My favorite books, and other highlights, of 2009

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given how steeped my childhood was in Bible stories, that R. Crumb’s graphic rendition of Genesis infiltrated my thoughts the way that it did, but I was. Because his book was the one that affected me the most this year, it’s my pick for Salon. What I say there is partly a retread of some earlier posts, but you should click over anyway to see what titles Geoff Dyer, Laura Lippman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Díaz, Lydia Millet, Colum McCann, and other writers chose. Salon’s book critic, Laura Miller, who recently considered the trouble with book reviews, also names her favorites: fiction and nonfiction.

For The Millions’ A Year in Reading 2009, I write (big surprise) about continuing to make my way through the complete, and completely out of print, works of Theodora Keogh. The Millions’ roster of contributors is even more extensive this year than in the past, with Kate Christensen, Victor LaValle, Jonathan Lethem (whose Chronic City I hope to settle in with over the holidays), Julie Klam, Michelle Huneven, and Diane Williams, to name a few, joining returning writers Mark Sarvas, Stephen Elliott, and Edan Lepucki.

In 2009 I reviewed more than twenty new books, the majority of them books I like (including the Cheever bio and Byatt’s latest), so, if you’re curious, you can click through to see what else would be high on my list. I also returned to a number of old favorites. (No wonder I haven’t gotten enough of my own writing done.)

Some books, like Geoff Dyer’s, I discovered too late to write about for a publication. I also enjoyed many titles that I couldn’t officially review because they were written by friends or friendly acquaintances: The Book of Night Women, Picking Bones From Ash, Big Machine, The Sixties, Trouble, Shelf Discovery, Secret Son, Pops, Read Me, and Don’t Send, which I began reading with some skepticism, but which ultimately convinced me to experiment with taking my laptop off my desk (see bare-bones set-up above) at a certain time each night to work on my writing by hand. It’s astonishing how much more I accomplish when I actually do this.

Eventually I’ll talk with LaValle, Diski, Garner, and Freeman about their books here. I’m just slow, so slow I still haven’t gotten to Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, or Coetzee’s Summertime. James Wood has me curious about Saving God. The list never ends.

In case you have not had your fill of my opinion-offering: WNYC asked me what I ended up being excited about this year, and (please, nobody tell my pal Michael Schaub, but) I wrote about digital publishing. An excerpt:

I’m not sure whether this makes me an old fogey or (from the point of view of the save-all-print-at-all-costs contingent) a whippersnapper bent on the destruction of everything real and meaningful and good, but this year I rediscovered the morning newspaper — on my phone.

My resolution for 2010, and somehow the closing out of a decade seems to call for a public one, is to review less and focus more on my own writing — because publishing critiques of two-dozen books while holding down a day job is no way to finish a novel.


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