What's the best book you read this year?

shelf-life_lIt’s getting to be that time of year—the time for Best and Worst lists—and as I mull over EW’s, I’m thinking back over everything I’ve read since January.

It’s going to be a tough year to pick. On the nonfiction side, I loved Blake Bailey’s wonderful Cheever book, which, as I’ve said before, redefined  biography for me. I could not get enough of the essays in A New Literary History of America. Almost a year after I read it, The Mercy Papers—Robin Romm’s searing account of her mother’s final three weeks—remains imprinted on my brain. There was the Dave Eggers book, Zeitoun; Andre Agassi’s memoir, Open; Dave Cullen’s Columbine; and the third volume of Mary Karr’s memoirs, Lit. Oh, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

In fiction, I loved Daniyeel Mueenuddin’s exquisite Pakistan-centered short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and the latest Pete Dexter novel, Spooner. I could not put down Alice Munro’s latest book of short stories, Too Much Happiness. I bought a dozen copies of Jonathan Tropper’s dysfunctional family drama This Is Where I Leave You to give to friends and family. I was mesmerized by David Small’s graphic novel Stitches. And I still think about Stephanie Kallos’ Sing Them Home, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, J. Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement and Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

How about you, Shelf Life readers? What are your favorite books of the year?


Comments (232 total) Add your comment
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  • Jelana

    It came out last year, but I only read it about a month ago: Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. I can’t think of anything I read this year I enjoyed more than that.

    • Shelley

      Such a good book. One of my favorites in a long time.

    • mom52

      Have to agree with your pick. My sister-in-law gave it to me and I read it in one night. Couldn’t put it down. Love a book that makes you both laugh and cry.

    • Sara

      The Art of Racing in the Rain was amazing! I recommend it to any animal lover. Such a sweet but sad story.

      • Sly

        I was given this book after my dog died, and as good as the story was getting I couldn’t finish it! It hit too close to home!

    • dpinmd

      I loved this book as well! I highly recommend it, especially for dog lovers, but really for anyone!

      Other faves: The Book Thief, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Game trilogy. (I’m waiting anxiously for the next books in both series!)

      • nunnya

        I loved Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins as well!

    • SoCalGal

      The Art of Racing In the Rain is one of those books that resonates long after you read it. I loved it & my hubby adored it.

  • Anne

    I loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. I can’t wait for Stieg Larson’s next book, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

    • Tom

      I agree completely–those were two of the best books I read this year. It’s a shame he’s not around to write several more.

      • Anne

        I’ve heard that he outlined three other books including the same characters and that someone else may write them. Not sure how I feel about that, but i love Blomkvist and Salander so much that I may jump on board.

    • Anik

      Anne, you’ll love the third book. I just finished reading it and I thought it was the best one of the trilogy.

      • megan

        Oh, I loved the third book too, it’s available overseas, and it was so good I read the entire thing on one plane ride (and it is not a short book). I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed!

    • stella

      I loved these two books and can’t wait for the third one either! Salander is such and interesting heroine.

    • Tamara

      Totally agree. Very much looking forward to the 3rd book after the cliffhanger ending.

    • Diggity

      Yes, I loved Dragon Tattoo so much I rush ordered Played with Fire and am in the middle of it now. I really love these books.

    • Sofia

      Couldn’t agree more. Fantastic trilogy and Salander is one of the most kickass female characters I’ve read about in a long time.

    • Brittany

      Oh my gosh, I couldn’t agree with you more! I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. Steig does such an amazing job of making his characters jump off the page that you are disappointed to put the book down and find out they aren’t standing in the room with you. However, they are not books for the faint of heart!

    • ariay

      I join the excitement…currently reading the 3rd one and it’s driving me insane that I can’t read faster. I heart Lisbeth…

    • Steve

      Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was my favorite this year also!

  • Alla

    “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I could not put it down. I was smart and touching and gave practical suggestions.

  • abby

    I recently finished Diana Gabaldon’s 7th installment in the Claire and Jaime saga; ‘An Echo in the Bone’. As usual, excellent storytelling… and has left me wanting more!

    • CH

      I’m a big Gabaldon fan, having read the series a few times with relish, but I am struggling with the latest installment. The focus on Willie and Lord John Grey has made it hard for me to keep up a good pace, as I often find myself bored during the sections focused on those characters! I’ve had the book since the day it came out, thinking I’d fly right through it, but I’m only about 500 pages in!

      • Laura G.

        I loved An Echo in the Bone as well!!

      • Andrea

        I loved this last one. If you haven’t read the Lord John books, those help you get more into that character as he is more fully developed there. Also, I took this as a sign that Jamie and Claire are aging and we are getting ready to let them go. Not a good thought, but certainly a natural one…

      • julie

        An Echo in the Bone is amazing. Diana Gabaldon is one of the most underrated writers of our time. I do not know of any other write who can weave such intracacies into their stories as she does.

    • Melinda65

      7th?! *sigh* I ended up having to stop reading partway through the fifth book because I was going through Scots overload. I will probably take up the mantle again at some point, but I doubt that I’ll reread the earlier books.

  • Stacy

    Only one person has commented before me yet she picked the same book I was gonna say! I just read The Art of Racing in the Rain recently too and I think it was my fave too. I just finished reading the Lost Symbol but didn’t think it was as good as Angels and Demons.

    • Ginny

      I agree with you about The Lost Symbol. It was good but if you’ve seen National Treasure you pretty much know the plot. I figured out where the treasure was about 1/3 of the way into the book. Angels and Demons is still my favorite in the series.

    • Jen B

      Amen! Lost Symbol was the worst one yet. It was so predictable.

  • Stacy

    Haha okay apparently it took me too long to post that because now a few others have posted, but my vote still goes to the Art of Racing in the Rain!

  • Debbie

    I’m currently reading “Columbine” and cannot put it down, reading it at stoplights.

    • Muggs

      I completely agree. Even after 10 years, this seemed like a fresh perspective on a horrible tragedy. And the author didn’t take a side – he remained objective throughout.

      • K

        Agreed, best non-fiction book I’ve read this year. Best fiction…I have to say I loved Suzanne Collins young adult book, Catching Fire, though the ‘best’ was probably Atwood’s The Year Of The Flood.

  • AA

    Wow… 17 books that you’d recommend, so that doesn’t count the ones you wouldn’t? Oh that I had the time to read more than one a month (and also squeeze in my weekly read of EW)!

    • Jennifer

      Very simple solution: Read on your lunch break and while on the toilet.

      • AA

        But I spend my lunch break (cough couigh) reading ew.com!! :)

  • Tom

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was great. It was one of those books that I was sorry to see come to an end.

    • becaboo

      me too!

    • Christy

      That would be my vote as well. I have passed that book along to five people and they’ve all loved it.

    • miki

      Loved the beginning but the book isn’t good enough throughout all its pages; also the Mccanna character was too good to be true- brave , beautiful, and conveniently dead .

  • ctesdahl

    World War Z was freaking amazing!

  • palais

    Stitches was astonishing.I also second the Alice Munro shout out. But I have to say Linden McIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man was an experience I am so glad to have had.

  • Chelsea

    Well I know what it’s not—Audrey Niffenberger’s “Her Fearful Symmetry”. The first half of the book is alright, but it quickly goes downhill. It was plain weird/out there. Fantasy is one thing (I took the leap with her Time Traveler’s Wife and loved it), but this was just stupid and sloppy.

    • ENC

      I completely agree, I really enjoyed the first half and then when it was coming to an end I was just like “REALLY?”

  • mkaffeine

    The best books I read this year were not published this year: David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” & Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” In terms of books actually released in 2009, my faves include “Columbine,” Walter Mosley’s first of a new series: “The Long Fall,” Sean Doolittle’s “Safer” and “Dog On It: A Chet & Bernie Mystery” by Spencer Quinn. I was disappointed by Ehrenreich’s book (long on evidence, short on analysis) and couldn’t make it through Margaret Atwood’s latest. Still to come on the hold list at the library: Andre Agassi, Mary Karr, John Irving & Stephen King!

    • Allie

      columbine was really well-done! dave cullen is a great writer and i hope he writes more novels, maybe fiction next! it’s definitely a book for people that want to know the truth about what happened. but do not read it at night before you go to bed!! bad idea. other than that book, i can’t think of any others i read that came out in 2009. i’ve been reading older novels.

    • lulu

      Dog on It was amazing! Can’t wait for his next Chet and Bernie Mystery in ’10!

      • mkaffeine

        And another great title: ‘Thereby Hangs a Tail’!!

  • Matt

    I absolutely loved Dan Simmons’ “Drood”. It was terrifying but I simply did not want it to end.

  • kct

    Await your reply by Dan Chaon was a great read. Zeitoun was fabulous, as well.

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