1. The Children's Book
by A.S. Byatt (675 pgs)
One of the books shortlisted for the 2009 Booker prize, this is an enchanting story of a children's book author (fairy tales, really), her family, and people connected to them as secrets unravel and they live through the England of the end of the Victorian period through World War I. I loved the history, the art, the social and intellectual movements that were wound throughout.
2. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
by Cory Doctorow (208 pgs)
A quick read, not that unbelievable.
You can download it for free here
. I read it along with the Sword and Laser Book Club
3. The Girl Who Played With Fire
by Stieg Larsson (503 pgs)
I don't usually read crime novels but Larsson is just the best. His characters are interesting, particularly Blomkvist and Salander, and it was a relief to get back to their stories in this second book. Salander finally faces some of the stuff from her past that I wasn't sure we'd want to hear about, and there were a few moments where I exclaimed out loud from a surprise in the narrative.
4. 100 Essential Modern Poems by Women
ed. by Joseph Parisi and Kathleen Welton (282 pgs)
I enjoyed this anthology - I read a few unknown (to me) poems from poets I knew, and was introduced to several I'd never heard of. Two of them and I share strange connections - one was in the same graduate program I was in at the same university, exactly 50 years before me (folklore at IU), and one lived on a random mountain in Australia that I spent a weekend at during high school. The one I hadn't heard of that I was most intrigued by was Mina Loy, who is great fun to read out loud. I appreciated the work done by the anthologist, who in addition to writing an interesting introduction, provided a narrative for each poet that included the best anthologies and biographies of each poet, since his hope was that the anthology would only want you to read more.
5. Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories
by Deborah Eisenberg (225 pgs)
My frustration with these stories comes from feeling, as a reader, that I simply was not clever enough to understand the subtext in at least half of them. I wanted so much to know what was going on but I just wasn't getting enough information. Several were clearly influenced by the events of 9/11. I saw this on a list of some of the best books of the decade (2000-2009) but I'm not sure I'd recommend these stories.
6. How to Breathe Underwater
by Julie Orringer (226 pgs)
Touching, sometimes horrifying, usually portraits of children in startling situations with realistic responses.
7. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories
by Alice Munro (323 pgs)
Some of these were touching, but I will particularly remember Nettles. I do think a more appropriate name for the book would be Aging, Sickness, and Death. :)
8. Our Man in Havana
by Graham Greene (242 pgs)
Funnier than I expected, and hard not to love an accidental secret agent.
9. The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula K. LeGuin (286 pgs)
Great book about a planet where people are genderless and the unexpected is of utmost value, from the point of view of a human man. I read this for a book club I am in.
10. An Equal Music
by Vikram Seth (484 pgs)
This book, about a violinist in a string quartet and a lost love, was so touching to me. I'm not sure if it is because of my music background, or the descriptions, but I will remember it for a long time.
11. Point Omega
by Don DeLillo (117 pgs)
This had some great moments, but I really think it would have been so much better fleshed out into a longer novel.
12. The Glass Room
by Simon Mawer (405 pgs)
This was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2009. I found it to be entrancing, particularly the first section focusing on Viktor and Liesel. The setting was interesting, you don't hear a lot about Czechoslovakia. Some of the most interesting elements could have been pursued for a more interesting story - the relationship between Liesel and the architect, Hana and women, and so on. It was a bit sentimental and a bit repetitive, but I still liked it.
13. The Lost Lunar Baedeker
by Mina Loy (236 pgs)
I learned about Mina Loy when I read The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker; she was a complete unknown to me before that. And I love her, how her words are so intentional and meaningful. My favorite work of hers will always be Songs to Joannes.