f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Favorites of 2005 – Books

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, December 23, 2005

Favorites of 2005 – Books

These are books all outside of CBA. You know how I feel about books like A Bride Most Begrudging and River Rising, but it’d get politically tricky if I started playing favorites among other BHP or CBA authors.

My reading was down this year compared to year’s previous. I think it’s because I spent the entire year reading at work, too. Still I managed to finish about 45 or so books. Never as many as I intend, but more than most of America, unfortunately.

Fiction

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Forget the hype and the awards for a second. Did the book deliver? To me, yes, absolutely. I know others were frustrated by its pace and lack of structured plot. But the bittersweet tension of man desperately in love with life who has preached for years about this world only as a place of sojourn—it’s a theme that resonates deeply with me.

You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon – Sometimes structure makes the story. Apart, the three lives Chaon explores here might not amount to much. But his sleight of hand in revealing only just as much as we need to know shows how to turn a literary novel into a mystery of the soul.

Winterkill by C.J. Box – T.L. Hines introduced me to the Joe Pickett mysteries of C.J. Box and I made it through all five this year. His newest is Out of Range, and while all of them are strong, I liked Winterkill the best. Box has mastered carving fascinating, complex, and timely mysteries out of the issues and concerns faced by folks like his game warden character.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders – I have a thing for weird little books and this one qualifies. Someone called it an Animal Farm for today. That may be overreaching. I don’t think this is making it under Donald Rumsfeld’s Christmas tree this year though.

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Non-Fiction

Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons – The book is a recasting of Red Sox-focused columns Simmons wrote for his early website and then for ESPN. I read most originally online and mostly just wanted to point you in Simmons direction if you’ve never heard of him. He’s fashioning a hugely successful “new media” career at the same time the respective career (sports columnist) in the “old media” of newspaper is becoming extinct.

The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Taylor – Forty-five miles off the San Francisco coast are a jagged set of islands around which dozens of great white sharks congregate during the winter…and are studied by an intrepid group of scientists. If it’s a shark book, I read it.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics by Stephen Leavitt – Entertaining pop-sociology books. They challenge you to think beyond the status quo and that’s never the worst thing.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Rosenthal
– Again, the structure makes the book. Basically it’s exactly what its title implies—Rosenthal examines her life as an encyclopedia and in reading through her alphabetical list of entries we’re given reasons to chuckle. This fits into the memoir-craze and “eloquent life” genre of writers and essayists like Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, and others. My favorite entries were about her brother (who having grown up in a houseful of sisters never realized he could get away with wrapping a towel around his waist) and her realization that rich people differ from the rest of us mostly in the size of their framed photos.

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Poetry
Questions About Angels by Billy Collins
– Just came across him and have been really enjoying him. He writes welcoming poetry—little meditations on the very familiar and in unadorned language either evokes a new awareness or, at least, a chuckle.

“Weighing the Dog” and “Pensees”
stood out for me.

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Most Disappointing

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - DaVinci Code meets Dracula. Or it should've been. Instead, we're reminded about just how boring history can be when presented by people who don't understand not all of us care about each and every detail.

Faithful by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan - Two acclaimed novelists decide before the 2004 season they're going to write a book about the Red Sox. The Red Sox then go on to win the World Series for the first time in 87 years. And we get this crap--basically convincing us that they aren't such good writers after all...and that they don't really understand baseball. Well done.

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So that’s it for 2005. Post your favorites of the year at the discussion board.

Next week? Short stories!