This year, with the help of All Consuming, I kept track of every book I read, 45 in all. And since this year is drawing to a rapid close I thought it would be appropriate to draw up a list of the best and worst reading material I devoured in 2006. Mind you, the list will consist of books I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year.
Most people draw up top ten lists, but I’ve chosen to do a couple of top five lists, mainly because there were only about five truly stunning books I read this year, and likewise, only five books that, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, were not to be tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force. I give you my top five best and worst books of 2006.
1) Household Saints by Francine Prose – This achingly beautiful novel follows three generations of an Italian-American family as they deal with issues of religious faith, assimilation, and the strength of family ties. It also explores the nature of myth making and story telling. A truly stunning read.
2) Blue Angel by Francine Prose – This year I fell head over heels for Francine Prose, hence why she holds the top two spots. This novel focuses on the relationship between a bored university professor and his favorite student. Prose is fond of ambiguous endings, and this one made me want to turn right back to the beginning and start it all over again. Masterfully written and executed.
3) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – This book isn’t considered a classic for nothing. Set in the rural south, this tale of a deaf mute and the confidence he inspires in those around him provides a layered look at the nature of friendship, justice, and free will.
4) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Like Prose and McCullers, Ishiguro is a master of the craft. He strikes that rare balance between revealing just enough to satiate the reader and holding back enough to keep them reading as this compelling novel about three boarding school friends unfolds.
5) The Hungry Gene by Ellen Ruppel Shell – The only nonfiction book to make the Best of List, The Hungry Gene takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the weight loss industry and the search for obesity related genes.
1) The Bitch Posse by Martha O’Connor – This heavy handed coming-of-age tale consists of little more then a handful of flat characters and a “plot” whose arch and resolution a discerning reader can tease out of the first page. Don’t waste your time with this one. Take it from me, I learned the hard way.
2) To Feel Stuff by Andrea Seigel – This tale of love and ESP has three strikes against it; it too consists of flat characters, the pacing is intolerably slow, and the ending is anti-climactic. I walked away wondering why Seigel felt it necessary to tell me this story. I always know I’ve finished reading an awful book when I close it and think “Now what was I supposed to get out of that?”
3) Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet – Drugs, money, crime, and sexual deviance, what more could a reader want? How about relief from the constant onslaught of hopelessly narcissistic and naive characters?
4) Life Mask by Emma Donoghue – I actually adore Emma Donoghue, but this historical novel about lesbianism and upper-class morality was just too long and too slow.
5) The Ghost Writer by John Harwood – Harwood gets points for actually being a good writer. He loses points for concocting the most absurd suspense novel I have ever read. It was fine until the end at which point my mind boggled at the sheer ridiculousness of the climax I’d become so invested in reaching.