Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It started in 1994

There was a time when I read close to 300 books a year. It's not that I had way too much time on my hands back then. I just graduated from college and immediately applied for a teaching job. So I had my first job and had no financial obligations whatsoever. That only meant one thing—most of my income went to books. So I bought books with abandon. I read all of them. I never had a TBR pile in the 1990s. Then I started this little tradition on the last day of the year: I'd take a look at all the books I read that year and come up with my best reads. And I just realized that I've been doing this thing for 24 years now.

So I've listed all my best reads since 1995 up to last year, dear readers. Here it is. Too bad that I didn't record the shortlist for all 23 years, as I just started doing that mid 2000s, I think.
2017 - What Belongs to You (Garth Greenwell)
2016 - A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara)
2015 - All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld)
2014 - Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
2013 - HHhH (Laurent Binet)
2012 - The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
2011 - The Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt) 
2010 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
2009 - Memoirs of a Master Forger (William Heaney) and Gomorrah (Roberto Saviano)
2008 - The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
2007 - The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)
2006 - The Stolen Child (Keith Donohue)
2005 - The Schwa Was Here (Neal Shusterman)
2004 - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
2003 - Nobody’s Perfect (Anthony Lane)
2002 - The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber)
2001 - American Gods (Neil Gaiman) and Hitler’s Pope (John Cornwall) 
2000 - The Farewell Symphony (Edmund White)
1999 - We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Philip Gourevitch)
1998 - The Professor and the Madman (Simon Winchester)
1997 - A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) and The Innocent (Ian McEwan)
1996 - The History of the Siege of Lisbon (José Saramago)
1995 - The Moral Animal (Robert Wright)
1994 - The Story of Mankind (Hendrik Willem van Loon)

Just a tiny bit embarrassed that the list leans heavily toward American and European authors, and the gender inequality is very testosterone-y. But hey, 3 women authors in this decade so far, no? So yes, I'm deluding myself that that's a step toward diversity.

I like that there's a few nonfiction books in this list. Gourevitch's account of the genocide that happened in Rwanda will always be my standard when it comes to reporting significant events. I'll always remember The Moral Animal because it posited a crazy but plausible theory—how monogamy may be disadvantageous to women who wish to move up the social ladder. And how could I not love Winchester's book about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary? For snark and just plain brilliance, nothing compares to the collected reviews of Lane in Nobody's Perfect. Cornwall's fascination with the Vatican is evident in his account of the less-than-stellar life of Pope Pius XII.

Of course, there are novels aplenty. A few of them now so obscure that I can feel you itch to Google, dear reader. I've read almost all of Saramago's works, but none has made a greater impact than The History of the Siege of Lisbon. It involves a proofreader who consciously puts an error by inserting "not" into the narrative, and then coming up with a totally different historical account just to justify that word. For sheer storytelling, the speculative and otherwise, nothing beats Gaiman and his doorstop of a novel. Also a doorstop is Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, an engaging read about a prostitute in Victorian England.

My weakness for gay novels shows in this list, yes? I count five, with four just in this decade. Point me to someone who hasn't been affected by Yanagihara's A Little Life. And how many of us cried when we finished The Song of Achilles? White's The Farewell Symphony manages to be erotic and touching at the same time.

If there's one book that I'd like to bring to your attention, dear reader, it's Donohue's The Stolen Child. Probably because I feel that not many people know about it. It's about a boy abducted by goblins and is forced to live with them, and the changeling that takes his place. I was heartbroken when I finished it, and I remember that I kept thinking about this book for weeks. Yes, it's fantasy, but the mythology is very much rooted in our culture, and the emptiness that each character feels gets to you. Look for this, dear reader. You're in for a treat.

By the way, 2016 was the worst year ever in my reading life. I managed to read just roughly 20 books. I blame Netflix.

I've never read Sherlock Holmes.


Jeane said...

Oh, I had forgotten about The Stolen Child! You make me want to read it all over again. And I've already done so twice. One of my favorites, too.