Sticky Post. Since it’s irrelevant (and almost unfair) to compare books from different genres (i.e. a mystery with many twists and turns that entertains vs. a literary fiction that is redolent of its beautiful writing), I decide to rid of the ambivalent notion of “best books” and “top 10 books” and instead turn to the extent to which a book makes an impression on me. Of the 82 books read this year, over half of them are favorites. Rereads are not included in the selection pool.
Death with Interruptions Jose Saramago. As people cope with the crisis by humanizing death to mitigate their fear: calling its name, demanding a frank and open dialogue with death, mocking its treachery, death itself humanizes and gives up her dominion.
Fingersmith Sarah Waters. Waters has downplayed the romance, focusing on the layers of secrets to be revealed carefully. The ingénue of Fingersmith lays in her execution, juxtaposing facts and events that would otherwise contribute to an ordinary tale of chicanery and betrayal.
Molly Fox’s Birthday Deirdre Madden. In one day’s time, Madden prises the well-guarded nutshells of her three characters, the three friends, who are connected mostly deeply through their emotionally charged moments, in which they comfort, console, and communicate one another in career bumps, failed marriage, unspoken affection, and family tensions.
East of Eden John Steinbeck. It is a story about love and how one perceives love. Through a family romance, with betrayal and denial, Steinbeck explores how humans can spend a lifetime trying to decipher their expressions of love. But whether one is really loved sometimes cannot be known. The only love one feels is the love one feels for someone else.
The Meaning of Night Michael Cox. The themes of betrayal, revenge, social status, and moral hypocrisy echo the works written in the historical period in which the novel is set. It ponders on how inherited wealth and privilege have trampled implacably on the claims of common human feeling and family connexion.
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides. This novel, as lyrical as it is splendid, takes reader through a roller coaster of emotions. On top of human experiences marked by polar opposites, the novel ponders at life when it is deemed outside of normal existence by society’s standard. It explores nature vs. nurture, rebirth, and how one comes to terms to his/her own human identity.
The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman. The novel, in capturing the vicissitude of the diminishing newspaper industry, also affords a myopic, but authentic view of human foibles. The paper’s staff reminds us that imperfection is what makes us human beings. Although they have fears, regrets, secrets, unhappiness, resentment, disappointment, and hurts, life still goes on.
Learning to Lose David Trueba. As they collide and interact under very dramatic circumstances, they come to realize that normality, one that is not prescribed by society with its norms, but dictated by the inner voice of the heart, is the recipe for happiness. In a sense they have to lose what they thought is the most important in order to be happy.
Insignificant Others Stephen McCauley. This novel is a haunting social satire about how we throw our energy in the wrong direction, onto the distractions, onto the pursuits that are insignificant, instead of into the main event of our lives. Ironically, how do we know what is significant? The lack of self-knowledge and cowardice often provoke us to ignore what is significant. That is why discretion becomes acceptable standard of fidelity.
Call Me By Your Name André Aciman. Intimacy is what happens when two beings become totally ductile that each becomes the other. This book doesn’t explore the reason behind this consummate affair nor does it justify the outcome. It gives us a story of two men who have found total intimacy that marks their life, regardless of the paths they have taken afterwards.
The Palisades Tom Schabarum. This novel is about love and healing. Told in alternating perspectives of mother and son, the novel revolves around family—how the loss of sustainable love, for Nick the loss of his mother and for Marjorie her Native American father, inform and predispose their lives. Best debut novel.
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry. The book is an indictment of a corrupt and ineluctably cruel society, combining sympathy for the poor and the controlled outrage for the corrupted. The struggles of the protagonists, along with absurd ways undertaken by many to scrape a living, hold our attention throughout the novel, where Mistry succeeds in balancing his desire to create a moving tragedy with his strong impulse toward political and social commentary.
It’s been an excellent reading year with so many great, memorable reads. It’s amazing how some of the best books find their way to me at the very end of the year.