books? that i enjoyed? this year? I AM GLAD YOU ASKED

I quite liked the Jennifer Egan and Allegra Goodman books, but fictionwise the discoveries of the year were Teju Cole, Sybille Bedford, Laurie Colwin and (is it really possibly I hadn’t read her before?) Lionel Shriver.

  • Open City
  • A Legacy: A Novel
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Happy All The Time

    I read a shitload of history this year; that seems to happen when you write time travel, or vice versa. I got through a metric crapton of horse-history-books with which I will not bore you because I am LOVELY, but as far as the great big thinky books about hideous European and Middle Eastern wars go, these were the standouts:

  • The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq
  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
  • Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
  • The Hare With The Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss

    For some reason I also read three very good books by amazing women about murder trials. I don’t even know:

  • The Trial of Dr Adams
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
  • Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial

    I had this amazing run of medical histories. In one way they were a curative (I see what I did there) after the relentless gloom of the 20thC war books – Siddhartha Mukherkee, who wrote Emperor, is clearly Dr LOVE – but in another way they dovetailed depressingly well. The thalidomide one is a shocker, but there are arrogant bestethoscoped egotists wrecking lives in all of these books.

  • As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
  • Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
  • Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and Its Revival as a Vital Medicine

    Don’t you ever read for escapism, Miss Rach? Sure. I read graphic novels and memoirs (Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout was good, Borrowed Time made me cry) and fantasy. I liked The Tempering of Men and The Complete Ivory and Zombies vs Unicorns (started it on Team Unicorn but got bit by the zombie bug.) I loved How I Killed Pluto and Packing for Mars. I read Mary Stewart for the first time, and liked it. I read a lot of plays. At times of distress I reread Trollope and Austen and Tolkien, as one does.

    I did not read anything by Jeffrey Eugenides or David Foster Wallace or Stephen King or Hitch or Walter Isaacson and I am completely cool with that.

    Findings: having audiobooks playing in the car changed my life. The hours I spend driving to and from the barn are not only not wasted, they’re invested in a much deeper and richer relationship with history. The best audiobooks are ambitious narrative histories, and I like them best when they have English narrators, because apparently I still think the English are the cleverest people, because apparently I Cannot Be Taught.

    Other findings: I like reading women.

    Book of the year? A close race. Bloodlands and Postwar were like tough graduate courses in college. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a work of genius on a par with Rebecca Skloot’s Henrietta Lacks. Eichmann in Jerusalem was a revelation, and led me to coin the term angryfunny, for my favourite kind of bitterness. Special mention to Jo Walton’s Among Others, a breakout masterpiece from a writer I have long known and loved.

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