Why only five? Well, five were easy. There were five books that right away jumped out at me as some of the absolute best books I've ever read. Spots six, seven, eight, etc. started to get contentious.
So I bring you, in the order I read them, the Critically-Yours BEST BOOKS OF 2009:
1. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver
I know, I know, I had NEVER read THE POISONWOOD BIBLE before!!!
I've read one of Kingsolver's other books (which shall remain nameless) and it was... *shrug*... okay. So even though I kept hearing that I must read PB, I never really got around to it. I had to embark on a novel with three narrators to finally read PB as homework (PB has five narrators). And I was absolutely blown away. This was pre-blog days, so I didn't blog about it. But suffice to say I was in France in spring while I was reading it and had to force myself to leave the hotel room.
I'm not sure what I can say to do the book justice, but I felt as if I was in Africa. I completely cared for each of the characters and actively wanted to follow their journeys. I learned something about African history and politics. Because of Kingsolver's religious and political themes, I felt like shouting "Amen!" at the end of every chapter. And even now that I have finished it, I feel like I still carry a bit of it in my heart. How is that for loving a book?
2. CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers
Excerpt from my blog review in August:
Like SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson (one of my other favorites), CRACKED UP TO BE is about the horrors of high school and reveals the mystery of what happened at the end. But I found CRACKED UP TO BE surprisingly more complex, more real. SPEAK, for all its terror, has a clearer resolution. And SPEAK is about one horrific event, not so much all the games children play every day in school just to survive.
Click here for my blog's full review.
3. JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE by Wendy Mass
From my Goodreads review: What is the meaning of life? Jeremy Fink and his best friend Lizzy are determined to find out in time for Jeremy's thirteenth birthday. Jeremy's dad intended to tell him on this special day, but instead died in a car accident, leaving only a locked box with four keyholes and no keys. JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE is a beautiful book about friendship and family, but also all the random ways we are connected with the rest of humanity, even in a chaotic and sometimes frightening city like New York. This is a book one should buy, read, re-read, and then buy for your fifty closest friends. An absolute treasure.
4. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith
Excerpt from my blog review in October:
Readers often say they want the next Little Women or the next Harry Potter or the next Jane Eyre. But I think what they really want is a book that can recreate the feeling of reading one of those novels. A book that will keep you reading past dinner, late into the night, without once looking at the clock. A book that will have you laughing out loud, gasping, and re-reading passages just to recreate certain exact moments. A book that once you finish it, you want to run out into the night and buy a copy of your own to keep forever. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is such a book. And I am beyond annoyed that it was published first in 1949 and I have only heard of it now. Had I read this book in middle school or high school, I know I would have carried it through my life, recreated its scenes in my head, reread it until all its pages were falling out. But luckily I have discovered it now, and I still have the rest of my life to reread it often.
Click here for my blog's full review.
And... drumroll please... number 5. The inspiration for this whole post because I just finished it a few days ago and I think I'm having withdrawal symptoms!!!
5. THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Somehow this book was an international bestseller, but I had never heard of it. I was book browsing in a Bath market when a friend pointed it out to me. The bookseller nodded in agreement and said, "Your friend is right, that book's amazing." Well, being the cheapskate I am, I promptly reserved it at the library.
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND begins in 1945 Barcelona in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books with a book that so moves ten-year-old Daniel that he refuses to sell it. Rumors of a faceless man calling himself the devil and burning every copy of the book inspire Daniel to do whatever it takes to protect the novel. Along the way he falls in love, befriends a homeless man who is a former political prisoner, and unravels the mystery behind the book, the devil, and its author.
From the moment I read the first sentence to the moment when I read the last (and then Phil sneezed, so I had to read the last paragraph all over again), I was transfixed by this book. The language is poetic and gripping; I could not believe I was reading a novel in translation. My friend, who is fluent in Spanish, says the original is even better. Its premise makes it the perfect novel for a book lover. It also has a Dickensian plot, with twists and turns and numerous fascinating characters. Wow.
It is interesting to look over this list of my five favorites. All of them, with the exception of THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, are character studies, not plotty (know what I mean? I think plotty is my new favorite word). They're all coming of age stories. Actually, they're all coming of age stories where the characters choose their journey, to some extent, except CRACKED UP. And I profess to love fantasy, but none of these novels are. Some have gothic or magical elements (SHADOW, PB) and surprising coincidences (JEREMY FINK), but none are unexplained. They're also serious novels, though definitely with laugh out loud moments. I think I'm developing a profile for my perfect book--and I'm wondering if it says something about the type of books I want to write, too! We'll see!!!
What are your favorites for 2009? I'm serious, give it a try. This was a fun exercise!