I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ve read since I was 12. This was a big year for finishing multi-volume works—by Knausgaard, Ferrante, and Smiley. It’s such a pleasure to be immersed in the world of a wonderful book and know that when you finish it, you can open another. Here are a few of my favorite books for the year, along with some that weren’t recently published, but I read this year, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Euphoria, by Lily King. Gorgeous book, story inspired by the work of Margaret Mead.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Based on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, this book is a tour de force of perspective and voice. Wasn’t surprised when he won the Man Booker Award.
- A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin. Incredible collection of near-autobiographical stories from a peripatetic life. Small, sharp, poignant tales of disappointments and small triumphs. Why wasn’t she famous during her lifetime?
- H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald. This seems to me a perfect memoir, combining a truly original personality, her obsession, her observant nature, and her bird in an arc of loss and renewal.
- My Struggle, Parts I-IV, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I ripped through these four volumes of Knausgaard’s minute observations, fascinated, compelled to keep reading, and puzzling over how he keeps us in his thrall. By the fourth, I had Knausgaard fatigue, and the spell was over.
- Storia de la bambina perduta, (Story of the Lost Child) by Elena Ferrante. Fourth in the Naples series. I was an early adopter to these emotionally nuanced novels of female friendship—so much so that I read the second and fourth in translation before they came out in English. Well, I started them before the translations came out. The translator caught up with me; it was slow going. Interesting to see the difference between reading in Italian and English. The Italian seemed more direct, more flavorful, but Ann Goldstein is a wonderful translator.
- Some Luck, Early Warnings, and The Golden Age, by Jane Smiley. This fiction trilogy is about an Iowa farming town, starting with the small family, and fanning out over the generations, over 100 years, in a portrait of the United States over that time. Great American novel(s).
- Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Bonnie Jo Campbell, stories of rural, resilient women that dig down to the raw core of emotion.
- Purity, Jonathan Franzen. Great plot, and a lot to chew on in the milieu of computer hacking, online journalism, global warming, and other contemporary concerns that extend from a girl in California to the world.
- Cheating, on #10, with a few not published this year that I gave five stars, if you need a great read:
–The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
–The Radetsky March, Joseph Roth
–The Dancer, Colum McCann
–American Romantic, Ward Just
–The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
On my bedside table:
–Report From the Interior, Paul Auster
–Enon, Paul Harding
–All the Wild That Remains, David Gessner
–The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr
–The First Bad Man, Miranda July
–10:04, Ben Lerner
–Complete Stories, Clarice Lispector
One book that didn’t make my list is The M Train, by Patti Smith. I love her as an artist, and thought Just Kids was wonderful, but her meandering memoir seemed thin to me, and a bit of a rip-off of W. G. Sebold.