Best and Worst Reads of 2009

I’ve had some excellent experiences, and a few exhilarating adventures, within the pages this year.  A few disappointments, true, but that only makes me appreciate the true gems even more.

Best

Serena by Ron Rash – A wonderful, slightly creepy, read set in the mountains of North Carolina.  Serena, herself, is a complete sociopath, excellently written, so that you find yourself fascinated by her cold manipulation of her husband and the superstitious loggers they employ.  Serena instantly catapulted Ron Rash, who I had never even heard of before I read this book, into must read status.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez – Oprah’s seal of approval almost put me off this book, but the dearth of books in my local library finally forced me to read it.  I’m glad I did.  It took me on a glorious vacation to the hot, verdant jungles of Colombia where I spent hours in Macondo.  Another reason I’m surprised I loved this book so much is Señor Márquez’s writing style.   He reminds me of Hemingway.  I loathe Hemingway, and I wasn’t too fond of the other books I’ve read by Márquez, but I loved this one.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A strange book, to say the least, with a giant ICK! factor for the incest, but it is a compelling read that looks at the differences between us and at the complications and difficulties of assimilation.

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash – I loved this book.  Ron Rash writes in such gorgeous prose that it completely sweeps you up into the story.  The general feel and voice of the novel made you read the words with a rich Southern drawl.  On the morbid side, I was thrilled and entertained by what Billy did with the body!

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – Oh, the smoothness of the language Davidson uses to talk about the desperation of the mentally unstable and the unawareness of another’s emotional awakening!  Two people on opposite sides of the emotional intensity spectrum find an odd kind of love, and peace, in each other.  It’s wonderfully tragic and amusing at the same time, with lots of wit to make you smile even while you are sad or horrified by the story.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel – A fascinating story about the odd ways the mind copes with tragedy and the horrifying things one must sometimes do in order to survive.  Rationalizing the unthinkable through a vivid imagination and division of personality traits into different characters.  The beginning is, admittedly, a bit boring, and the whole meerkat thing was too wierd and stretched my credulity beyond its limits, but I still enjoyed this book.

Saints at the River by Ron Rash – Excellent story about the pull between human emotional needs and the needs of the environment, and about how we cope with tragedy in different ways.  Sometimes good ways, sometimes bad, and sometimes for the wrong or right reasons. Saints at the River is as beautifully written as you’d expect from Ron Rash.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber – A fascinating, though long, character study of Victorian culture and behavior among the lower to middle classes.  My favorite character was Caroline, but Sugar and others were just as fascinating.  Though, I will admit, a few of their actions completely baffled me for that time period.  The characters are what drives this book.  Also, I’m one of the minority of people who actually liked the narrator. 

Plainsong and Eventide by Kent Haruf – Loved these characters and can’t help but wish for another sequel.  I just got so engaged in the lives of these ordinary people.  I still want to know what happened with the lawsuit.

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash – The past is a tangible thing here in the South and Mr. Rash demonstrates that beautifully in this book.

Worst

These first three lend even more weight to the theory that certain scientists and scholars should really collaborate with a real author.  A professional.  In other words someone who can actually write.  These scholars are, no doubt, masters of composing thought provoking and insightful scientific papers for various journals, but that doesn’t help them write actual books that would prove interesting, not to mention readable, to the general public.  🙂

Sarum by Edward Rutherford – A testament to the merits of editors who actually do their homework and correct minor historical errors, and people who can actually look at a map and figure out that the ancient land of Sumer is in Iraq NOT Iran.  Someone smarter than a fifth grader, maybe?

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCollough – A truly awful, disappointing read.  I love Colleen McCollough, but she should have avoided this story like the plague, as should the reader.  The utter and complete stupidity of Mary Bennet, despite of the fact that she is supposed to be, at least marginally, intelligent, was ridiculous.  I’ll admit that the plot between Elizabeth and Darcy could have been interesting if it had been better written.

Heartbreaker by Diana Palmer – I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I read all of her books is for the same reason a lot of people drive slowly passed accidents:  morbid curiosity.  How much worse can they get?  Can this heroine be more of a whiny doormat than the last?  How much higher can her next hero go on the Neanderthal scale?  I just have to know!

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