BY NICO VREELAND
Keep up with the entire Best Books of 2009 series here.
It’s the end of the year, and time for another C4 book recommendation series (you can check out our last one, Literary Beach Books, here). For the next few Mondays, we’ll be chronicling our favorite books of 2009, but we’ll be doing it a little differently than most places.
Instead of all of all of us hammering out a ranked list nobody really agrees with, each of our contributors will give their own favorite books of 2009, along with a brief rationale for each choice. There’s no committee compromising here, just handfuls of books that somebody loved.
Here’s the first installment. Check back Mondays for more.
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
Dark Places is a gripping mystery about Libby Day, a woman whose family was murdered by her brother when she was seven. Twenty-four years later, she starts investigating the murders herself, and finds a whole lot more than she bargains for.
The narrative alternates between Libby’s perspective and flashbacks from the perspectives of her brother and mother during the weeks leading up to the murders. That’s not exactly my favorite structure, and I was more than a little skeptical when I started reading. Additionally, Libby isn’t all that likable, and Flynn’s prose leaves something to be desired (like her titles).
But Dark Places stands as proof that great storytelling wins out. Flynn writes excellent dialogue, creates compelling characters, and plots this book remarkably well. The result is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. If you like mysteries and you’ve got a tolerance for a fair amount of violence, this book is a can’t-miss.
For more description, check out my full review here.
The Believers, by Zoe Heller
Zoe Heller’s third novel, follows a 60ish, staunchly liberal woman and her three grown children. It quietly, insightfully probes into this family’s problems and struggles, and follows them on their quests to find happiness, or at least contentment. Heller is an outstanding writer, and this is realist literary family fiction at its best.
2009 Runners Up
These books aren’t home runs, but they’re the next best 2009 books I’ve read. (Links go to full C4 reviews.)
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby, is more or less your standard romantic comedy novel. Annie’s husband, Duncan (whom she hates), runs a fan website for a singer-songwriter named Tucker Crowe. After she writes a review of Crowe’s latest album, Crowe contacts her and they begin corresponding. It’s pretty silly, but Hornby is the best romantic comedy writer in the business, and his wit and talent make this an entertaining, if not exactly ground-breaking, read.
Inherent Vice is a Thomas Pynchon novel you can wrap your head around. It features a pothead P.I. (think The Dude in The Big Lebowski), who bumbles his way through a weird mystery in 1970s L.A. As a detective story, it leaves something to be desired; but as a day trip into the world of one of the most talented novelists alive, it’s definitely worth a read.
Genesis, by Bernard Beckett, is a lightning-quick dramatized discussion of the ethics of artificial intelligence. It packs a lot of interesting ideas into a short time frame, and works largely because it knows what it is (an intellectual discussion), and doesn’t try to be something it’s not (a thriller, a character study, etc.). It’s a weirdly structured novel, but if you’re interested in artificial intelligence, it’s worth a quick afternoon’s read.
Late-2008 Great Reads
Most of the great books I read this year were actually published in 2008. Here are three more phenomenal novels from last year. Yeah, it’s kind of cheating, but these were three of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and I can’t bring myself to do a best-of list without including them. (Links go to full C4 reviews.)
Serena, by Ron Rash, is an often gut-wrenching novel about a coldblooded couple who own a logging concern in depression-era North Carolina. Serena, the wife, rides an Arabian stallion and carries a trained eagle. Her husband, Pemberton, loves her more than anything in the world. The narrative concerns the ethics of the Pembertons’ brutal efficiency in a land where it’s a miracle to survive to see 35. Simply put, it’s a gripping, chilling read. If you have a tolerance for violence, this is a great novel.
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway, is my favorite book of all the ones I read this year. It’s a funny, cool, badass novel about a crew of mercenaries in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future. If that kind of thing is up your alley (you know who you are), then stop reading this post and start reading The Gone-Away World.