Sunday, January 3, 2010

Top 5 books of '09

I love to read.  For the past few years, whenever I finish a book, I have always written them down on the calendar when I finish.  It is my dorky way of keeping track of not only how many books I read, but how long it takes me to read them too.  To further my dorkiness, at the end of each year, I always take stock of the books I've read, and create a mental ranking of the top five.  This is the first time my top 5 rankings will be in some form of print.  So, without further rambling; my top 5 books of 2009...

5. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay. 

I read a lot of fantasy each year, but this year, I didn't seem to read too much good fantasy.  Ysabel stands out from the crowd. A bit of a coming of age story with some Celtic/Pagan magic involved, set in the south of France during modern times. 
Kay crafted another solid novel here, as I was a huge fan of his book Tigana as well.  The characters are well fleshed out, and Kay keeps the story moving with absolutely no lags in the action.

4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This novel has been on my radar for a long time, since Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors.  I typically buy used books however, (budget limitations) and after finding a used copy in great condition, I began reading this epic novel.  The book truly is epic, it spans three generations, has a large cast of characters, and covers a fair bit of ground.  This book has love, betrayal, lust, death, anger, joy, wit and power.  It doesn't disappoint and is one of Steinbeck's best works.  For me it wasn't my favorite Steinbeck read, (more on that later), but it still easily makes the list.

3. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

I first discovered Banks as a sci-fi writer.  His novel Use of Weapons easily stands out as an all-time favorite book of mine.  I knew that Banks was also a fairly prolific non-genre writer as well, and when I stumbled across The Wasp Factory on a bargain shelf, I picked it up.  This is one of those books that defies description, but I will try anyway.  The main character, Frank is a weird guy, he's killed three people under strange circumstances, and gotten away with all three.  He lives an unconventional lifestyle on a small Scottish island with his reclusive father.  The story tracks Frank's strange life, while chronicling the three murders, and builds the tension as his even crazier brother, recently escaped from a mental health facility, slowly makes his way back towards the island. 
This book was a strange one, it was often unsettling and slightly disturbing.  Banks is a master of keeping the reader engaged, and the way the story was unveiled and the past kept hidden until just the right moment, made the book a standout.

2. GraceLand, by Chris Abani

This is another coming of age story set in Lagos, Nigeria.  The story follows Elvis, who also happens to be an Elvis impersonator, as he struggles to get by in the strife ridden slums of Lagos. 
This was a total wild card book for me, as I likely would not have picked it up had it not been recommended to me by my girlfriend.  Abani set the tone for the book early on as he painted a vivid picture of the city of Lagos and it's inhabitants.  He also weaved two story threads for most of the book as he alternated telling of Elvis' current life in the slums of Lagos, and his younger years in the village of Afikpo.  By the end, the threads come together and the novel came to a satisfying, and realistic end. 

1. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

I have to admit first off, that this one is a re-read.  That being said, it was still the best book I read this year.  This was my second reading of The Pearl, the first read came on a road trip with my brother eight years ago.  I really love this book.  Steinbeck tells such a great story, and I love every word of this novel.  Each scene from the book comes to life so clearly in my mind's eye and I loved how vivid the whole story is.  I found myself noticing different things on this read through.   I loved Juana's strength, and how she held herself and her family together as the story unfolded.  This is a timeless classic for me, and well deserving of my top book of 2009.


Ryan King said...

Where's the top music pick?!

Guess I have to try more Steinbeck then the Grapes. Should I start with Pearl?

Ryan said...

Hey Ryan, the top music pick is on it's way...hopefully up sometime tomorrow.

As for Steinbeck, I think The Pearl is a good place to start, also Of Mice and Men is another good one.