Dec 27, 2009

The Best Books of 2009. Well, the books I read, anyways.

Whoa, did another year really go by? Or was that just gas? I do feel a little urpy...probably just the overabundance of gravy coating my arteries. I'll be fine.

As 2009 limps its way to a disappointing close, let's take a look back and ponder over what I've read in the past 365-ish days. These are the novels that stand out to me, regardless of their year of publication.

And they're in no order save alphabetical. It's too hard to choose a winner.

The Abortion: A Historical Romance, by Richard Brautigan (1970) - A winningly sweet little yarn of a weird library, a spontaneous romance, and a trip down south. Brautigan was unknown to me before this, but I'm going to try and read one of his novels every year to make up for it.

Amphibian, by Carla Gunn (2009) - The perils of environmental devastation, as seen from the POV of a nine-year-old boy. Phineas Walsh is a definitely memorable narrator.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke (2007) - A marvellous comedy following one man's journey from expert in packaging to infamous arsonist. Clarke has a fantastically literate wit.

Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer (2009) - Hard-boiled mushroom noir. A descent into moist madness as a detective tries to solve a murder while an intelligent fungus controls the city. Atmosphere to spare.

God Says No, by James Hannaham (2009) - A clever, humane, and surprisingly even-handed look at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and homosexuality. Gary Grey's inner turmoil as he battles his natural tendencies is funny, sad, and sometimes devastatingly human.

The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams (2008) - Zombies run amok in a spectacular collection of tales that alternate between the gruesome, the funny, the subtle, and the flat-out terrifying.

Love in Infant Monkeys, by Lydia Millett (2009) - A collection of tales involving the interactions between animal and people that could have gone saccharine in lesser hands. Millet's capacity for satire is matched only by her infinite humanity. These tales, particularly the title story, haunted me for days afterward.

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (2009) - A terrific foray into imagination, the best adult urban fantasy since Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Mixing Harry Potter, Narnia, and who knows what else, Grossman has come up with a witty ode to coming-of-age stories that is as memorable as it is enthralling.

ManBug, by George K. Ilsley (2006) - Alongside The Abortion, my favourite romance of the year. A touching, wondrously perfect little story between an entomologist with Asperger’s Syndrome and a Buddhist bisexual dyslexic. Ilsley captures magic.

The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry (2009) - A detective story by way of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Alongside Finch (above), the year's most atmospheric and intricately strange mystery.

Ribofunk, by Paul Di Filippo (1996) - An exercise in bio-sci-fi. Di Fillipo's collection takes the idea of genetic alterations to the limit, in a superb set of stories by a master of biopunk.

Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde (2009) - A bizarre, thoroughly offbeat look at a possible (but not likely) future, as denizens of future Earth are classified into castes based on their optical perceptions of colours. Think Aldous Huxley by way of Douglas Adams.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow (2009) - A lovely satirical ode to the b-movie renaissance of Hollywood, the perils of nuclear arms, and the mania of military paranoia.

The Wall of America, by Thomas M. Disch (2008) - Another fantastic collection of thought-provoking stores. A final gasp of brilliance from a pre-eminent yet often ignored master of science fiction.

The White Mountains, by John Christopher - A re-visit to a novel of my youth. A future imagined where humanity has devolved to a feudal system, and mechanical tripods roam the lands and rule from above. Weird, beautifully intelligent YA sci-fi/fantasy.

Runners-up: Those novels are well worth your consideration, and I can't bear to leave the year without mentioning them.

Amberville, by Tim Davys (2009)
The Breast, by Philip Roth (1973)
Darwin's Nightmare, by Mike Knowles (2008)
Fear the Worst, by Linwood Barclay (2009)
Hater, by David Moody (2006)
The Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade (2009)
Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving (2009)
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Marvellous Hairy, by Mark A. Rayner (2009)
The Reality Machine, by Cliff Burns (1997)
Steampunk, by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer (eds.) (2008)
The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers (1989)
The Tel Aviv Dossier, by Lavie Tidhar & Nir Yanic (2009)
The Voice of the Butterfly, by John Nichols (2001)
Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood (2009)

Some disappointments (novels I expected to love, but was left wanting):

Generation A, by Douglas Coupland (2009) - After the world bee population dies off, five people are thrust into the celebrity spotlight when they are stung. A satire primed for excellence, yet it loses its teeth well before the end.

Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk (2009) - A terrorist infiltrates a typical American family, with should-have-been-memorable consequences. Easily the weakest novel Palahniuk has produced.

The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (2009) - From an award-winning director of some of the most fantastic visions of the past ten years, this first novel in a planned trilogy outlining the vampire apocalypse is fun yet too mundane to have much bite.
And now, because you knew it was coming:

The Minnow Trap Award for Worst Novel Read in the Year 2009 is:

The Justice Riders, by Chuck Norris and three (!) others (2006) - A novel so horrible, it took four people to tame it! A mishmash of historical western, b-movie d-level dialogue, ridiculous high kicks, and grotesque religious overtones. Justice Riders, consider yourselves Minnow Trapped!


souci said...

Hi Corey

Your book made it onto my list for 2009. It was so serendipitous finding you and your book on LibraryThing! Thanks.

Here is a link to my list. We only shared one book, and in the also-ran category only: Little Brother. I haven't even heard of the books on your list. I'll have to check them out, pronto. Funnily, we had nearly the same way of organizing.

Have a great new year.

Lori L said...

There was a BBC series based on Christopher's books called The Tripods that we saw back in the mid 80's. My husband and I were watching it on a Kansas City Public Television Station. We missed the last broadcasted episode so we had to go and find the books to see how it ended. Later I read that the BBC series never actually concluded so I was glad we found the books.

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