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Yes, I know it’s March! After being oppressed at work for the last month, here is the much belated 2009 in books.



1. Richard Fletcher, Moorish Spain 1/5
2. Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost* 1/14
3. Junot Diaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* 1/16
4. Tahir Shah, Trail of Feathers* 1/26
5. Raja Shehadeh, When the Birds Stopped Singing* 1/29

6. Daoud Hari, The Translator* 2/1
7. Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger* 2/3
8. David Mitchell, Ghostwritten* 2/9
9. William Rosen, Justinian’s Flea* 2/18
10. Ha Jin, Under the Red Flag* 2/19
11. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness* 2/22
12. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground* 2/24
13. Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart * 2/26

14. Nuha al-Radi, Baghdad Diaries* 3/1
15. Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship* 3/6
16. Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying* 3/7
17. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red 3/30*

18. Tim O’Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone 4/3
19. Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World* 4/11
20. David Leavitt, The Indian Clerk* 4/17
21. Edwidge Danticat, Krik? Krak!* 4/21

22. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway* 5/17
23. Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland* 5/23
24. Sasa Stanisic, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone* 5/30

25. Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families* 6/10

26. J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun*7/3
27. Perry Morre, Hero 7/4
28. Jean Hatzfeld, Machete Season* 7/8
29. Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother* 7/18
30. William St Clair, The Door of No Return* 7/26

31. Martin Meredith, Diamonds, Gold, and War* 8/2
32. David Benioff, City of Thieves* 8/2
33. Jean Hatzfeld, Life Laid Bare* 8/4
34. Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind* 8/7
35. Jean Hatzfeld, The Antelope’s Strategy* 8/8
36. Colm Toibim, Brooklyn* 8/11
37. Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger* 8/13
38. Rabih Alameddine, The Hakawati* 8/24
39. Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman * 8/28
40. China Mieville, The City & The City* 8/29

41. Hooman Majd, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ* 9/5
42. Bapsi Sidhwa, An American Brat*

43. Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull* 10/12
44. Bryan Mealer, All Things Must Fight to Live 10/26

45. Leonard Thompson, A History of South Africa 11/7
46. Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading* 11/12
47. Sayed Qashu, Dancing Arabs* 11/17
48. Brian Francis Slattery, Spaceman Blues*11/24
49. Ursula K. LeGuin, Lavinia* 11/25

50. Cornelia Funke, Inkheart* 12/2
51. Nam Le, The Boat 12/6
52. Nick Hornby, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt* 12/8
53. Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood* 12/8
54. Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree* 12/9
55. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog* 12/14
56. Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence12/16
57. Colum, McCann, Let the Great World Spin 12/24
58. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks*
59. Dexter Filkins, The Forever War* 12/28
60. Paul Johnson: The Renaissance 12/31

*purchased in 2009

Not a stellar showing, but not too shabby considering how busy I was for a lot of the year. As near as I can figure (something got messed up by a book or two somewhere), I started the year with 61 books on the Big List of Shame. I bought about 80 books during the year. My reading count was 60 books (33 fiction, 27 nonfiction). I also read a bunch of ebooks, but I’m not counting those, since they were mostly light reading and they don’t clutter up my apartment, so therefore are not a matter for Shame--at least in the context that I’m using the word.

There were a lot of good books this year. I won’t do more than point to books like McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Toibim’s Brooklyn, Diaz’s Oscar Wao, Filkins’ The Forever War, or Mieville’s The City & The City, which were all excellent, but are pretty well publicized. (Although if anyone wants an opinion or to discuss, happy to do so—same applies to anything I read.) I’ll briefly discuss a few books, not necessarily because they were “the best” books I read last year (I can never decide that), but because at the moment I feel like they’re worth some notice.

  • I really liked the two books I read by Edwidge Danticat (Brother, I'm Dying, which is nonfiction, and Krik? Krak!, which is short stories). Danticat is a Haitian American writer, and given that interest in Haiti is strong at the moment, it seems worth pointing her out. I particularly recommend Brother, I’m Dying, which contrasts the lives of Danticat’s father and uncle, one of whom chose to immigrant to the US and the other of who remained in Haiti, until he was forced to flee the country. The conflicting emotions that Danticat experiences growing up as a beloved child in the home of extended family, but then being sent to America to live with her parents, who are essentially strangers living in a strange land, are beautifully and poignantly portrayed. A moving story about family bonds.

  • Rabih Alameddine, The Hakawati. I loved this book, the title of which translates as “the storyteller.” A book of intertwining, marvelous tales, which include a son’s return home to visit his dying father in modern Beirut, stories from his family’s past taking us back four generations, and two fantastical Arabian-Night-style tales, full of imps and jinns, slave-girl heroines, sly servants and lost princes. These stories mesh together in ways that I’m still figuring out. Pick up this book and get sucked in from the very first line: "Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story."

  • Ursula K. LeGuin, Lavinia. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, although I probably shouldn’t have been. LeGuin is a great writer and this book is right up my alley, taking a classical epic (the Aeneid) and writing what we might call fanfiction. The title character is someone who is barely more than a cipher in Virgil: Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, who will become the Trojan hero Aeneaus’s wife, and thus the foremother of kings and the Julian line. There are so many things to like in this book: the interest LeGuin takes in portraying pre-classical Italian culture; the examination of story-telling itself (Virgil makes an appearance, reverberating in interesting ways against his “later” appearance in Dante); the approach to the Aeneid as a tragedy (if you ever scratched your head over the ending of Virgil’s epic, LeGuin does an excellent job showing you her interpretation); and Lavinia herself. But perhaps what struck me most of all was LeGuin’s generosity in presenting her story. I’ve seen too many attempts to reinterpret classics from a female perspective that treat the original work and its heroes meanly, and they usually cheapen rather than enhance the story. LeGuin is respectful to Virgil and his creation (although she does have her Virgil admit that he might have made certain mistakes in his story—Lavinia, as she points out to the poet, does not have blonde hair). LeGuin makes you appreciate the original work all the more, and perhaps look back at it with fresh eyes.

  • Jean Hatzfeld, Machete Season, Life Laid Bare and The Antelope’s Strategy. Most people interested in reading about the Rwandan genocide pick up Philip Gourevitch’s excellent We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, which I finally read this year. But I’d also like to point out Hatzfeld’s trilogy, the last book of which was published in 2009. Whereas Gourevitch seeks to tell his readers the complete history, Hatzfeld’s books are oral histories, focusing on one small rural district, which he returns to in each of his books. The first book tells of the massacre from the perspective of some of the survivors. The second (and probably the hardest to read) contains narratives from ten men who participated in the killing, related to Hatzfeld as he visited them in prison. The third book tells of when these killers were set free to return their homes, as part of the national policy of reconciliation. There are no clear answers here, either to the question of how regular people were able to commit such horrific violence against their neighbors or how the survivors, the society, or the murders themselves, can live with the aftermath, but, as harrowing as these books are, these questions have to be examined.

  • Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull. While on a somewhat similar vein, I also want to mention this book about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Far from a dry narrative, the book chronicles the author’s two-year coverage of the commission as it is formed and then proceeds to hear testimony from some of the victims, enforcers and politicians of apartheid. The limitations and the disappointments of the Commission are undeniable, but so to seems to be the spirit of hope behind it, personified by Desmond Tutu. This is a fairly difficult book if you’re not familiar with the details of South African history (I thought I had a basic knowledge, but I found myself having to look a lot of names and references up), but definitely worth the effort.

  • I read the last of my Murakami backlog this year, finishing up his current English fiction oeuvre with Norwegian Wood (his new book, 1Q84 isn’t out yet in English). It seemed perversely fitting to end with NW, which was Murakami’s breakout novel, and probably his most straightforwardly accessible (no magical sheep or fantastical underground worlds). It’s a lovely story of youth and nostalgia, and I guess I’m old enough these days to appreciate that. Murakami is one of those novelists who has grown on me, going from, what the fuck? to, I don’t care if I get it, I’m engrossed and enjoying the ride, even if the fixation on mysterious women sometimes seems sexist (although, occasionally, I think I’ve got it all wrong). Anyway, if you haven’t read any Murakami, NW is a good one to start with. Or you can do what I did just over a decade ago and jump in the deep end with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Wherever you start, you might just get sucked in. And there is an advantage to reading living authors, since knowing that there would be more let me feel free to read this last book. I still haven’t gotten myself to read my last remaining Waugh novel. We’ll see if I succumb and read it by next year’s round up. Stay tuned.

Date: 2010-03-06 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sasha-b.livejournal.com
What did you think of the Nick Hornby? I love him, but haven't read any of his stuff in a while.

And I adored Inkheart. Still haven't managed to read the others yet. I also would like to read the Sarah Waters as M recommended it as well; each time I look for it, the store is sold out. Bah.

Date: 2010-03-07 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amari-z.livejournal.com
The two Hornby I read are collections of his column from The Believer. I really like Hornby as a writer, but I've found myself less and less interested in each successive book, although I haven't read the latest one (or the YA novel). It's not that his writing has gotten worse, I'm just not engaged with in his characters or plot lines. I really enjoyed his columns, though, because the man can write and I can relate --he has the book buying obsession and anxiety over it.

Haven't read anything but Inkheart yet either, although I liked it as well. I'm sure Inkspell will be appearing on the List of Shame any day now.

I personally didn't love Little Stranger, but that's a matter of taste. It's a heavily atmospheric ghost story, and it just didn't catch my interest, although it was well written.

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