It is the season for critics to weigh in on the best and worst of everything. Me? Here’s the best of what I read this year. You may see of my stylistic leanings come out. And, this isn’t really books published in here and now, but instead a sampling of what I read this year. Hey, you can’t read everything all at once. We’ve got to keep cycling through old lists. I reread The Omnivores Dilemma for like the twentieth time and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is goddam funny and human that I couldn’t put it down. You’ve just got to go back and reread the stuff from high school, just so you actually understand it.
1. Canada. I came to reading Richard Ford by being given the Sportswriter back when I was teaching English in New Orleans. In my mind, Rock Springs is one of the finest collections of short fiction out there. This is classic Ford. I also love coming of age stories and stories about adolescents.
2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This is one of those books that was just mind altering. I say the following in the most positive light–Reading Franzen is like have your brains blown out against the wall. This is the highest compliment I can pay. So, all you Franzen haters out there just need to pick up his books and read them again. Saying you don’t like him is saying that you don’t like The Great Gatsby or The Grapes of Wrath. It makes you look stupid. If that’s the way you feel then go and get yourself some more Maeve Binche to read. This will emerge as an American classic sure to be taught 100 years from now.
3. The Yellow Birds, The Long Walk, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The barrels on the guns from Iraq are barely cooling, and already some fine literature about the war is out there to enhance and enlarge our perspectives on what war does to the men who serve. Still, I haven’t read a book that brings out the positive in war. I’m not asking for a “ducle et decorum est,” but if we’re not careful the general public will begin to think that everyone coming back from war is Colonel Kurtz.
4. The Orchardist. Weep because its good. Weep because it tears you’re heart out. This is a book that needs some further attention, but will may go largely unappreciated like another great book from years ago that needs a lift-The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
5. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other greats that I read last spring. Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.