So I have this podcast, and every month we do a book club. It's great and fun and forces me to read things I wouldn't otherwise. 12 books this past year. Here are my faves, in reverse order.
  1. The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
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    I guess if you're a Denis Johnson obsessive, this would be up your alley, but it wasn't for me. A surreal mess lacking clarity and suspense. A government spook in Africa behaves erratically and makes dubious friendships. Zzzzz
  2. The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
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    Darkness descends on an exclusive Connecticut beach community and a trophy wife decides to fight back. Kind of. Usually this genre is right up my alley, but not here. Poorly executed and lacking tension and depth.
  3. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adele Waldman
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    A fun universe to explore (pretentious literary New Yorkers fall in and out of love) but really lacks heart. Our "hero" is insufferable, and we don't learn anything new about the human condition. Not a book I'd recommend, unless it was to someone who was 29, lived in Brooklyn, and interned at the Paris Review. Oh yeah, and they'd also have to hate women. : (
  4. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
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    A really interesting first novel from the singer songwriter, most famous for his work in The Mountain Goats. Poetic and naturally lyrical, the protagonist is compelling and thoughtful and the story is layered and full, but it doesn't quite come together. Liked it, didn't love it. Excited for his next novel. Still finding his voice.
  5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
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    A piece of classic horror, and a really enjoyable read in October. More psychologically frightening than anything else. One of the great spooky stories. Is the house really haunted? Is it just in our minds? Did lesbians exist in 1959? A bit stale, but still worth a read. Only 180 pages.
  6. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
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    Toni Morrison is one of America's most important voices, and this is yet another example of why. The idea of "blackness" in America is covered in such patient detail it's stunning. Motherhood, race and love all spun out beautifully.
  7. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
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    Aching memoir about a woman attempting to navigate the death of her father by training a notoriously temperamental goshawk. Some heartbreaking prose as we watch Helen mourn and recall her past and attempt to change the future. Very English, very sad, and very good.
  8. The Whites by Richard Price
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    It's no "Lush Life" but what is. Gritty and noir-ish, the curtain is peeled back on the vengeance every cop feels about the one that got away. Price may be the very best writer alive working in this genre. So dark, so real, so tense and fun, we feel what these cops are feeling. No sexy moments, just the side of a city that few people get to see. A blast!
  9. Purity by Jonathan Franzen
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    Ok. I love Franzen, as I've said earlier in my review of The Corrections, so I'm biased, but this is a bit of a mess. There are moments of absolute genius and depth, and then he meanders into the wilderness and loses you. He needs an editor who will be honest to him. Should have been 100 pages shorter, but still, he has such spectacular ability it's worth the read.
  10. All the Light We Cannot Sea
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    Wow. Wow. A tiny bit on the YA side, it still is one of the best reads I've had all year. Such rich storytelling, it's unfurls like a fairy tale, keeps you hooked from page one, and takes you on an incredibly moving ride. It's France, it's WW II, and our young hero can't see, but that doesn't stop her from having an impact on so many people's lives. Give this book to your mom for Christmas
  11. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
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    The only reason this isn't #1 is that it lacks literary muscle, but NO ONE does story better than King. 800 pages long, it feels like it's 50! You'll fly through this thing. Just so much fun. Ultimate literary comfort food. Crack it open and disappear for a weekend. Give this to you dad for Christmas.
  12. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
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    The single best satire of the American family experience I've ever read. Franzen has the ability that few writer have: to describe an emotion or experience you had once thought was indescribable. Funny, heartbreaking and thoroughly engrossing, this is contemporary American fiction at its zenith. Must read. It'll make you smarter.
  13. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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    My favorite read of the year. Don't read Gatsby, read this baby. The best representation of mental illness in 20th century fiction. Fitzgerald takes us inside a marriage and wraps us up in such fluid and beautiful language you'll be left staggering. Such gorgeous and full writing and storytelling. For anyone who has been in love with someone they shouldn't have been. An all-time classic.