Book of Dreams

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This morning I returned the Time Traveler's Wife to the library, unread. After completing my goal of reading 52 novels this year, the prospect of reading another novel, a 500-page novel, didn’t excite me. I have decided to not read another novel this year. Instead I will attempt to read the newspaper cover-to-cover everyday, something I love to do but haven’t come close to doing since last December. I also will keep the Best American Short Stories 2004 on my nightstand and dip into it when the mood hits me.

The few people at work who know about my reading goal have been asking me about the best I’ve read. So I have given it some thought and come up with the five books I have most enjoyed reading this year. Since I used the New York Times year-end “Notable Books” lists (and reviews) as my main reference in choosing my books (and since I’ll incapable of writing a succinct synopsis) I’ve also included the NYT blurb that first caught my attention. [The New York Times links require registration]

The Hills at Home, Nancy Clark. I keep expecting to hear more buzz about this book. I think it is just as well written as the more popular Corrections, and much funnier. Clark has promised that this is the first in a trilogy about the Hills. I look forward to reading the other two.

NYT: “Clark's funny, intelligent first novel reveals a special and particular kind of life, that of an extended old New England family in their 200-year-old clapboard homestead, where they survive miracles of inconvenience, eat tuna wiggle or fish sticks and express invincible opinions about everything.”

Atonement, Ian McEwan. This one did have a lot of buzz, since it was McEwan’s follow up to his Booker Award winning Amsterdam. Excellently written with a wicked twist at the end.

NYT: “The idyllic situation of an English family in 1935 disintegrates, starting with a crime; World War II is no help either in this novel by a writer who has the power to convey obsession and also to step outside and see how obsession looks to others.”

Crooked River Burning, Mark Winegardner. I lucked out picking this book as my first book this year. Had my first book been bad, I’m not sure I would have continued towards my goal. Winegardner matched history with fiction so perfectly that I kept wanting to Google the characters to see what they’re up to now.

NYT: “Winegardner weaves the love story through the fabric of a tumultuous era in which Cleveland, one of the birthplaces of rock 'n' roll, collides substantially in population, becomes the butt of many jokes and sees the Cuyahoga River catch fire more than once.”

The Risk Pool, Richard Russo. I didn’t need a NYT review to get me to read this. I love Russo’s books, especially Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool. Russo’s debut, about a small-time hustler trying to raise his kid the best he can, goes right up there with the other two as my favorites. This year I also read Russo’s Straight Man, about office politics between college professors. It too was very good - maybe his funniest book - but it was not as good as the Risk Pool.

NYT: "Russo proves himself a master at evoking the sights, feelings, and smells of a town. . . . [The Risk Pool is] superbly original and maliciously funny."

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen. I avoided this one for a while, mainly because of the whole Oprah book club thing (Franzen’s snub of Oprah put an end to her first book club). I’m glad I read it. I love semi-comical “family dynamic” novels and this book is both very funny and very well written.

NYT: “Franzen is a writer with old-fashioned virtues: he loves witty wordplay; his command of detail in an enormous range of interests is unassailable; he has a painter's eye for depth and contrast; and he creates characters whose emotions reach us even when they are hidden from the people feeling them.”

Honorable Mentions:

Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem

Straight Man, Richard Russo

John Henry Days, Colson Whitehead

Big If, Mark Costello

The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler


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