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2009 In Review: The Books

December 29, 2009

Hard to believe it’s that time again, but here we are at the end of 2009 and time for the Big Book Roundup! I’ll use the template from my “Best Of…” list I did last year. It’s hard to believe this is only my second year of book blogging! It’s so much fun and I feel like I didn’t do as good a job this year as I would have liked, but oh well. I felt like this was an “off” year for reading. I’m hoping that reviewing them all will show me otherwise… anyway, with no further ado, I bring you The Books of 2009!

Books read: 78 (I’m still hoping to read two more to bring that number to 80 for the year, a fairly respectable number). That’s a few more than last year, but only because I read a lot of children’s books to get through my grief after Tiger Lily’s passing, and a bunch of graphic novels. But who’s counting?
Best Book Overall: This is a hard one. I didn’t have many stand-out winners this year. I have to go with a couple: The Wood Wife (which may win a few other awards in this list), Fingersmith, and Sharp Objects/Dark Places (because I loved both of them equally as much).
Best Young Adult (YA): Probably Wintergirls, or Weetzie Bat. Both of these were pretty original, at least in writing style. Weetzie Bat was probably the more delightful. I’d like to read the full set of these.
Best Chunkster (450+): I didn’t keep track of pages, so I’m guessing here, but The Thirteenth Tale was pretty great, as of course was Fingersmith. The Godfather and Let The Right One In were both also worthy of mention in this category.
Best Unexpected Delight: Well, I think I’ll have to go with The Wood Wife, which I loved at the time of reading, and which I am loving even more in retrospect. It was just so tender and melancholy and beautiful. I also really enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express, which I had no idea I would enjoy so much. Oh, and The Enchanted April, which was utterly lovely and fantastic.
Best Non-Fiction: again, not a great year for non-fiction, but Spook was terrific. Mary Roach never disappoints. Well, and both of the Ruth Reichl books I read. She’s fantastic too.
Worst Non-Fiction: Probably Waiter Rant. It was pretty bad. Sorry, dude.
Best/Worst Self Help: Thankfully didn’t really too many of these. Best was probably The Tightwad Gazette (all three), which I will count as self-help since I really found them helpful. Worst would be Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway, which was mildly interesting and somewhat useful… but then I promptly forgot all about it and it’s pretty dated and why am I even reading that stuff anyway? (it was on the shelf and I was bored, that’s why)
Best Author I Should Have Been Reading All Along: Again I have to say Neil Gaiman, as I’ve started reading The Sandman graphic novels, and again I say, Hello?!? Why oh why didn’t I read these before? I also read a lot of Charles de Lint this year, whom I’ve read before, but it had been far too long.
Best Horror: Definitely Let The Right One In, which was haunting and sad and scary and fantastic.
Biggest Disappointments: This was a disappointing year for books. I don’t know if it was me, or the books, but I felt like so many books missed the mark for me. A few standout examples of books which should have stood out but didn’t: Hell House, The Land of Laughs (although I’m definitely giving Carroll another chance — Ghost In Love perhaps?), Hotel Translyvania, A Wizard of Earthsea, Angel of Darkness… not that these were bad books (well, not ALL of them), I just was disappointed in them for one reason or another. Especially Land of Laughs and Wizard of Earthsea... wanted to love them, but didn’t. I still love you, Ursula!
Best Re-Read: The Tightwad Gazette (I, II, and III). Funny, useful, creative, ingenious, helpful, witty, thrifty and fun. Or, any of the Roald Dahls I re-read. Or Mother Night. Must read more Vonnegut next year.
Best Guilty Pleasure: Hmm. Lots of simple pleasures on my reading list (lots of children’s books, for example)… but guilty pleasure? Probably The Heroin Diaries, by Nikki Sixx, which I really enjoyed. Rock star god on self-destructive path to hell… what’s not to love?
And a couple of new categories:
Books Which I Didn’t Give Enough Credit To At The Time, But Have Now Updated My Opinion After Months Of Thinking About Them: Definitely The Graveyard Book, for starters. I wrote that I was disappointed that it wasn’t scarier and that I preferred Coraline, and it was pointed out to me that it wasn’t meant to be scary, but rather touching and tender. And after thinking about it for months, I see the error of my ways. I went into reading this with completely the wrong mindset. I still liked Coraline better — I thought it was livelier, scarier, darker, and very original. However, The Graveyard Book was indeed tender and melancholy and lovely and worthy of all those awards it won. I’m also pretty sure that I loved The Wood Wife the first time around, but that book has stuck with me and I find myself thinking about it at odd times. I think I tried to tell myself it was just a simple fantasy fairy tale, but it was so much more, so sad and strange and yet hopeful.
Disturbing Trends In Book Titles: The Short Title: Followed By Long Overly Descriptive Subtitle. I saw so many of these this year. These are the ones I got sucked into reading:
Swish: My Quest To Becoming The Gayest Person Ever
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star
Busted: Life Inside The Mortgage Meltdown
Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife
Please! No more! This is only a fraction of the vast array of titles of this sort that I saw at the library this year.
And a little shout-out to the other books that didn’t make the list but I still really enjoyed: All the Charles de Lint books except Angel of Darkness; The Woman in Black; The Ghost Writer/The Sceance; Ananzi Boys; The Jane Austen Book Club; The Rescuers; The Book of Lost Things; The Shadow of the Wind; and Called Out Of Darkness.

The entire list is here.

So, upon reflection, it was an okay year… but not stellar. Although I was thrilled about being in the Oakland library system with its amazingly large selection and easy online requesting system, I think my book selections were rather scattershot; I didn’t follow my usual reading patterns. Also, although I hesitate to say it, I think I was too much influenced by other book bloggers. Although everyone has such good recommendations and I love to read everybody’s reviews, I started to fall into the trap of hesitating to pick up a book unless I’d heard something about it. So I think I missed out on some books which may have otherwise really appealed to me. For whatever reason, my general attitude towards the majority of the books I read this year was “meh.” At least, it seems that way. Although clearly there were some books which I really did enjoy a lot.
I also failed to read Anna Karenina or just about any other book I said I would… but that’s okay. Lesson learned: don’t make overly specific reading goals. It’s like making a goal to exercise more: once you say it, it’s harder to do it. Better to just follow whims and see where my reading takes me.
I’m not going to make any specific reading goals for next year. There’re a few specific books I’d like to read, and a few trends I’d like to follow (more classics, more in-depth reading of certain authors), but mostly I’m going to go back to drifting through the library with nothing in mind and see where that takes me. I’d also like to follow up on some of the interesting books mentioned in the London Review of Books (and I’d like to blog more about these essays in this publication, which are totally fascinating and wonderful). But, no specific books. We’ll just see what comes up.

2010, here I come. I think you’re going to be a great year.

Next up in 2009 In Review: The Recipes.

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