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Year in Review: Favorite Books of 2009

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Today’s question: What were your favorite books of the year? (Books that were new to you in 2009, if not necessarily published this year.)

Refrained from joining reading challenges and set on reading some of the books I have always wanted to read, 2009 is a rewarding year for me in reading. The best books for me are ones that stay with me for months after I have put them down. It’s a tough call to pick the best books because “best” is a very broad and somehow ambiguous term, depending on what one’s preponderating criterion is. In no particular order, here are my top 10 choices, books that are new to me in 2009, but not necessarily published this year:

Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
The book explores friendship (gay and straight), religion, and reminiscences in life. It portrays a family divided by an uncertain investment in Roman Catholicism and by their confusion over where the elite fit in the modern world.

Howards End E.M. Forster
Forster envisions a society where all the conflicts and understandings created by division of class will disappear as the different values and ideals will resolve the differences and complement one another.

Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
The novel explores the meaning of love and the extent of mutual understanding in a relationship. Beneath the mystery of the death are deeper faults that are all too human: pride, vanity, and self-absorption.

Shanghai Girls Lisa See
The women in Shanghai Girls endure, accept defeat, mourn, and bear physical and mental agony far better than men. It’s through their stories and relationships, however petty they might be, that one sees glimpse of hope in the face of tragedy and obstacles, in a foreign land so far from home.

The Writing on My Forehead Nafisa Haji
In the face of global terrorism that jolts the world and endangers the Muslim identity, the heroine has come to terms with the truth of family and that her obligation to them mandates their happiness.

The Secret Scripture Sebestian Barry
The novel illuminates on memories that the conscious mind ruminates repeatedly, as well as those that come back without conscious thought and that are experienced again like dreams.

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is an American classics because it captures the intimation that the American dream has been corrupted by the sole, empty pursuit of money.

The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
The intricate details and occasional discrepancy of the narratives contribute to the ingeniousness of plots in The Woman in White. That many of these characters are isolated renders them most susceptible to the chicaneries of the perpetrators. In a way, the purpose of the manipulations is to create “blindspots” in everyone involved so that one is often led to court suspicion that is wrong for the sake of diverting himself from other suspicion that is right.

Almost History Christopher Bram
The series of incidents, from back home in Washington to Saigon, Bangkok, and Manila, filled with human drama, sexuality, and political intrigues, forces him to re-examine his resignation to failure and personal life.

The Piano Teacher Janice Y.K. Lee
The Piano Teacher transports readers to a time when everyone was confronted with impossible choices: between love and safety, between fortune and family. The book ponders at how we all make choices and how important we have to stand by the choices and acknowledge responsibility if we find ourselves on the wrong end.

I have re-visited some of my favorite reads which I don’t consider in compiling this list. They hold very special place in my heart because these novels never finish t=what they have to say: transcending the plot and challenging values of our society. These books include The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Maurice by E.M. Forster, and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

44 Responses

  1. I’m promising myself that I’m going to read Rebeccan and The Woman in White this new year. Thanks for the list.

  2. Great books! I so wanted to read Rebecca this year and didnt get to it. This will be the year!

    Happy New Year! 🙂

  3. Have been following your blog for about a year now, and just wanted to tell you I enjoy your commentary quite a bit. You’re doing a great job.
    Haven’t seen anything on Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. I hope you get around to it. As you liked Christopher Bram’s mix of fiction with “almost history”, I think you’ll enjoy The Lacuna. It’s got Frida Kahlo. What’s not to love?
    Happy New Year and lots of good reading to you.

    • Thanks for leaving me a comment and letting me know who you are. I have only read one book by Barbara Kingsover—The Bean Tree and she is another author whose works I have meant to reconnect with. I’ll certainly begin with The Lacuna. Hope to hear more from you. 🙂

  4. I’m surprised to see The Piano Teacher on your list. I was intrigued by it, but then Richard and Judy (UK equivalent of Oprah) picked it for their summer read list. Their summer choices are normally really light and fluffy and I don’t normally enjoy them. I’ll make sure that I pick up a copy next time I see one now.

    I have loved many of the other books on your list and look forward to seeing what you read in 2010.

    Happy New Year!

    • Hmm…I enjoyed the The Piano Teacher and honestly I might be biased about it because it was set in Hong Kong during the 1940s. It reminds me of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil.

  5. That is quite a respectable list! I too loved Rebecca, and have not only added it to my favorite books of 2009, but my favorite books ever. I had every good intention of reading The Woman in White this year, but just didn’t make it. I’ll try again this year!

    • Rebecca is irresistible. It’s so convoluted that every chapter’s end is a cliffhanger. I’m sure its fans will continue to grow and I’m looking forward to reading more of du Maurier’s works.

  6. That’s a great list of books! I look forward to your 2010 reviews. Happy New Year!

  7. Great list Matt. I haven’t read Nafisa Haji or Christofer Bram. Will check these out, but already my list is becoming so long that I fear for my intention to read more non-fiction this year!

    • Nafisa Haji’s book didn’t get a lot of attention. I hope the book tour would help promoting it when the trade paperback is released in 2010. Christopher Bram has been a well-known author who specializes in GLBT literature. His works explore the boundary between what’s public and personal.

  8. Most fascinating to see the selections you have made — especially to works you have revisited. And your summaries are masterful.

  9. The Woman in White almost made my list too. See, now I want to revise it 🙂

    Very excited to see that the Piano Teacher is on your list. I recently got that one so I’m looking forward to it.

    Wishing you another great reading year, Matt!

    • Happy New Year to you, Iliana! I hope you enjoy The Piano Teacher which is so dear to my heart. The Woman in White and Rebecca will be on my re-read list for many years to come! 🙂

  10. It’s fascinating to see your choices — and especially those re-reads, as well. And your summaries are masterful.

  11. The Great Gatsby has been a favorite of mine since I read it as a high school senior in English class. I think I was the only one that liked it!

    I am hoping to read The Piano Teacher and Shanghai Girls this year.

    • I have never read Gatsby until last year. I didn’t know how I got around not reading it in high school and college. It’s such an American classics, so subversive to the notion of American dream because it shows how all the elements that are conducive to American dream is corrupting its people.

  12. Six of these are books I’ve loved (well.. maybe not the ending of The Secret Scripture), so I should probably think about adding the other 4 to my list! I loved The Hours, too, and would like to reread it as soon as I finish Mrs. Dalloway.
    Happy New Year, Matt!

    • I’m not surprised because you and I have very similar taste in reading! At the moment I’m reading The Enchanted April which Iearned from your post. 🙂

  13. That’s a great list, Matt. The Woman in White made my favorites list this year as well. Several of the ones you list I want to read, some maybe even this year. I hope you have a wonderful New Year, Matt, full of many terrific books.

    • Happy New Year to you Wendy. May this year be filled with joy and lots of great books! I would certainly explore more of the works of Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier.

  14. What an impressive list!! I will be reading Rebecca soon I hope!!!! And I won Woman in White so I want to read that one too!!

    Happy New Year!!

  15. The Secret Scripture was a wonderful book it just narrowly missed being in my top books partly because last year was such a great reading year. Of the books I have read on your list I have loved them, the ones I havent and own I shall now dig out!

    • The Secret Scripture has always held a special place in my heart. It’s very well-written, the prose contemplative and the story, although a bit predictable as critics have mentioned, captures me the whole time.

  16. These are great reads, Matthew–I’ve been wanting to read Brideshead myself (this year, for sure!), and when Wilkie Collins popped up everywhere on the internet (I hadn’t heard of him before), I wanted to start reading him (so thanks for this rec).

    Just sharing, haha.

    Happy New Year, New Decade. 🙂

    • Brideshead is my first Evelyn Waugh and I’m sure that would not be my last book of his. I have received the movie and the TV episode of Brideshead for Christmas. Happy New year to you as well. 🙂

  17. Matthew,

    Wanted to drop you a note and thank you for sharing your insights and passion for reading. Having worked in book publishing my entire career (25 years) it is so disheartening to read – almost daily – about the demise of the publishing industry. But reading your blog is further proof that here are still folks out there who are passionate about the written word. I wish you a fun-filled and inspiring new decade of reading.


    • Larry your comment makes my day! As a book lover I have always been aware what the new technology would have influence the reading habits. I have resisted getting an electronic reader for a long time because a device cannot replace the joy of holding a book in my hand. I still scribble notes as I turn the page and enjoy browsing through the aisles of bookstores.

  18. I have a couple of these on my TBR and I read Shanghai Girls. Not my favorite See, but good nonetheless.

    Happy new year!

  19. Happy New Year! Looks like it was a successful reading year for you. Some great books on your list!

  20. I get some of the best recommendations from you–thanks. Still working on The Master and Margarita.

    • I didn’t re-read The Master and Margarita in 2009 so your comment is a reminder that I do so in new year. I am very happy you have got some good recommendations oout of my blog–it always makes me day! 🙂

  21. Another great list, Matt! The Great Gatsby was also one of my favourites in 2009, and The Woman in White almost made my top list. The others on your list I also want to read. As usual, love your picks. Happy new year, friend. 🙂

  22. Shanghai Girls was listed as one of my favorites also. It looks like you had a great year of reading!

  23. […] Year in Review: Favorite Books of 2009 […]

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