Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What were the best books you read in 2009?

I've always wanted to belong to a book club, one where the members actually read the books and wanted to discuss them, and would suggest interesting books to read. Sadly, I have yet to find such a book club in the real world. But I am hoping to have better luck online.

So consider this the first meeting of the J-TWO-O Online Book Club -- or book swap. And to get the ball rolling, I made the following list of 10 of the Best Books I Read in 2009 (listed alphabetically, by author, not by order of preference):

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton

Bitter Is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

Tomato Rhapsody by Adam Schell

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

Of course, after creating this list, and seeing it on my computer screen, I immediately thought of dozens of other great fiction and non-fiction books I'd read the last year or nine. However, to spare you (and myself) I whittled the list down to the top 25 best (or most interesting or entertaining or thought-provoking) books I've read since the beginning of 2000 (though if you include the 10 from the first list, it would be my top 35).

Herewith, 25 More Great Books for You to Peruse:

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Language of Baklava Diana Abu-Jaber

The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady

The Emperors of Chocolate by Joël Glenn Brenner

Casino Moscow by Matthew Breszinski

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella

The Perfect Store: Inside eBay by Adam Cohen

Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Chasing Kangaroos by Tim Flannery

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Seabiscuit: An Amercican Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

French Lessons by Peter Mayle

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

The Book Seller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage

So what were some of the most interesting or entertaining or funny or thought-provoking books you read this year or this decade?

Please share the titles (and authors) of some of the best books you read either this past year or this past decade in the comments. (Note: You don't need to have a blog or a URL or a Google account to leave a comment. You can be anonymous or just type in your name -- or a pseudonym -- in the "Name" space, no URL necessary.)

Wishing you all good reading and a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.


ADDENDUM: Just wanted you all to know that I have nothing against The Help by Kathryn Stockett. In fact, I've been wanting to read it for over a month, but there was a long waiting list at my local library and I only got a copy this week. But I am looking forward to reading it -- and putting it on my Top 10 Books of 2010 list. ;-)


Betty Cracker said...

It's tough to narrow it down, but two unforgettable (for me) books of the decade were "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver and "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry.

I haven't read as much as I'd like this year, but the books I enjoyed the most were "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout and "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski.

You've given me some great ideas for books I need to pick up!

GSA said...

This post is a definite Keeper. I’m embarrassed at how many of these books I’ve never even heard of. But will definitely track them down.

Paula said...

A few of my 2009 favorites:
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortensen
The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo - Stieg Larsson
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski
Loving Frank - Nancy Horan

Now reading:
Googled - Ken Auletta

Thanks for sharing - I just love reading, reading about, and talking about books. So much to read, so little time.

I'm with Betty on the Poisonwood Bible and A Fine Balance. Excellent reads.

Michael said...

You've just reminded me that I need to read a few more books. I've been interested in reading the Ben Franklin biography, so now is as good a time as any to pick it up....

Anonymous said...

Paris Metro map
Pretoria/South Africa Kids Activities
Anything Clive Cussler
All Phillippa Gregory

Abundance (Maria Antoinette) by Sena Jeter Naslund

Thinking need more meat in my reading and less cotton candy...but I LOVE ME some crap books!

J. said...

@Betty and @Paula, thank you for the great suggestions! I just got The Help out of the library, after being on the waiting list for over a month, and am looking forward to reading it -- and will tackle your other suggestions shortly thereafter.


@Michael (FYI, your link goes to a dead end): Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, is very good. The spouse and I both read it shortly after it was published. However, we both found ourselves not liking Franklin very much afterward, which is why I didn't include it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your book suggestions. I was big into memoirs this year. My favorites were:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (read it a second time and still loved it)
Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley
Born Round by Frank Bruni
The Liar's Club and Lit by Mary Karr
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (not really a memoir, but it reads like one)
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

EMM said...

Favorite post of 2009! I've been in a bookclub for the past 10 years and love it!!! We do read and discuss the books, but do spend a fair amount of time on boyfriends, jobs, food and wine.

Ditto on so many already contribution for the decade:

Augusten Burroughs - all of them!!!
Christopher Moore - all of them!!!

Both authors are super dark and irreverent, but they are funny (sometimes in a very twisted way).

In the aughts, I read all the Harry Potter, Twilight and Lord of the Rings. The bonus was the camraderie reading these series brought.

As I sit here looking at my collection of books, it is hard to pick a favorite.

If you've not read Divisidero by Michael Ondaatje or Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo, pick them up for two wonderful reads in 2010.

Happy Reading!!!

J. said...

@Anonymous #2 and @EMM, thanks for the suggestions! My reading list keeps getting longer, but I don't mind a bit. :-)

I also just thought of another great non-fiction book I read this year, called Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. Clearly, I should have had one "top" list for fiction and another for non-fiction. ;-) Next year.

amy said...

"Time Travelers Wife" is one of my all-time favorite books. Didn't love "The Help" but my bookclub had one of our best discussion ever over it. We followed it up the next month with "Mudbound," which I thought was a better book, though much darker. Sadly, I didn't read as much as I'd have liked this past year, but I intend to change that in 2010!

Thanks for directing me over here!

Dave S. said...

Most of the '00s was spent reading acknowledged classics like Goodnight Moon but I really liked The Time-Traveler's Wife, one of the few fiction books I read this past decade (or any other for that matter).

This year's best reads were a Michael Pollan doubleheader: The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. The former book especially confirmed various sneaking suspicions I have had over the past fifteen years or so, with super bonus points awarded for being able to blame at least the start of the catastrophe on the Nixon Administration.

I got a new copy of The Lord of the Rings last year and should crack that open at some point for re-re-re-re-familiarization. My original Ballantine boxed set (show of hands, please) appears to have expanded from over-reading and the books can no longer be removed from the 30-odd-year-old box.

Happy New Year!

Paula said...

Thanks for all the recommendations!

A few more of my favorite reads:
Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
The Dive from Claussen's Pier - Ann Packer
Pope Joan - Donna Woolfolk Cross
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
The Other Boleyn Girl - Phillipa Gregory
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon
The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
West With the Night - Beryl Markham

In the queue
Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Neffenegger
When Everything Changed - Gail Collins
The Girl Who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson
One Thousand White Women - Jim Fergus
Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders - Daniyal Mueenuddin

If I could get to half of them in 2010, I'd be happy....

J. said...

@Dave S., Michael Pollan's books scare me. I tried reading a couple and felt if I kept reading I would never eat anything again, and people keep telling me I'm too skinny, so I stopped. As for TLoTR, somewhere, on a bookshelf in Manhattan (unless my mother donated them to some charity), is my original boxed paperback set, which has sat untouched for more years than I care to mention. Had I known you were in need...

@Paula, THANK YOU for reminding me about Gail Collins' book! I am surprised Anonymous #2, who recently read it, did not include it/remind me. Btw, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is great. (The spouse read it, too, right after I did.)

@amy, stop by any time. :-)

larissa said...

Off the top of my head and not in any particular order:

Pill Head, The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict: Joshua Lyon

Big Boy Rules, America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq: Steve Fainaru

A Spot of Bother: Mark Haddon

Chasing Ghosts: Paul Rieckhoff

Drinking, A Love Story: Caroline Knapp

Up In The Air: Walter Kirn

The Things They Carried: Tim O'Brien

Finding Lily: Richard Clewes

J. said...

Interesting observation: There is not a funny, happy, lighthearted book in the lot, except for maybe Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, which is just making fun of awful, depressing situations = not that funny.

Anybody read any good lighthearted, funny, uplifting books that will not make me want to curl up in a ball and feel guilty about my life?

OVA said...

You want/need funny and light-hearted? David Sedaris is very funny. His "Me Talk Pretty Someday" makes me laugh out loud even on second reading. "Dress Your Family in Corduroy" was my introduction to his humour. Stories as chapters make for easy reading when you don't have enough time to really get into a book like most of us. Enjoy.

Paula said...

I just read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and thought it was fantastic. Great story.