Maybe the best gauge of how successful a reading year has been is to try and choose a few favorite books out of a long list of those read. The harder the choice the better the reading year perhaps? My list was longer than what I have narrowed it down to here, but the few I am sharing are the books that floated to the top without any hesitation.
My top three favorite reads this year:
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin -- James Baldwin wrote so simply yet so eloquently and so very assuredly, too. This is a man who must surely have known what it feels like to be so very conflicted about his sexuality. What it means to know a truth yet not want to believe it. To know even as you are hurting someone you love, how they can see inside you for what you are, even while you ignore it all. They trust you and love you despite your shortcomings. This is a beautiful yet tragic story which was a pleasure to experience even though it was a somewhat painful read.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi -- This was a beautiful memoir about a man at the very beginning of a promising career and a happy life, which ended far too soon--but sometimes it is books like this which are almost unbearably sad that act as reminders---that it takes a tragic death like Paul's to remind us how to live. What a talented man and one who was so inquisitive and so earnest in his search for meaning and understanding and knowledge, it must have been devastating for his family to see him go through what he did. It was at times almost devastating to read about it. This was really an inspiring book to read and one I read with relish to be honest.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri -- I read for a lot of reasons, but it is for books like this that I love reading. Every so often a book will come along and you think, yes, that's it. That's why I spend so much of my time with books. Why I read so many. There are a lot of good books out there, and entertaining books, but it's books like this (like all the books on my list) that float to the top, that raise the bar for all other writers. Everything about this book was pitch perfect--the writing, the storytelling. She brought the Ganguli family to life and I loved being privy to their world for the time I spent in those pages.
And a few more really standout reading experiences (in no particular order):
Love and Summer by William Trevor -- Trevor was a master storyteller. What he could convey in so few pages (this like many of his other works are quite slim offerings) was amazing. He wrote with assurance, style and eloquence. The literary world dimmed just a little bit with his passing this year, but happily he left behind a large body of work.
Foster by Claire Keegan --Maybe there is something in the water over in Ireland. Claire Keegan's novella stays with me still after so many months have passed by. Yet another example of how an economy of words can be a richer read than hundreds of pages filled with endless detail and description. It's not quite a coming-of-age story, but it does have about it a realization of a different world and is about a transformative experience both literally and psychologically.
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown -- This was such an amazing read (reread!), written more than forty years ago it stands the test of time well and surely must be considered a modern classic (it certainly is in my book). It is a story that is both laugh out loud funny and painfully true at the same time. Molly Bolt is one of the most genuine, funny and delightful heroines in all of literature for me. She's spirited and sassy and I would be pleased to have her as a friend. She has then, been added to the official roster of most favorite characters of mine. If I could snap my fingers and make her appear or if I could sit next to her at a dinner party I would do so in a heart-beat.
The Crimson Rooms and The Woman in the Picture by Katharine MacMahon -- The Crimson Rooms was a reread in anticipation of reading the sequel, The Woman in the Picture. I love her writing generally, but I adore both of these novels. If I could inhabit the pages of a book, literally walk into a story and be part of that world, I would do so with Katharine MacMahon's novels. Actually the reading experience is much like being transported to another time and place. For a variety of reasons I really clicked with these two books. Her writing is smart and elegant, the characters interesting and likable and very human. I will happily pick these books up again sometime. Maybe sooner than later.
A Quiet Drink by Deborah Moggach -- This is the sort of story where you know two people are going to come together, only it takes most of the book to happen, and then when it does it is a quick delight, a disaster and then an unexpected though perfect ending that almost really couldn't conclude any other way. And Deborah Moggach pulls it all off spectacularly.
And just for fun a few notable mentions:
Book most likely to make you binge next time you pass by a bakery: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. I can only say: Yum. It was indeed a delicious reading experience.
Most taciturn (yet wholly 'crushable') character: Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, Commissario of Public Safety in the Mobile Squad of the Regia Quesura, or Royal Police Headquarters, of Naples . . . most recently encountered in Blood Curse.
Most satisfying romance: Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye. A reread. And will reread again sometime!
Biggest slog: Decision at Delphi by Helen MacInnes (sorry, probably more my fault than hers, but it could have used more editing. I'll try one of her other books sometime, however).
Most surprisingly well done (and I am so glad I didn't give up on it . . . almost made it only my favorite list): In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes.
Most colossal reading failure: The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst. It has been the book I constantly 'mean to read', it is in the back of my mind and probably the book is sitting there right in reach, but I never pick it up. I did pick it up. And then set it down. So, it now retains that same title after all. Poor doomed read.
I will be making the blog rounds soon, but please feel free share your favorites, too!