Sunday, January 10, 2010

Top fiction 2000-2009

Same thing as the non-fiction--not a strict Top 10. Just in order of when I read them.

1.) The Brothers K by David James Duncan. I'm a huge baseball nut and when an old co-worker told me this was the best baseball novel she'd ever read I was skeptical. The true shocker, however, was that baseball is the over-riding theme in the novel. A fantastic look at brotherhood and siblings and family in general. How choices impact those around us.

2.) In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. This is basically the prequel to the much more famous "The English Patient." Three characters pop back up in EP and much of their stories are resolved. Yet I love this book more for its usage of voice and narrator. You are swept through Toronto in the 1920's and the people who helped to build it. Carravagio, to my mind, is a near perfect character.

3.) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by AleksandrSolzhenitsyn. I tend to really like small novels with very exacting prose or larger, more sprawling works. This is one of the best examples of the former in both length and scope. Of course, it is literally one day in a life of extreme hardship in a work camp. But the feeling echoes much larger than a day.

4.) Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. A funny and imaginative novel based on a crackpot personal investigation team. Some people say they don't like detective fiction or postmodern novels. Well, this book breaks out of those stereotypes. Lionel Essrog, in particular, our main character with Tourette's is lovable and determined and fun to spend some time with.

5.) Miniatures by Norah Labiner. This book really did change the way I viewed fiction. What are chapter titles for? Who gets to tell the story? Who do we trust? It is also a book that is great fun to re-read in the same way that beloved movies get better over time. There is always a sentence I somehow missed. Some humor or insight I didn't really get. Coffee House Press provided the world with a stunner here.

6.) The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. This was her first novel in more than 20 years and you can see in its style what the waiting was for. Her language is classic and nuanced. But she also will tip sentences on their heads or work them backwards in a way that takes a little getting used to. Once you get your footing, it is a wonderful ride. Good characters are involved but this prose is so of its own time and style that it, the words themselves, steal the show.

7.) The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. It's almost blasphemous to say but I think this book has as much to say about race in America as anything Baldwin or Ellison ever did. Two brothers, of mixed race, are classically trained singers. All kinds of preconceived thoughts must get tossed aside. Powers shows his rare gifts for creating characters of varying temperments and ideas. A long book that I never wanted to end.

8.) The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thi diem thúy. This is a fragmented novel told in portions that I fight to handsell whenever possible. It's about a mother, father and daughter who have come by boat to the United States. So it's about family and water. It's also about war and assimilation and what gets left behind. It's about generations having to change and children teaching parents. I wait and wait for this young woman to publish another book.

9.) Brief Encounters With Che Guevara by Ben Fountain. I hear all the complaints about stories. They don't mean anything. Nothing happens. It's all smoke and mirrors. There is no plot development. The characters aren't fully formed. And I learned long ago that you cannot change some people's minds about things they won't try. This guy's stories are the real deal. They visit such a broad range of locations both mentally and geographically. Malcolm Gladwell did a great profile on him and his long road to publication.

10.) Zoli by Colum McCann. I'm very happy that his most recent book, "Let the Great World Spin" won the National Book Award. And it's hard for me to pick a favorite of his works. But this one kept me from answering the phone or wanting to sleep. I don't even want to talk about it too much. Just do yourself a favor and read it.

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