For weeks I have been thinking about this list of the best books I read in 2009. Should I just include the top 5? Will anyone actually look at the entire list if it's long? Who am I to voice an opinion about these books? My reading got off to a shaky start last year; I read a few truly mediocre things and wondered what was going on, even thinking that the craft of writing was going downhill. But then after a few weeks I hit my stride and haven't stopped since. Already in 2010 I've read something notable and have a huge pile of promising suspects next to my bed.
So here's my lengthy list of favorites for last year, mostly in the order I read them. And I would love to hear your comments on these books, too, if you are familiar with them.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Petterson is Norwegian and his description of landscape is hauntingly beautiful. The main character is a retired man who returns home to live out his years in a remote cabin. Flashbacks of his younger days with his father are interspersed with adjusting to life alone.
The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. An independent, go-getter young woman makes her living breaking horses in Oregon during World War I.
The Tenth Muse-My Life in Food by Judith Jones. Jones, editor for Julia Child, writes a chatty, but inspiring book about the importance of good food. I particularly liked her admonition to cook well, even if it's just for one.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. There has been so much said about this book; what can I possibly add? That in my last days I don't want to look back and see that I've squandered day after day. I will read this again.
Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher. Pipher is best known for her Reviving Ophelia, a book I didn't much like. But this one is full of wisdom for a woman my age. She is a stunningly compassionate and astute writer.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. A fictional biography of Laura Bush. Not being a fan of Mrs. Bush , I absolutely DID NOT want to read this book! But a choir member thrust it into my hands and said You have got to read this. She was right: I couldn't put it down and likewise learned something about seeing a story from more than one side.
Appassionata by Eva Hoffman. The title refers to Beethoven's piano sonata of the same name and well describes the temperaments of the two main characters. Isabel, an accomplished pianist, begins a tumultuous affair during a concert tour with Anzor, a Chechen man. Along the way she begins to question the importance and significance of her chosen career and wonders does making music do any good for the world?
Where Dreams Die Hard by Carl Stowers. A small, sweet story of one year in the life of the 6-man football team in Penelope, Texas. I know something about this town, as my first husband was pastor of the Baptist church there in 1977 and I, of course, played the piano for services.
Drinking the Rain by Alix Kates Shulman. Compelling memoir of a woman finding herself in her 50's, after raising a family and discarding a bad marriage. Her later memoir, To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed was on my list last year.
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. A good, old-fashioned novel with believable, quirky characters to love, cry over and encourage. Much of the story takes place in Santa Fe and I could taste the green chilies and feel the unrelenting southwestern sun.
A Happy Marriage by Rafael Iglesias. The saga of a marriage, not always or conventionally happy, from the first meeting to final goodbye. The book alternates between the couple's last few years, as he cares for his dying wife, and the story of their courtship, marrying, raising children and negotiating the hurdles of life. You'll shed tears over this one.
Why Religion Matters by Huston Smith. This venerable author explains just why religion does matter to our hungry, suffocated souls. The finitude of mundane existence cannot satisfy the human heart completely. Built into the human makeup is a longing for a "more" that the world of everyday experience cannot requite. Not an easy read, but worth the struggle.
That's it. Twelve notable and worthy books. Happy Reading.