I just went and re-read last year's Book of the Year entry, and after having only read 46 books this year, the "scant" 55 last year sure looks good? Although, if you count all the Baby books read this year (including multiple readings of What to Expect When You're Expecting, What to Expect the First Year, and Healthy Sleeping, Healthy Baby) I may be up in the high 70's.
But, what I lacked in quantity I made up in quality (thank you Woody Allen), with some amazing books this year, both certified classics and new literature combined. From Marcel Proust to Adam Felber there were a lot of tender nuggets to devour. Plus this was the year that I got back into comics in a BIG way, which was originally going to be a small addendum at the end of this post, but looks like it may turn into a larger post on it's own.
So, just like last year below are the picks and runner-ups for both myself and friend and occasional Guest Blogger Jason, who will be be back later today with his year-end wrap-up. All books, whether winners or honorable mentions, comes highly recommended!
Please note: Book of the Year is based on the books Jason and I read this year, not necessarily books that were released this year.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, universally acclaimed (except by Sean, who didn't like it at all), endorsed by Oprah, and both myself and Jason's pick for Fiction Book of the Year. It took Eugenides 9 years to write the follow up to his excellent debut The Virgin Suicides, but when he did, he gave the word a sprawling epic that recounts the lives of the Stephanides clan through the eyes of young Calliope, now Cal who at the age of 14 transformed from a young girl into a man.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Eugenides weaves a powerful story that is about the nature of identity, the importance of family, and love in all its many splendid (and sometimes bizarre) forms. The story goes from hilarious to touching in a heartbeat, but due to Eugenides expert way with words never feels forced or inauthentic. The lives of the Stephanides in Detroit in the 60's and 70's come directly from Eugenides own experiences growing up in the Motor City, and his gift for language and expression is on the same wonderful level as Tom Robbins, who can write paragraphs of language so beautiful you want to memorize them or post them on your refrigerator door (at least I do). My only misgiving with the book is that it took 9 years to write - expect a new novel in 2016!
Runner-ups for Book of the Year (Fiction): Two more books (very different from each other) you can't go wrong with:
- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
- Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust
As excellent as this book is on its own merits, a lot of what made it my choice for the nonfiction Book of the Year was the circumstances in which it was read: namely, on my back porch on a series of summer afternoons while my son slept either on my chest or in his little chair next to me. Sometimes I'd read out loud to him, warning him of the dangers of trekking across Alaska and living in a bus and calling yourself Alexander Supertramp. I don't know if he understood, so it will a pleasure when I give him this book to read when he's older. John Krakauer treats the material honestly while at the same time giving a passion and life to Alex that shows just how likable he was. He also inserts his own life into the story, which serves to balance the fantasy of the lovable tramp lifestyle and echo the realism of what eventually happened. As I wrote in my initial BOTM review, it's a touching piece of investigative journalism as well as a meditation on the way we choose to live our lives.
Runner-ups for Book of the Year (Nonfiction): Two more books I loved this year:
- Bush at War, by Bob Woodward
- With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln, by Dan Simmons
Fiction Book of the Year: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Nonfiction Book of the Year: Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing