Here comes the hard part. Breaking things down by numbers was easy, but choosing my favorites is another story entirely! I am sure I have mentioned this before in one form or another--I tend to be a bit of a reading "pushover". Rarely do I ever really intensely dislike a book, and generally I like most things I read (to varying degrees of course). So I had planned to choose six of my favorite reads of the year, but when I looked at my list I only had it narrowed down to 13! I am going to compromise (and perhaps fudge a bit and add an additional category or two) and give you my favorite ten-ish reads of 2006. In no particular order here are my favorites (and I will try and link to the post where I initially discussed the book, if possible):
- Sophie's Choice by William Styron. Okay, I am still reading this, but I have said it before and I will say it again, this man could write! He sadly passed away only a few months ago. I think this has got to be one of the best books I have read in a really long time! I know that upon publication this book caused controversy, but that discussion is best left to another day. It is a hard book to read at times, but it is (in my opinion) so very well done. He manages to switch places and time periods and even emotionally difficult scenes so deftly. You don't even know it is happening. There is so much to this book, so many things to think about and to discuss. The Washington Post said, "It belongs on that small shelf reserved for American masterpieces", and I have to agree with them.
- The Awkening by Kate Chopin. I read this before I read Madame Bovary, and I was wondering after I had read The Awakening how Edna and Emma would compare. Now having read both, I think they are really very similar characters. I am more conflicted about Emma I think than Edna. I really loved both books, but there was something about The Awakening--I felt very sympathetic towards Edna. Maybe it was the setting or use of language, but this is definitely one I will be rereading.
- Persuasion by Jane Austen. I would be hard pressed to say whether I liked this better than Pride and Prejudice (which is one of my favorite books), but it came very close! I haven't had a chance to mention this book here yet, as I just finished it last weekend. I really loved it. I think what I appreciated so much about this story is that it is a story about second chances. And of course this is Jane Austen. Did Jane Austen write anything bad? She could turn a very pretty sentence, couldn't she? I love how witty and sparkling her writing and particularly her dialogue is. I love intelligent and level-headed heroines, and Austen's writing is always populated with a variety of interesting characters. Anne Elliot was wonderful--and I loved that Captain Wentworth was smart enough to see that.
- The Turn of the Screw by Hanry James. After finishing this novella I was left with more questions than answers, but sometimes I think that is a sign the author did what he set out to do very effectively. This was a nicely creepy story--open to a variety of interpretations. I am looking forward to reading more of Henry James's work!
- The People's Act of Love by James Meek. It's sort of hard to explain why I liked this book. The story itself is quite strange (and I don't want to give away details, as how the story plays out is really essential to the reading experience). If I started describing it to you, you might even sort of cringe, but it is a story that has really stayed with me. Meek's writing is excellent and how he tells the story I thought was quite well done.
- The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. There is something about Bowles's writing that is extremely tactile. When I read this book, I felt like I was there. I could feel the heat on my skin, the flies buzzing in my face, the sand under my feet. This is another unusual story of three American expatriates in North Africa. Why are the best stories always a tad bit strange and unbelievable? I suppose that is much what life is really like? The sort of stuff you really wouldn't want to tell anyone, is usually what makes the best story. This is definitely the sort of story where much lurks below the surface.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot. I would never have read and (most importantly finished) this book had I not read it with a group of people. I think Dorothea Brooke is another of my favorite heroines. I struggled with her a bit in the beginning, but I really admired her in the end. Although it was a happy ending in a way it was a bit disappointing, too. Much like real life. It definitely has my favorite last line:"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." It still gives me goosebumps reading it.
- Precious Bane by Mary Webb. I discovered this book purely by chance in a used bookstore. I just loved this story about a young woman with a harelip. Set in rural England in the 1800s you can imagine how she was accepted by people. Aside from one of the last scenes in the novel, which I could have done away with, I loved how Prue triumphs over all to find true happiness.
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I called this book a "thumping good read", and I still think Collins's books are thumping good reads. While I think I still favor The Woman in White over The Moonstone, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It is told from various points of view (one of my favorites still being the chapter told by Miss Clack). His characters are wonderful. I hope to read another of Collins's novels next year.
- The Birth House by Ami Mckay. This story was wonderful. It is about Dora Rare, a midwife's apprentice in rural Nova Scotia during WWI--right at the time modern medicine and obstetricians were making their appearance. It is just the sort of story you can lose yourself in--very well done.
While I have a few books that were not favorites, most were not really total losses (well in a couple cases anyway). These are less "dislikes", and more "disappointments".
- The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. I would never have read this book had it not been #99 on the Modern Library list. The main character was nasty and disreputable (but alas, I am sure I just "didn't get what the author was trying to do", and Sebastian is really just senstive and misunderstood--HAH). Critics called it uproariously funny, but I don't remember laughing much...at all. Not sure what that says about me or the character, but oh well. I can say I read it anyway.
- The Maadonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. I wanted to like this book. I liked the idea of this book, but it just seemed to lack something. Set during WWII, during the siege of Leningrad a woman who works in the Hermitage must help preserve the artworks. The story flips back and forth in time, but there was something missing in the story for me. I shouldn't compare, but when I think about how Styron manages to go back and fort in time (though the stories are really vastly different), well there is really no comparison. I do think, however, that the author has potential. This particular story just didn't do it for me.
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I am a little hesitant to add this book to my list as so many readers really loved it. I think for me it was a matter of timing. I started out really liking it, but she lost me in India, and I had a hard time hanging on in Indonesia. It was a bit of a disappointment as I had waited for a library copy for months! Perhaps I will enjoy the film adaptation more!
- Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I was actually sort of looking forward to this book--it was really hyped. I thought it was going to be a wonderful adventure story told from the woman's point of view (a female swashbuckling sort of tale--and you know I love swashbuckling), but well, it was just sort of, bad. If you have read it, you know, so I won't go on. If you haven't, well, you might want to check out some reviews first to see if it is really for you.
My weirdest read of the year was The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark. Good, but just very strange.
I could go on, but I had better stop. I always have a hard time narrowing it down to just a very few! Now to start planning for next year...