Books I’ve Loved This Year (At Least Recently)

In no particular order, and I’m sure I’m forgetting quite a few:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: I wrote about this in detail earlier, but it remains one of my top nonfiction books ever. Fantastic story. Go read it, now.

The Wave, by Susan Casey: another nonfiction book I loved. All about rogue or freak waves and the people who surf them. Casey does a terrific job describing the water and the science behind large waves without getting tedious. Even better, we get to glimpse the lives of these somewhat insane folks who travel around the world looking for waves topping seventy feet to surf. A really interesting take on an amazing phenomenon.

The Devil’s Teeth, also by Susan Casey: this was a re-read, but no less good the second time around. In her first book, Casey takes us to the Falloran islands to hang out with a couple rugged scientist types  who are studying the great white sharks around the island. I’m also, let’s be honest, a huge fan of the color photos in the middle. Casey gets unprecedented access to the research and gets to go out on the boats (SO JEALOUS) and actually see the sharks. And she gets to see them do all kinds of crazy things-and she gets caught in a boat in the middle of a raging storm-the whole book is just awesome. Casey is a petite blonde but she’s actually a totally badass.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett: one of the “big books” of the year and one that I really enjoyed. Stockett has a nice ear for dialogue, and I give her props for being willing to write in the voices of two black women during the Jim Crow era. It was a lovely book.

Room, Emma Donoghue: told in the voice of a five year old who was born of rape after his mother was kidnapped. Really fascinating–Donoghue does a great job catching the ways small boys actually talk. I loved the rhythm of the narrative. And it builds up to a great escape and then the second half focuses on recovery–and watching a little boy who spent his first five years in a tiny room adjust to the real world is pretty fascinating.

The White Hotel, D.M. Thomas: a professor suggested this book to me, and I LOVED it. Very weird book. Told in…well, I’ll just give you the intro to my paper: D.M. Thomas uses “The White Hotel” to critique the phenomenon of psychoanalysis, which he does this in part by assessing Freud himself. As Tanner writes, the novel “relies to a large extent on Thomas’ appropriation and manipulation of Sigmund Freud as a character” (131).  He gives the reader ample evidence to decide upon the validity of Freud’s theories. He gives us several perspectives on the heroine of the story, Lisa: first in her own words, both in the form of a poem and then in a narrative explanation of the poem, and then in Freud’s case study, a third person narrative, and finally a brutal story of the Holocaust. Over the course of this novel, we see Freud attempt to make sense of Lisa’s symptoms and do so inadequately: while he does help her, it is more by virtue of being a caring presence than providing a perfect analysis, and he fails to see that her pain is not physic but rather a harbinger of things to come.

In the end, Lisa is killed in Babi Yar, and as I got towards that chapter, my heart started beating faster, I started turning the pages more quickly…I knew it was coming and I was a little scared. It’s a beautiful book.

The Tiger, John Valliant: Another awesome nonfiction narrative! This one involves some Russian history, which, yay! And even better, it’s got animal stories! Specifically, the Siberian tiger in the Russian taiga who stalks and eats (!) two men and has to be hunted by a special Tiger Squad. It is completely engrossing and really quite a great piece of work.

I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman: It makes me very happy when Lippman has a new book, and this is a great one. It’s about a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and then starts being contacted by her kidnapper, and watching this suburban mom cope is just marvelous.

The Passage, Justin Cronin: A big, meaty thriller type thing with a nice sci fi bent. Complusively readable.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingbird, Suzanne Collins: I just finished these. They aren’t Harry Potter material, but they are pretty awesome. A great female heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who has to join her culture’s crazy ass idea of a good time, in which kids must try to kill each other (it’s a bit more complex and political). These are really well done and incredibly addictive.

Hmm. I read a LOT more this year….this will be updated later this weekend with more books you should read!


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