my endless work-related drives, and it was so good, I kept skipping back over parts I had already listened to.

Anita said...

Thanks so much sharing your list with us! The title is spectacular. I'm not sure I can recall everything I read this year and much of it wasn't fabulous.

Of your list, I've only read Gatsby, Remains of the Day and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night (which I liked very much, but not sure I'd read it twice).

I think I'm going to stash away A Complicated Kindness and Paris Stories on my wish list! They sound great.

And if I may take the liberty of making a recommendation for your 2006 list - my favorite book of the 2005 - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It really stood out for me - - terrific writing and extremely interesting details about life in China.

Many thanks again for sharing your BEST!

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right about Jeeves and Bertie, I must say. Some of the funniest writing I've ever read.

I recently had the chance to see some of the TV series Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie did (Laurie playing Bertie; Fry doing Jeeves), and found that while frequently far more entertaining and funny than a typical modern sitcom, it lacked the spark of the actual stories. I think because so much of what's so funny in the stories is in the writing itself, the descriptions, the whole tone, the dialogue tags. It doesn't translate that well to the screen, despite the leads' best efforts.

Also hard to grok seeing Hugh Laurie as Bertie (from about 15 years ago), and then seeing him as House in that eponymous show. Does my head in.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I've been avoiding The Curious Incident of the Dog, etc., but avoid it I have. However, I find myself compelled to reconsider.

I did ask for (and receive) To Say Nothing of the Dog for Christmas based upon mentions in your blog (and comments) here, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's in the bedside table stack.

I did a lot of rereading this year, but one of my "new" favorites from this year (although I think it's a few years old by now) was Brick Lane by Monica Ali - I wasn't expecting to like it since I found it a bit slow to get into, but I ended up really enjoying it in spite of myself.

Anita said...

You inspired me to think about my own reading this year and when I counted all the books I read (that I could remember), it was only 25! Ugh! That made me realize what an achievement reading 50 books really is. And how much time I'm wasting watching television . . .sigh.