BY NICO VREELAND
[Follow this series here. We’re also compiling all our best books in one easy-to-browse page; find it by clicking the stamp, at left or anywhere else you see it on the site. That page will get updated as each new post comes out.]
Our yearly list of best books works a little differently than most. We don’t assemble every book we read this year into one massive, ranked list. We’re not trying to include every book out there, and we’re not driven to sell you sell you anything (which is the only reason I can think of that Faithful Place came in ahead of Freedom on Amazon’s top 10 list).
In our Best Books feature, each of our contributors simply picks their favorite books of the year, and tells you why they loved them. Great books with no filler. Let’s get started.
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
The Imperfectionists isn’t a novel, as its cover claims. It’s a collection of short stories, loosely linked, and centered around the employees of an English-language international newspaper based in Rome. And it’s quite simply the best short story collection I’ve read in years. Rachman’s characters are complex but still light, layered but unmuddied. Rachman excels at chronicling the interior lives and private problems of each of his varied characters, and it’s that variety and interiority (along with, of course, excellent writing) that makes this collection so strong. See my full review for an example of Rachman’s whorling, perfectly balanced character work. And read the book, for sure.
Misadventure, by Millard Kaufman
Millard Kaufman died last year at 92. While this was only his second novel, he’d been writing his whole life—most significantly as a screenwriter during Hollywood’s Golden Age—and it shows here. Misadventure is a terrifically entertaining half-mystery half-thriller (let’s call it “suspense”). It’s a book that isn’t shy about having an intricate, twisting plot, but it still gets its drive from vivid characters and the way it dives headfirst into conflicts, one after another. Kaufman’s writing is full of verve and cynicism and wit, and his barging, entitled protagonist is a great pleasure to watch. If you’re looking for an entertaining novel with great writing and a rollicking plot, look no further.
Noir, by Robert Coover
A bit like Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, Noir is a big-name literary author’s foray into hard-boiled detective fiction. Coover’s attempt is, like the rest of his work, postmodern, weird, hilarious, and savagely entertaining. It’s a meditation on and a parody of the Noir genre, but also a pretty good mystery in its own right. Read the full review for a few examples of Coover’s humor and style.
Zero History, by William Gibson
Zero History is a fast-paced pseudo-sci-fi novel about coolhunting and fashion and jetsetting billionaires and the like. It focuses on an ex-rock star and an ex-drug addict as they scour the earth for the creator of a super-secret unlabeled brand of jeans. Gibson is a great writer and still sharp after being on the cutting edge for thirty years. The stakes aren’t quite high enough for this book to be riveting, but it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless.
You Lost Me There, by Rosecrans Baldwin
Baldwin’s debut novel is a nuanced, wrenching character study about a 60-ish research scientist whose wife died a few years ago. Afterward, he discovers a box full of index cards, dozens of them, on which his late wife detailed for her therapist her unhappy marriage. It’s a compelling novel, good but not often outstanding. It’s at its best when it’s simply portraying the complex pain that comes from seeing yourself, with all your faults, through the eyes of someone you love, and the pain of having regrets that you are absolutely powerless to fix.
Lights Out in Wonderland, by DBC Pierre
Lights Out in Wonderland finally has an American release date: next August. This is a quite entertaining novel, for what it is—a plotless, arcless collection of observations and witticisms, from the mind of a drug-addicted, suicidal intellectual named Gabriel. It’s part quarterlife crisis and part Catcher in the Rye-style rambling odyssey. If you go here, you can download a free 70-page PDF companion piece that should let you know whether you want to pay the $30 to have it shipped from Britain, or whether you’ll be able to wait until August. And you can always revisit Pierre’s debut novel.