A forewarning: these are my favourites from the 97 novels that I read over the past year, not necessarily novels written in 2006. There are many, many novels written in 2006 that occupy a place on my to-read list, such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Paul Malmont's The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, Trevor Cole's The Fearsome Particles, Kenneth J. Harvey's Inside, Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, and others too numerous to mention here.
So, without further fanfare, and in no particular order, the novels that stayed with me long after I finished the last line:
His Dark Materials (trilogy - 1995-2000) - Philip Pullman
I wasn't sure what to expect from these stories, other than some fantastic praise. What I discovered was a dense, intensely nuanced, and unabashedly mature 'young adult' trilogy that contains all the trappings of great fantasy, plus a determinedly bleak worldview that has major parallels to today's world. The movie had better retain the story's inherent distrust for certain authoritarian organizations, or else all is truly lost.
The Steampunk Trilogy (1995) - Paul Di Filippo
A truly remarkable series of novellas, set in the 'steampunk' genre of science-fiction in Victorian times a la Jules Verne. Di Filippo's three tales are superbly silly, always entertaining, and completely unforgettable.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (2004) - Susanna Clarke
This one was so huge I never bothered with it on its initial release. But damn if Clarke doesn't pull off the richest fantasy this side of Neil Gaiman. Spectacular.
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005) - Lydia Millet
In a just world, Millet's name would be bandied about with the same awe and admiration as Vonnegut's. A blistering satire on everything that matters.
The Divine Ryans (1990) - Wayne Johnston
I absolutely loved Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, but Ryans showed me that he had his talent from the word go. Tender, yet hilarious, Ryans should be considered the Newfoundland Catcher in the Rye
Father of Frankenstein (1995) - Christopher Bram
I am a great admirer of the movie adaptation Gods and Monsters (always makes me cry), and was relieved that the novel was an equally moving an exploration of old age, love, and friendship.
The Brief History of the Dead (2006) - Kevin Brockmeier
Of all the novels published specifically in 2006, the only one that left me utterly breathless. Wow.
Great Expectations (1860-61) - Charles Dickens
I'd never read Dickens before, but after Expectations, I finally understand the term 'dickensian.' A glorious, full-blooded soap opera.
Joyland (2006) - Emily Schultz
As precise an evocation of mid-nineteen-eighties teenage angst as you're likely to find.
Bright Lights, Big City (1984) - Jay McInerney
Truly, a Sun Also Rises of the yuppie set.
The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1996) - William Kotzwinkle
This was a re-read, but I found it as playful and absurd as when I first read it. Maybe it's because of my current state as published author, but the fancy of a bear finding a manuscript and becoming a best-selling Hemingway figure tickles me no end.
Life of Pi (2001) - Yann Martel
Another re-read, but I was relieved to discover my initial love of Martel's delicate masterpiece was not in error. Oddly, this is the one novel that everyone either loves or hates, with no middle ground.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003) - Cory Doctorow
Marvelous imagination. Doctorow describes a future Earth so precisely that I have a hard time believing he doesn't have some kind of inside source on the matter.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) - Patricia Highsmith
I have read every Ripley novel but the first. Just as good. Highsmith was a genius.
All This Town Remembers (2006) - Sean Johnston
Superbly poignant rendering of the small-town mindset, a companion piece to Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter.
The Devil's Picnic (2006) - Taras Grescoe
Grescoe travels the world to discover the forbidden, and won't take no for an answer. Hilarious, grotesque, and maddening.
And with that out of the way:
Minnow Trap (2005) - Brian Horeck
In all my years, I have never read anything this incompetently bad. That is, until...
Blood & Wine (2004) - Rosellen Price
Along with the above, proof positive that self-publishing is, at it's very worst, a deeply saddening experience. C'mon, spellcheck, people!
Airframe (1996) - Michael Crichton
Admittedly not that bad, but I needed something other than the first two crimes against the humanities. Crichton was once a fun and talented writer, but as he gets older, he gets less imaginative, more pedantic, and hugely boring.