Friday, January 15, 2010

My favorite books in 2009, Part 1

Here are the books I enjoyed the most last year, in no particular order:
(I've linked to reviews I've written for a few for them, in case you're interested.)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I am slightly ambivalent when reading a book that comes with a prestigious award (the Pulitzer in this case) or some other form of expectations. On the one hand, I know that it has convinced quite a few people of its merits, on the other hand, I have higher hopes, whether I realize it or not. And a few of these highly recommended books have disappointed.

But not this one. It is not a novel in the regular sense, but rather a series of stories that are interconnected (which has become more of a norm these days: Let The Great World Spin, another book that bedazzled me recently is written in this structure) around the character of Olive Kitteridge. She is not exactly the most easily lovable character, but over the course of the book, not only has she become a more sympathetic person, so have many other characters and events.

Not a flashy book, but an excellent one, with startling revelations about people and attitudes in the most unexpected moments.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Yet another book that came with such high expectations I was almost afraid to read it. But like Hunger Games, It continued to grab me, and refused to let me grow numb to the horror of the premise nor how close to home it hits, with the juxtaposition of extravagant luxuries and stark cruelty, all wrapped within a smooth cocoon presented by the twisted minds of spin doctors.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
In contrast, I picked up this book without knowing anything about it and while I was slightly thrown off by how the genre seemed to have changed toward the end, I still loved it. The main thing that struck me was how every single person, even the boy who punched and the man who kicked and the boy and girls who shunned were treated with understanding and compassion. There is no villain, only people.

The Likeness by Tana French
I was in a bit of a conundrum when I started reading this book. My Work-In-Progress, a Young Adult novel that deals with grief and guilt (such happy topics!) was stuck. I had started writing it over a year ago and had to stop to concentrate on revising my Middle Grade novel that I was submitting. When I returned to it, I realize my tone/voice for the new chapters has changed. As I oscillated between writing new scenes and revising old ones, it got confusing and eventually I couldn't write nor revise. I didn't know how to approach the story, how distant or close it would be. And I gave up momentarily out of indecision.

Reading this book, for some reason, got my writing juices going again, and in writing, I slowly came to a tone/voice that I could trust in.

If I were to describe why I enjoyed reading this book, I'd say it's the combination of the great plot (although the premise requires a bit of belief-suspension), superb character exploration, and evocative writing.

The Maze of Bones, Books 1 of the 39 clues by Rick Riordan

Next installment: tomorrow.


Solvang Sherrie said...

I keep hearing how good When You Reach Me is. I really must read that book.

Davin Malasarn said...

Yat-Yee, if you liked Olive Kitteridge so much, I'd like to recommend to you a beautiful writer named Kathy Fish. I don't think she has put a novel out yet, but she writes a lot of flash fiction and it is gorgeous.

Here are a couple of links:

Fiddler said...

Hi Yat-Yee,

I loved reading about some of your favorites last year. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are two books I just read and passed on to my oldest. It's been a while since I had books I just could NOT put down (cut to scene of me stirring pots on the stove while holding a book, reading at table with book, not falling asleep while reading into the wee small hours), but both of these fit the bill. I'll give the other ones on your list a try. I did already read When You Reach Me, and, like you, really liked the way the author treated the characters. Happy New Year!

Yat-Yee said...

Sherrie: I hope all those expectations won't affect your enjoyment of the book!

Davin: thanks for the recommendation. Will go over there to read the stories.

Fiddler: good to see you here again. Yes, I did the stir-pot-with-book and stay up to late part as well.

Corey Schwartz said...

Thanks, Yat-Yee. I love hearing about people's favorites.

I would have a hard time picking a favorite from 2009. I think the book I loved the most is also the book I hated the most!

The Time Traveler's Wife.

Can that possibly make any sense.

I could NOT put that book down, but at the same time, it kind of destroyed me emotionally.

Bish Denham said...

I too read When You Reach Me last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.