A Year in Review: The Book Stuff

Lots and lots of great books this year. Once again I had more than ten that I considered top ten worthy, but this is the list that I could agree on with myself in the end.

10. Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
In a way, this was a year of short story collections, at least compared to other years. Karen Russell’s stories were all took place in a weird, dream-like setting and were utterly compelling, drawing me into a very strange and enchanting world. Read it. I mean it.

9. Markus Zusak, I am the Messenger
I think this book was supposed to be YA and there are probably reasons for that, but to me it felt more like adult coming-of-age stories like Kunkel’s Indecision or Egger’s still whole-heartedly recommended You Shall Know Our Velocity. I am the Messenger had me shedding tears out of nothing because of all the wonderful little things in this book.

8. Stephenie Meyer, The Host
Okay now. Apparently Twilight is YA and The Host is not? Why is that? Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Host. Devoured it. But it didn’t feel that much different than Twilight, apart of course from the story being something completely different (body snatchers!) and so, so cool. Meyer – not that surprisingly – isn’t the greatest writer of all time, but her stories just have my eyes glued to the pages.

7. Keith Donohue, The Stolen Child
The book I started the year turned out to be among the best of the year as well. The story about a strange race of changelings taking children away from their homes to take their role told both from the perspective of one child snatched and the changeling taking its place. Awesome.

6. Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Once again, a book I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. This is a science-fiction alternate mystery crime thriller set in Jewish ghettos in Alaska. I think. Anyway. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s tragic. And I really liked it.

5. Julie Orringer, How To Breathe Underwater
Best short story collection of the year. I read part of this in a hotel in Estonia. Everything I love about short stories I got here… and then some. I’m having a hard time coming up with a good short summary of what makes How To Breathe Underwater so special, but I don’t think I’m succeeding anywhere here. Just know that I loved it.

4. Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
This is another one of those books that I loved more and more with every page I read. It started off a bit slow and had me suspecting that I wouldn’t really enjoy it that much, but the characters and how they were strung together and all the sadness and love that you find in this book changed my mind in very little time. Plus, it made me cry. Oh, so wonderful.

3. Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y
Now, here’s the thing. I always say that I will read most anything. I mean, there’s probably a lot of books that I don’t really need or want to read, but all in all if the story sounds good enough, I will give it a try. However, I cannot deny the fact that I like those books best that sooner or later go down the science-fiction and/or fantasy road. Alternate worlds, whether in dreams, books, or wherever always draw me in. That was a lot of general talk without saying anything specific about The End of Mr. Y. Maybe this is because the books I like best are so hard to summarize that I’d just rather not even try for fear of getting it all wrong or spoiling you with stuff you shouldn’t know before reading it yourself. Here’s a final hint: Dream worlds rule!

2. China Miéville: Un Lun Dun
Someone who cites Walter Moers in his acknowledgements has to be one of the good guys, right? Evil giraffes, unbrellas, a secret town right under London. Fantasy, adventure and all so well written and illustrated by Miéville. One of the few books I would have loved to last at least twice as long, because it was such a wild, fun ride reading it.

1. Steven Hall: The Raw Shark Texts
Oh my freaking god, did I love The Raw Shark Texts. There’s no way I am going to be able to tell you what it is about without confusing you profoundly. Conceptual sharks, anyone? A subterranean labyrinth made of telephone directories (word protection, y’know)? Here’s one word: Legen… wait for it… dary!

Also notable:

Best Non-Fiction: Alan Weisman, The World Without Us. (Also the book that I liked more in hindsight than when I was actually reading it. Strange, but true. Every once in a while I catch myself talking about something that I read in The World Without Us. That’s gotta mean something.)
Saddest Book: Nicole Krauss, The History of Love („I need you to be… not sad.“ really brought me to tears.)
Book That Seemed the Longest: Neal Stephenson, Confusion (For obvious reasons and I didn’t expect anything else. By the way, runner-up was G.W. Dahlquist, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters which was a bit more surprising, mostly because I thought the book underdelivered and it wouldn’t have felt as long as it did if only it had been better.)
Weirdest Book: Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea (Weird in a good way, in case you were wondering.)
Best Short Stories: Julie Orringer, How To Breathe Underwater (As expected. Actually, all short story collections I read were really good, so it was a great year for short stories.)
Best Children’s Book: China Miéville: Un Lun Dun (I also liked Meg Rosoff: How I Live Now and Kirsten Miller’s Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City a lot.)
Most disappointing book: John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Here’s the rant.)
Best book about rabbits: Richard Adams, Watership Down (Duh!)